Online dating is still in its “adolescent” stage, and fittingly, it's still enduring growing pains. While it has shed much of its early stigma as “desperation dating,” a healthy skepticism has taken its place. People are skeptical about descriptions of jobs and lifestyles. They cock an eyebrow over poetic prose from a potential romantic partner. And they're downright dubious about the seemingly ageless quality of the person in the photos. With all this doubt fogging up the computer screen, it's no wonder that many online hopefuls, and especially women, are worried about sharing their phone number with someone they've met online.
Online Daters Have Nothing to Neel Embarrassed About
At least 15 percent of American adults report that they have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps with the hope of making an “other” significant in their life, according to the Pew Research Center.
Online dating has especially caught on among people on opposite ends of the dating spectrum, or those between the ages of 18 and 24 and those between 55 and 64. And two-thirds of online daters have gone on a date with someone they've met online – a significant increase from the 43 percent who said they did so when Pew posed the question in 2005.
Why Hanging Up May Not Help
Precisely when people who've "met" someone on a dating website decide to share their phone number may be the subject of a future research project. But the warnings to exercise caution have multiplied right along with the hundreds of cautionary headlines about online dating. In the wrong hands, an untrustworthy person could use your phone number to:
- Harass you with unwanted phone calls Send unwanted pictures and text messages Trace your address and show up at your home, unannounced* Encourage fellow shady characters to “pile on” with the same behavior
Tread Carefully With Online Dating
Naturally, you can always block a phone number. By this time, however, you probably will feel frazzled and at the end of your emotional rope. This is why dating sites advocate personal responsibility measures, especially for their female customers. These tips include:
- Use only respectable sites. Forbes reports there are about 8,000 dating sites worldwide, and they can attract divergent types of people. Research the most appealing ones before joining only a select few.* Scrutinize profiles. It's not uncommon for people to embellish details; some hyperbole should be expected in a dating forum, where the goal is to present one's “best self.” Look for warning signs of aggression, hostility or any other suspicious communication, and cut off contact promptly. If someone makes you feel squeamish online (from a distance), it's probably only going to intensify in person.
- In the “getting to know you” phase, keep the information you share general, not specific. It's OK to say what you do for a living, but don't disclose where you work. Share the type of food you like, but don't enumerate your favorite restaurants. And talk about your background, but don't provide details that are relatively simple to trace (such as graduation dates). In other words, guard your privacy judiciously.* If you decide to meet in person, do so in a public place – never at someone's (purported) residence.
Share a Phone Number With Confidence
Eventually, someone you've met online may ask for your phone number. And you may be tempted to share it. You can take the next step in your burgeoning relationship and protect your privacy by signing up for a Google Voice phone number. This free service assigns you a phone number that doesn't show up in any directory, allowing you to make and receive calls, text messages and voicemails. And you can screen calls, too, by linking this number to your mobile phone. Your date will have no idea that the phone number is actually not your personal cellphone number.
- Pew Research Center: 5 facts about online dating
- DatingAdvice.com: The Dangers of Online Dating” — (7 Statistics & 5 Ways to Protect Yourself)
- Get Safe Online: Safe Online Dating
- Cyber-Dating Expert: Should I Give My Online Date My Phone Number?
- Google: Get started with Google Voice
- Phactual: 16 Scary Statistics of Online Dating
Mary Wroblewski earned a master's degree with high honors in communications and has worked as a reporter and editor in two Chicago newsrooms. She launched her own small business, which specialized in assisting small business owners with “all things marketing” – from drafting a marketing plan and writing website copy to crafting media plans and developing email campaigns. Mary writes extensively about small business issues, and especially “all things marketing.”