The entire world is embarrassed for Manti Te'o right now. The Notre Dame linebacker thought he had a girlfriend, then thought she died of leukemia, and anyone who heard his sad story really bad for Te'o -- until word got out that his beloved girlfriend was actually an emotionally disturbed 22-year-old man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who boosted a woman's pictures and created "Lennay Kekua," a fictional online person who met Te'o on Facebook, virtually dated him off and on, then staged Lennay's death to get out of this elaborate hoax. Now the entire world feels sorry for Te'o, but for a different reason.
Manti Te'o isn't the first person who's been hoodwinked in the course of an online relationship and he won't be the last. There are lessons to be learned here about being safe and sane with Internet dating -- and also how not to be a dumbass. Here are five jaded pieces of advice for online dating. Don't get Te'od!
See also: - Online dating for straight people: We're all just chasing the popcorn - Online dating: Your friends' comments on your love life can actually help your profile - Online dating: What your intentionally candid profile photo says about you
5. Have low-to-no expectations of people you meet online.
This sounds like seriously counterproductive advice for online dating, but it will serve you well while you sift through profile after profile, and chat with people who offer you the world on a platter -- but may not even have a spork to their names. One of the biggest pitfalls of online dating is that it's far too easy to build up expectations about someone based on flattering photos and even more flattering words. Be leery of anyone who immediately piles on the platitudes and tells you that you are "The One," that they have been waiting their entire life just to find you, that you are the smartest, funniest, most attractive person on the planet. They don't know you, and you don't know them.
Dropping mad sugar-bombs is usually a red flag that the person on the other end of the keyboard has unrealistic expectations of you -- and life in general. They're not looking for you so much as anyone to plug into their own fantasies, and that's not a successful start for any dating relationship.
4. Some people really are damaged goods hiding behind a computer screen.
We've all heard Internet dating horror stories, and some of us have quite a few of our own to entertain out friends with at parties. But truth be told, the Internet is filled with people who have trouble getting dates in the real world, and for good reasons. I have dealt with people who have arrest records spanning decades; people who have severe, untreated emotional and mental problems; people who have terrible socialization and communication skills, straight-up liars trying to get money, free naked camming, places to crash and instant sexual encounters; and people in broken relationships looking for new people to solve their problems.
Damaged people are interested in getting their needs met, and don't care about yours. They are no different than people who do this offline, but the web gives them an anonymous playground to work with, and if you don't give them what they want, then they can and will find someone easier to fool. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from these assholes is to recognize them early on, and cut off contact immediately. This brings us to the "asking questions" part.
3. Ask questions -- and pay attention to the answers.
The human dating dance is one that begins with a lot of back-and-forth, and the best way to really get to know a prospective dating partner is to ask questions, and answer questions about you. Someone who doesn't ask you any questions is suspicious, and someone who doesn't answer questions is downright creepy. Of course, some degree of privacy is warranted, on- or offline, but general getting-to-know-you queries are both acceptable and necessary. Reading someone's dating profile is crucial, and asking questions that expand upon that info is a good place to start.
I have actually busted online liars by asking them questions based on profile statements that didn't add up. If someone you are chatting with can't provide you with basics like how old they are, where they are from, their relationship status, what field they are employed in, whether or not they have kids or what they are looking for in a partner, then chances are the reasons for the cover-ups aren't gonna be pretty. Major inconsistencies are red flags, and my experience has taught me that when people aren't forthcoming about basic personal information, then they are usually hiding something big like a spouse or significant other who is unaware that their partner is dating online.
2. Online is the easiest place for married people to cheat.
Sadly enough, online dating sites are littered with folks who already have spouses or significant others. The definition of cheating is subjective, but it's a universal that when you are already in a relationship and posing as a single person looking to date, that's cheating. I used to wonder why certain men I spoke with online -- who seemed like damn good catches -- weren't already paired up, but then discovered that they were. Online sites are amusement parks for cheaters, because it's less likely they'll get caught right away. If I had a nickel for every person I've talked to online who told me that they had an "arrangement" or a "don't ask don't tell" agreement or even an "open relationship" with their partners that tuned out to be utter and complete bullshit, then I'd quit my job and buy my own island.
I'm of the "trust but verify" persuasion, as I think everyone should be, and asking to speak to spouses to confirm open relationship status will usually weed out cheaters quickly. But as for the unfaithful jerk-burgers who claim single status -- if their availability is sketchy, they dodge simple questions and want to meet up during lunch hours on weekdays and push for intimate encounters on- or offline, then those are clues that you should head for the hills.
1. Meet online, but date in real life.
Online dating sites are a great way to meet people. It helps screen for match qualities, it gives you a chance to chat it up with new people in the comfort of your home with relative anonymity, and you can determine compatibility with lifestyles, attraction, hobbies, employment and goals. But once contact and a decent rapport is established, you need to take it into the real world over coffee and a bun. Keeping relationships solely online is a really, really bad idea, because you don't actually know someone until you interact face-to-face, and it's never 100 percent certain even then.
Sure, for some introverted folks the idea of getting their asses out from in front of a screen can be scary, but the alternative is that you form emotional attachments to people who aren't what they appear, and you run the risk of making commitments to online personas you've assigned qualities and feelings to that simply don't exist.
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Meeting your dream partner online is possible. But what is also possible is to get sucked into an unhealthy fantasy version of a real person with flaws, quirks and issues that you can only be aware of after getting to know them in person. And there are plenty of online predators who get their jollies off by manipulating people to get ego boosts -- or worse -- and getting played by some online poser is embarrassing and shitty. Just ask Manti Te-o if it was worth it.