THE EXPERTS

Practice Safe Sex

Rebecca Newton, expert in online behavior based in Durham

The online dating world is not much different from the offline dating world. Most of us are happy, positive, well-intentioned people looking for companionship or, perhaps, someone special. The good news is approximately 94-96 percent of online behavior is safe and “normal.”  And the okay news is 4-6 percent of “questionable” online behavior includes a wide range of potential to probable issues.

These issues range from completely innocuous trolling to sociopathic stalking. The not so good news is — online and offline — the percentage of high-risk behavior sits at about 2 percent of the population. In other words, the majority of people are well-meaning, good citizens on and offline. But that pesky, annoying 2 percent could make your life pretty uncomfortable.

Here’s a simple guide to staying safe online:

What would your grandmother do? Though offline etiquette isn’t what it once was, there’s a place (and great reason) for respecting the old dating rules. What happens online mirrors the offline world. What would you do face-to-face? Do the same in a virtual space.

Keep it public. Meet in a populated, safe, public place for your first few dates. Have your own transportation. Always tell a friend where you are and keep your phone on (and charged) during your date. Consider using the app Circle of 6.

Get to know them. Get to know someone before you tell them too much personal info. In particular, don’t disclose your place of work, your home address or neighborhood, your family member’s names or friends’ full names until you know who they are.

Time is on your side. We’re impatient to meet “the one,” but 2 percent of the online population will include predatory people. There’s no need to approach every person you meet as a predator, but take your time and pay attention. A balanced person will not push you or want to rush into a serious relationship.

Trust your gut. Most of us know when something doesn’t feel right. Pay attention and follow your gut feeling. It could save you a ton of problems later. On the brighter side, if your guts are happy, you could have a wonderful ride ahead of you!

Talk to your therapist

Candace Folden, therapist who teaches a nine-week course called “Becoming a Love Magnet” in Greensboro

It can be quite challenging to get a good read on someone from just a profile and, quite frankly, even after a few face-to-face dates. So how do you know you are not wasting your precious time going down a dead-end street?

Do their words and actions match?

I see people in my practice overlook this very simple question far too often. And I understand why. When we are attracted to someone, or believe there’s potential, we don’t want to see that there may be red flags. So we tend to ignore them, or excuse them.

If someone is consistently saying one thing and doing another, it’s a red flag to be sure! If they tell you they will call you by a certain time to make plans and they don’t, their words are not aligned with their actions.

Of course, people are human and may honestly forget or have a legitimate reason not to follow through. But if you observe a pattern of this behavior, reconsider investing any more of your awesomeness in them. What they are showing you is that they lack the self-respect to honor their word. And if they don’t respect themselves, they sure as heck won’t respect you.

Oversharing does not equal emotional intimacy

Look, we’ve all been there. You start talking to someone or maybe you are on your first date. The chemistry is there, and the conversation lasts for hours and hours. You discuss everything from your hopes and dreams to your childhoods and how many children you want. You both pour your hearts out to each other and reveal all your secrets because you know this other person is your soulmate, your kindred spirit, the one you have been waiting for all your life. Things are hot and heavy until they (most likely) crash and burn.

So what’s the problem? Real, sustainable relationships take time to develop (despite what Hollywood would have us believe). Your heart is a precious gift to be given to someone who will take exquisite, tender care of it. And you can’t know how someone will care for it after one or two exchanges. Very often, the only thing giving away too much of yourself too soon reveals is a lack of boundaries and an underlying desperation to connect to someone out of fear of being alone. Be leery of people who are overly self-revealing too quickly. And if that person is you?  Don’t beat yourself up. Commit to healing yourself so you can have the relationship you deeply desire.

Tom Murray, sex therapist in Greensboro

As a sex-positive sex therapist, I’m all for doodle-bopping! I encourage sex and support people to develop healthy sexual behaviors with themselves and other consenting adults. We yearn for skin-to-skin, sexual contact. Given a number of societal factors, dating/hook-up apps serve an important function for many people.

Occasionally, these encounters will lead into a longer-term relationship, but for many, this isn’t what’s wanted.

As a relationship expert, I see it all the time: Texting provides an artificial sense of intimacy with numerous implications. Keep in mind that 90 percent of communication is everything but the words. Humans rely on many other communication variables (such as tone, pitch, inflection) to collect information about the other. Phone calls and personal meetings can help you to make better decisions when finding that special someone.

Because of the total lack of context in apps, it’s easy to rely on fantasy to fill in the gaps. And because we want to be wanted and desired and because we want to be successful in our dating pursuits, we default to filling in the gaps with information that serves those purposes. You can’t help but to imagine that the person is the one for all of the reasons that your imagination has created.

Within the context of healthy, mutually consensual sexual encounters, people are encouraged to find what works for them while taking relevant precautions.

  1. In order to get a healthy dose of reality, it’s important to bite the bullet and get offline and into life. Meet the person sooner rather than later. If meeting for coffee isn’t an option, start with a phone call.

2. Tell someone what’s happening. Let them know where you’re going and with whom.

3. Don’t be shy to take self-defense classes. You might even meet a LTR (long term relationship) there.

4. Bring condoms in order to minimize the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

5. If something doesn’t feel right, leave. Go with your gut.

6. It’s okay to have a regular hook-up. It gets rid of the awkwardness of meeting someone new, while also supplying you with the sexual encounter that you want.

Andy Eversole, 37

Musician based in Greensboro

Looking for: Women

Favorite app: Tinder

First, I am so glad I didn’t find out about dating apps until my mid-thirties.  If this had been around in my twenties, that would have been a whole lot of trouble. Second, there is no substitute for learning the skill of approaching and talking to someone you are attracted to in public. The “crash and burn,” as well as the successful approach are both character builders.

  1. A simple, flattering profile picture of just you is important. Snapchat dog, crown or fairy filters look ridiculous. Genuine smiles or pictures snapped in mid belly laugh go a long way.

2. Converse. If we match, and I ask you a question, respond and ask a question of your own. If I have to ask too many questions to keep the conversation going, it feels more like an interrogation. No fun.

3. A drink at a bar or coffee/tea date is ideal to get to know each other. This feels much more relaxed and informal with not so much built in expectation.

4. Hold off on the “tell me more about yourself” questions until we meet. Some banter back and forth to get a vibe is great, then let’s meet up.

5. Offering to pay your share of the bill on the first date is gold. I will never let you do it, because it feels good to buy you a drink or two and enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, for the guys out there, if you can’t afford to buy a couple of drinks for your date, then you shouldn’t be dating. You should be working.

(Read more by clicking Page 3 below.)

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