The widespread use of smartphones has changed the way people find love and companionship. It has definitely changed the rules of dating, both for straight and queer folks. The advent of online dating apps has given people across the world, especially those belonging to the LGBTQ community, a much-needed space to explore their sexuality conveniently but discreetly. However, online dating apps can be a boon and a bane, especially for first-time users. Just like in the real (offline) world, there are dangers lurking everywhere in the online world. It becomes imperative to take care of some simple, but often overlooked, safety considerations while using dating apps. After all, the experience should be one which is cherished and not regretted. Here are some easy-to-follow rules which can go a long way in ensuring your safety.
Don’t let stress overwhelm you
“There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears.” (Sylvia Plath)
You have finally taken the plunge and created your first profile on a dating app. Now what? Many first-time users forget that their profile (and the associated experience on the app) is meant for their own happiness. By pandering to the whims of other users, their own happiness takes a backseat. And this leads to the build-up of stress, which may result in serious mental health problems, body confidence issues, low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. These feelings can overwhelm even the strongest of people.
Helpful tip: If you feel even slightly uncomfortable in your interactions with someone, it is best to end the conversation and move on. You may not realize it, but the stress of a toxic conversation can linger for hours and even days!
Refrain from sharing personal details
“I don’t like to share my personal life……it wouldn’t be personal if I shared it.” (George Clooney)
The exuberance of meeting someone you like can lead to a lowering of guard. In the midst of this excitement, people often end up sharing personal information. Since you can never be sure of a person’s real intentions in the virtual world, it is in your best interest to take maximum precautions. Sharing personal details such as mobile numbers, details of social media handles, and your exact location is best avoided. Doing this may very well save you the hassle of dealing with a potential creep later on, if things don’t work out. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Helpful tip: Use the chat feature (available in all dating apps) to communicate. Many apps also permit video calls for interactions (although this may also not be an entirely safe option). This will ensure that everything stays inside the app. Many dating apps also provide options of linking your profile to emails and social media handles. It is best not to do so!
Use your discretion while sharing real photos
This is a tricky one. Some people are very comfortable sharing their real photos on dating apps while others are not. Most apps have some sort of a private sharing option whereby you can share photos and then delete them. PlanetRomeo has a feature called QuickShare Album (photos shared will be available for an hour), while Blued allows private sharing (which can be revoked immediately). These features allow you to control who can see your photos and delete them afterwards. Even while using private photo sharing options, discretion is advised. It is quite easy for someone to take screenshots of your photos in a few seconds, so be selective about sharing. Despite all the progress we have made over the last couple of years, homosexuality continues to be stigmatized. You never know where your photo(s) might end up or be used!
Helpful tip: There is nothing wrong in standing your ground and insisting that you will not share face photos. If someone is genuinely interested in you, they will meet you even without seeing your face. Of course, you will need to share something to make them interested in you in the first place! (Author’s note: It has happened to me not once but thrice, so you better believe it!)
Watch out for perverts and “flowers & leaves” profiles
“Dating is really hard because everyone puts on a front. It’s really difficult to see who is who, so it is important to be yourself.” (Brooke Burke)
The online dating world can be murky and deceptive. A majority of people create “flowers & leaves” profiles, meaning they use anonymous images such as flowers, leaves and scenery as their main photo, and don’t mention any worthwhile (non-personal) details about them. This is an all-too-common pattern on many dating apps. Such individuals will typically bombard other users with the beaten-to-death questions: Top or bottom? Place? Likes? D*** size?
It is also important to watch out for perverts. These are users who like to indulge their sexual urges and fantasies through any means possible. They will ask for your nude photos, pornographic videos, and even press you for nude video calls so that they can masturbate while ogling at your nude body!
Helpful tip: As mentioned earlier, if you have even the slightest doubt about a person’s intentions, it will be best to end the conversation and move on. Have faith – there are many more people who will come your way!
Don’t give more than you get
“Dating is a give and take. If you only see it as ‘taking’, you are not getting it.” (Henry Cloud)
This follows from the “flowers & leaves” profiles mentioned above. Many people will share little or no information about themselves, and expect you to share you face pictures, mobile number, nude photos, likes/dislikes and many other details. Online dating, even if the intention is only a hookup or one-night-stand, has to be a two-way street. People will liberally use terms such as “sexy top”, “hot, manly guy”, “fit and well-toned body” to attract others. While they may turn out to be nothing even close to that, it may leave you feeling inferior and unattractive. People like fishing for easy bait – don’t fall into their trap.
Helpful tip: An unwritten etiquette of online dating is that if someone is asking for your photo or mobile number, they share their own photo or number first. However, this is not a foolproof method – many people have the tendency to pass of someone else’s photo or number as their own!
Some other helpful tips:
- Review the safety features:All apps have in-built safety features; common ones include blocking users, and reporting/flagging users who are violating the app’s guidelines. Review an app’s safety features beforehand to know about various options available to you. If an app does not offer safety features, it is best not to sign up for it.
- Don’t rush to sign up for a paid version: Most, if not all, dating apps allow users to register for free and use many of their features. Explore an app thoroughly to determine if it suits your requirements; only then subscribe to a paid version. Subscriptions to dating apps are not cheap by any means!
- Delete your account/profile, not the app: If you no longer feel the need to use a dating app, delete your account instead of simply uninstalling it from your phone. Deleting your account ensures that your profile and data is permanently removed from the app.
- Accept your imperfections: Everyone has not been endowed with the perfect body or physique. While it is imperative to exercise regularly, stay fit and be well groomed, don’t let your natural imperfections come in the way of an enjoyable online dating experience. If you don’t accept yourself (flaws and all), how will others do so? Maybe the man with the perfect body likes someone with imperfections! (Author’s note: I can vouch for this through my personal experience of using dating apps).
The tips mentioned above are not exhaustive – they are simply an enabling guide to help you navigate the complicated and often stressful world of online dating apps. Enjoy the experience, but always remember that a little safety will prevent any unpleasantness or cause for worry. Happy dating!