Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Show skepticism until you get to know stranger, online or not
Online dating site vetting? Aside from hiring a private investigator, how can I tell if a guy who looks fine on a major dating site is in fact okay? (I don't mean nice per se, but like . . . not a felon, on abuse registry, con man.) I am not a worrywart but I am not comfortable.
Carolyn: Remember, the people you meet in person who aren't friends of friends, established colleagues, your mom's friend's kid, etc., are strangers, just like the people online. Seeing one in, say, the supermarket checkout line does give your senses a lot more useful information than ads do — but taking some obvious precautions can allow you to meet an online prospect in person and let your senses get to work.
Getting to know someone from scratch requires the same process it always has. You still have to take your time, be skeptical, pay attention to small things, meet his friends and family, introduce your friends and get their takes on him, listen to the way he talks about himself, you, other people, and I could go on. It's something we all do regularly without thinking a whole lot about it.
Where online dating does introduce risk is in enabling people to get lost in a crowd. If you're in a town with a dozen or two places to hang out, someone can be a jerk for just so long, to just so many people, before everyone knows s/he's a jerk. Online dating allows people to outrun the reputation-forming process, at least for a lot longer than was possible without it.
A long online-banter phase can also lull you into thinking you know someone better than you really do.
But that just means you account for these risks as you go.
D.C.: Re: Vetting:
Don't you think the question indicates a certain unhealthy level of paranoia or mistrust? I'm a man on an online dating site, and I've had e-mail exchanges with women who are too afraid to tell me even their first names and will cite the dangers of the Internet (though I'm not sure what damage I could do with only a first name). And I seriously doubt if I struck up a conversation with these women in a bar that they would be wary of telling me their first names.
Carolyn: Thank you for pointing out that the people of the online world and the real world are pretty much the same people.
I agree the original poster had lost a little perspective. For what it's worth, however, some people do give out fake names in bars, and there is just, in general, a keener sense of vulnerability among women than there is among men.
I actually think men in general would benefit from a little extra vigilance before trusting women. It's common for guys to be on alert for women who are clingy or annoying (as just about every beer ad reminds us, aaaaaagh), but I think a lot of guys aren't as wired to look for abusive women — not just women who hit, but also women who are emotional/verbal abusers. So defenses do have their place.