Watch out for the pitfalls of overly-marketed online dating.

About two months ago, I took the plunge and decided to broaden my scope by venturing into cyberspace in search of a partner.

I must say, I had my fingers burnt and once bitten, twice shy.

The most recent experience left me thinking hard about this highly sanitized and overly marketed fad.

Does online dating really work? 

That question still lingers in my mind as I nurse the hurt of a seemingly promising relationship that went awry after a month of what appeared so real. Similarly, I ask myself, are those “success stories” real or just engineered as part of a brilliant marketing strategy?

Right now, to me, the online dating community seems like a bad neighbourhood fraught with pitfalls and populated by control freaks, psychopaths, sociopaths and pathological liars among many other undesirable elements! 

To be honest, I feel like “Little Red Riding Hood,” who did not heed her mother’s advice and ventured into the woods, falling prey to the big bad wolf in the process. I warn all those who are considering online dating that there are some strange creatures lurking in that sanitized, dense cyber forest. It is hardly a safe place for the genuine, naïve and trusting so go in with your guard up and your senses on high alert. In fact, if it weren’t a virtual place, it is the sort of hangout your mother would spank you for visiting, and that, for your own safety in future.

The downside to online dating is that anyone can reinvent themself. A pauper can pose as a rich man and Plain Jane  can purport to be a supermodel. There is no way of authenticating who people say they are and such  relationships hinge on trust so you have to believe a total stranger without any proof to back their claims. Unfortunately, not everyone is honest and we do not all read from the same moral code so the risks are high and it is very easy to be deceived.

In addition, people have different agendas. While some people are sincere, unfortunately, not everybody is equally genuine so it is very easy to unwittingly fall into a trap. I have heard horror stories of women who unsuspectingly fell into drug rings. They innocently travelled to meet online partners, only to be used as drug mules with drugs being stuffed into their luggage on their return trip home. Now some of those women are serving sentences for crimes they were not party to. In this age of high level crimes such as drug and human trafficking, serial killing and interner fraud, one has to be very careful who they communicate with.   

Having dated a few men online over the past two months, I can say for sure that some of those online daters are terribly messed up. Perhaps that is the reason they prefer not to find someone within their locality, which should raise a red flag. Come to think of it, anyone who is willing to shop online to have a spouse boxed, shipped and delivered at their doorstep must either be extremely lazy or have some sort of social handicap. (I hope you’re not thinking that applies to me) Let’s face it, really, it’s a sure sign of a problem.

I have concluded, perhaps rather prematurely, that some of these people who date online want a relationship, like to feel loved, want to give love, share part of their lives and experience the highs and lows that come with a relationship. But, and a big but at that, they are not ready to commit. So, they look for a virtual partner who has all the qualities  they want and can relate with them from a distance. When it comes to the crunch and its time to meet in person and get serious, they retreat back into the safety and anonymity of cyberspace where no one can touch them, leaving a trail of heartbreaks behind them.

Sadly, when this kind of relationship  ends, one can vanish without a trace by deleting their account and changing phone numbers leaving the person on the other end smarting and wondering what on earth happened. Such are the sad realities of connecting with strangers online. Further, anyone who wants to play games can re-emerge under a different identity and continue to fool around.

I had one such experience recently. I met someone online through a popular “African” online dating site. I thought to myself “Wow! Signed, sealed and delivered straight to my e-mail on my birthday. What a gift!” This man turned out to be the perfect match, everything I was looking for in a partner and he said the same of me. Naturally, the relationship took off like an eagle in flight. By the second day, we were already on the phone, chatting for hours on end. We had so much in common and were like kindred spirits. He called me his “soul mate” and could not have been far from the truth. We could talk for several hours at a time and not run out of topics to discuss. It was only when sleep crept in or a new day dawned that we had to end our conversations and attend to our daily chores. In spite of being busy, we kept in touch throughout the day by chatting online in between work.  The relationship was highly addictive and had all the qualities of something real. We were scheduled to meet in person a few days ago, which was just over a month of dating online. Needless to say that  after all the hype and euphoria, he did not turn up. He was scheduled to arrive in my home country from South Africa after a business trip so as per his instructions, I hired vehicle because he felt my car was too small for his luggage. I had set up appointments and people to play golf with him and even arranged dinner to meet each other’s friends who were in the country. It was all well planned and highly organised. After waiting more than three hours at the airport and checking all airlines, including the ones he had not mentioned, with no sign of him in sightit finally dawned on me that this man was not coming.  What an anticlimax!

As you enter the cyber woods of online dating, remember you might be like Little Red Riding Hood and a big bad wolf could pounce on you from any direction.

After failing to raise him on his mobile, I got worried that he may have run into problems and tried to get hold of his employers only to be told there was no such person at that organisation. Attempts to contact him on the phone proved futile. His mobile has been on voicemail since then and he has been ignoring his e-mails. Naturally, the realization that this was a hoax led to some humiliation, followed by slight depression although for some reason I did not feel any anger. I think he was too gentle a soul for me to be angry with. I’ve never been stood up on a date before so this was really hard for me to swallow.

I later learnt that there are some people who are addicted to starting and ending relationships online. They get a “high” from being in love and can actually talk confidently about their online lover without the challenges and responsibilities of a proper relationship. This gives some semblance of normalcy to their lives and relationships. While I’ll never know what motivated him to lie, I have certainly learnt that not everyone who is involved in online dating is a saint.

This raises the questions: Should one give oline dating a chance or simply steer clear of it? What are the odds that one will not meet a  pathological liar or worse?  These are difficult questions to answer, particularly when dealing with complex and unpredictable human minds.

My advice to anyone who decides to date online is that it is not necessarily a bad thing. We should learn from other people’s mistakes but not give up just because of someone else’s unfortunate experience.  Just because someone had a miscarriage doesn’t mean people should stop getting pregnant!

However, should you decide to take the plunge, “remember, not everyone is as genuine as you are, so approach the cyberwoods with caution. Chances are you are like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “a big bad wolf” could pounce from any direction. On the other hand, there are some real, sincere people that are genuinely looking for a life partner and should you meet one of those, hurray for you. So, expect to either meet a  big bad wolf or a prince because sadly, one sometimes has to kiss some frogs before the prince emerges. I can’t help but wonder though, how many cyber frogs the average person must contend with before the knight in shining armour bursts into their life!