Thursday, April 14, 2011

Beware of Strangers

A woman in the US is suing the dating site for setting her up with a man who sexually assaulted her. The suit demands that the website screen its members for sexual predators. This lawsuit brings up critical issues surrounding internet safety, changing social trends, and questions of personal responsibility. And people should not be quick to dismiss this as a stupid and unfortunate case of someone making a bad judgment call; it is, in fact, a reminder of the stark reality that people should always beware of strangers.

In terms of personal responsibility, the lawsuit demonstrates that the woman was assaulted on her second date. This second date was a personal choice, therefore the woman should take personal responsibility for having put her trust in this person, regardless of the awful thing he did to her. The sad reality is that we are all putting ourselves at risk when we enter a relationship- particularly one with a total and complete stranger.

Changing social trends indicate that more and more people are putting their blind faith in technology, trusting it with just about every aspect of their lives, including their personal and romantic lives. This is an enormous risk. The internet makes you accessible, but it also exposes you and makes you vulnerable.

The rise of internet interactions is posing a series of unique challenges to our social behavior and our perception of risks. While websites will try to sell you internet dating as a great resource for accessing gorgeous potential romantic partners for candlelight dinners, it completely glosses over the inherent risks and also refuses to take responsibility for them by screens and disclaimers. In short, date at your own risk.

It's not the website's responsibility to screen their candidates. They're only interested in making money off membership fees. They are a cold hard cash business and don't fool yourself into thinking that they give a rat's ass about whether or not you find true love. In fact, the more times that you fail to find true love and end up on multiple dates with multiple losers, the better things are for them. So they are essentially making money off your misery.

This is not to say that nobody finds love on the internet or that websites don't work. But people should consider some important things before they do online dating.

1- People lie. It's so much easier to lie from behind a computer screen somewhere. You can be just about anything that you want to be- and many people feel that they want to be the best possible version of themselves, maybe slightly taller, slightly thinner, slightly younger. In any case, not themselves.

2- Pictures lie. In some cases, they're old photos, in others, they're 'borrowed' from other people. Yes, these people exist- few people would be stupid enough to pose as Angelina Jolie- but they are often not the person whose profile you're browsing.

3- Profiles are superficial. 1000 women who play soccer are not destined to be the love of your life, no matter how important soccer is to you. Not to mention the fact that breaking down a person by vital statistics like age, gender, race and likes vs. dislikes is not exactly a profound analysis. While companies like EHarmony claim that they have a formula with in-depth questionnaires, it's nothing compared to meeting someone face to face, learning what they're like in their every day lives, seeing them in unique situations, or having a history with them. This model may work at getting all these things, but it may also just be successful by happenstance.

4- First impressions lie. The woman in the lawsuit likely found her attacker to be charming because she agreed to a second date. Indeed, most people are charming at first glance, including dangerous ones. You can't assume that you actually know someone based on a first meeting. How many times have you heard people talk of bad relationships and start off with this well-known refrain: "At first, he seemed like a really nice guy. And then..."

It's the "and then" part that people should be wary of.

5- You are ultimately responsible for your own safety and well being. This means that you can't blame companies if you give a psychopath your phone number or if you sleep with someone you've just met and catch a sexual disease. These are your choices and you need to live with their consequences. Be careful, because you can't expect companies to look out for your interests; that's not what they're there for.

Only you can take care of you.

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