Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Patience is a virtue, Exhibit A: the nut case

There are various reasons that patience is a virtue when dating online. One of them is the nut case. N.b. -- "nut case" is not a technical term, and it turns out that I am not a psychiatric professional. But you understand the gist. Or maybe you don't. A nut case could be someone who is clinically insane and outright dangerous. Or it could be someone who is unreasonably jealous because of the baggage they're carrying, and will make any relationship unpleasant and unhealthy. Or it might just be somebody who is painfully eccentric, and you're just not willing to sleep with them and with their paper clip collection, right there beside them. Whatever, you want to find out about who you're dealing with.

It's not always easy to be patient when you're doing this. There's a decent chance that you're pretty lonely, and maybe your confidence isn't all that it could be at this stage. A charming person comes along and shows you a little attention, and it's natural for you to get a bit anxious to push the thing along.

One of the primary features of affairs of the heart is that they have the potential to make people act really weird. This is all the more true if the other half of your bargain (we'll call him or her your "prospective") was already weird to begin with. Sometimes, of course, it's difficult to tell, and you don't find out until you're romantically entangled.

In traditional dating, you generally meet people through an existing social network, where friends who know your prospective will have opportunity to give you a heads-up, or at least a hint as to what you're walking into.

In most cases, you won't get this hint online. Unless your prospective plants red flags all over their profile (and some do), you'd have no indication that they were a nut case. So you have to be patient, and look for red flags where you find them.

The first way to guard against nut cases is to keep the first meeting light, and do it in a safe, public place. If you're the smaller/weaker half of the mix, this is a safety issue. If you're the bigger/stronger half of the mix, this is a matter of simple consideration. If some hulking galoot snaps that there's no reason you shouldn't meet behind the warehouse at midnight, you should sprint away from your keyboard and have nothing more to do with him. Even if he intends no harm, it's worrisome enough that he's so clueless that he can't appreciate the situation. This rule should be obvious and acceptable to both parties.

It's not a bad idea for the second meeting, either. If you develop a rapport in Meeting One and end up spending a lot of time together, use your judgment, but keep in the back of your mind that you likely still don't know much, really.

And keep your eyes open for other red flags. Once you get a name to work with, use Bing or Yahoo or whatever search engine you like to find out what you can. If your prospective is secretly running an S&M porn site, that would be good to know up front, huh? (Note that this statement holds true regardless of how you feel about the practice.)

Be aware of whether your prospective is evasive, or tells a story that doesn't quite add up. Sure, there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, but there's no reason not to trust your inner voice, which is asking "WTF?"

Take your time, get good answers, don't rush into a relationship. If everything is as it should be, you'll find that out in the fullness of time. And if your prospective is a genuinely good match, they should sense that, and they should stick around while you're taking your time finding out about each other. Don't take stupid chances. And read that again, out loud, if you have any small people depending on you to take care of them.

Having said all of that, I don't want to discourage romance or passion. Timing can be everything in love, and sometimes it's in your best interests to make your move when the opportunity is right. And keep in mind, while there most certainly are nut cases out there, most people are quite sane and quite reasonable.

If you really believe, deep in your heart, that the person across the table is sane, emotionally healthy, terrific, and just right for you, then by all means dive in as deeply and as quickly as you like. But trust any voices that are suggesting that you should slow down and take your time. They might be on to something.