Red Flags of the Online Dating Dance

When I woke up this morning, I looked over at the pillow beside me... Instead of the sixty something year old partner I imagine, (I’m 57) there was my laptop.  I’m sleeping with my computer!

That’s how it feels with online dating sometimes. Like your relationship is with your computer. It’s one of the reasons I co-authored, “Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating,” a book that shows us how to make online dating playful and takes some of the sting out of dating your computer.  

I also have a strong interest in making online dating safe.  I served as a Special Agent of the FBI back in the day, ending in 1997, so I have some relevant background to frame my experience and identify the red flags I’ve encountered.

In the 4 years I’ve been dating online, I have grown personally. At first I wondered if daters want to grow while dating online?  Well, whether you start out that way or not, I certainly have learned a lot about myself, especially my “little kid” self and how to improve my relationship patterns. This goes hand in hand with paying attention to the red flags I discovered which are shared below.  

In keeping with the mindful, body-awareness exercises in our book, I’ll call these patterns dances.”  Paying attention to the dance we’re doing on a dating website as we relate with potential partners helps us stay safe, physically and emotionally.  

While online dating at Chemistry, Match, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish, I danced with hundreds of people.. some Rap Tapping... a little Tango... a dozen fabulous Promenades.

Yackety Smack Rap Tap

Those dancing the yackety smack rap tap love to tap, tap, tap on the keys of their keyboard. They email a lot, text often, and yackety smack on the phone; BUT they don’t want to meet in person.  

My friend and co-author, psychotherapist Dee Wagner suggests, Digital dating offers relationship controls that are not possible in person. Direct interaction can sometimes feel too threatening.”  

Rap is storytelling. And when we’re yackety smack rap tapping, we may email long stories about ourselves, text, “Good morning, good night,” but we prefer to stick to emails, and perhaps a phone call. We stall when asked to put on our ballroom shoes (or cowboy boots) and try out a promenade.

I have learned it’s worth it to risk some emotional vulnerability to meet early in safe public places. It helps me avoid tapping myself into deep disappointment when I realize I am just yackety smacking with someone I really wanted to meet. For more about how to deal with this disappointment, see Chapter 10, “Dealing with the Really Low, Discouraging, Disappointing, Awful, Terrible Times.”    

When we get hypnotized by rapping and tapping online, we can end up with only virtual relationships. If virtual relationships are a conscious choice, that’s fine. If you, like me, want to Promenade, you have to risk walking onto the dance floor, and possibly getting your toes stepped on and stepping on some toes yourself.  

Mystery Tango

The mystery tango is a con dance, the kind of dancing done by a catfish. It often involves “soft” lies.  Sometimes we fudge our age, our finances, or photos.  Sometimes this swirling tango is the big lie of a scammer.

If we find ourselves wanting to initiate a mystery tango, even just for a few steps, we might need to read the chapter in our book called Liar, Liar Pants on Fire to learn why honesty is the best policy.

Folks who mystery tango want to keep things cloaked in mystery. Sometimes the secrecy is a wish to control the romance or the sex. Sometimes the smokescreen is for financial gain. If the mystery tango intrigues us, we are more apt to be seduced into cooperating in elaborate cons.

A con artist may give little to no verifiable details about themselves; they are SO into their potential partners that they can only talk about the other. In that way, those who mystery tango are good at hooking potential partners emotionally. They usually want to get off the website right away, and ask for a personal email or phone number. Often they tell a dramatic story to hook their potential partner.

Dee says from a psychological standpoint: “Often we’re attracted to these fantastical relationships because the direct interaction with available people is too intense for us. We feel more comfortable in the fabric of the fantasy a mystery tango can weave.” 

  • Someone dancing the mystery tango might claim he or she can’t meet due to being overseas on assignment for the military or traveling for an important job but wants to meet when he or she gets back; may write long, detailed emails designed to hook potential partners emotionally so watch for inconsistent information.  
  • Someone dancing the mystery tango might claim to be well educated but write poorly; start the email with “Hello pretty” and again, NO specifics.
  • Someone dancing the mystery tango may also be a professional trickster so ask for a meeting early on.  

Check out this email from my files:  

“Hello pretty. Nice to hear from you, I am new to this online thing, I just join the site 5 days ago, and your profile is the first matches I receive for the site and when I view your profile I get interested in getting to know more about you after reading your profile and viewing your pictures and I think you have a great smile. I guarantee that I am a nice man and know how to treat a woman. well my favorite dish to cook are so many dishing, some of my dish is consists of Chinese, Mexican, and Italian with Jamaican sauce and rice being my favorite dish. Cheers, .”  

When I first started online dating, I would have written back because he answered my question about what he liked to cook. Now I know this is just someone cutting and pasting and not a real possibility so I don’t email this person at all. I hit the X button and move on.

Deadly Pirouette

This is a predatorial dance; given the right opportunity, a person dancing this dance will hurt or kill a potential partner. Someone dancing this dance may seem:

  • Charming and quick to leap into a first meeting but also ready to drive right now to your home.
  • Romantic and accessible – “Can I come over right now? Or meet you at the park on the outskirts of town?”   

NEVER!  Women have been raped and murdered as a result of saying yes to the deadly pirouette. Anyone who won’t meet you in a public place for your first face-to-face meeting is a risk.  

Possibility Promenade

The true Possibility Promenade is my kind of dance! This is a mindful, moment-to-moment dance with a real person who wants a healthy relationship, gives details about themselves freely, and will meet you in an appropriate public place for coffee or a meal. This person does not flinch when you ask for their last name and say you are going to check them out to see their public profiles.   

I am happy to have met at least a dozen potential partners through online dating who danced with me a dozen true Possibility Promenades.    

First we exchanged a few emails, and then we had at least one phone call where we felt comfortable talking with each other and asked questions so we knew this was a true possibility.  

And take heart!  There ARE good dancers out there!

Summary of my dance card: 

o   I skip any dance that feels like the Yackety Smack Rap Tap (in 3 emails) or the Mystery Tango.  

o   To find a person who promenades, I email 3 times, then ask for a phone call.  (I don't accept excuses about travel, too busy to go on the site, etc.  If they can’t set a time to talk, they are not a True Possibility and don’t get to dance with me. ) After 1 or 2 phone calls, we must meet.  

o  I do not text until I meet someone, and I say so right up front.  Most folks interested in a true Possibility Promenade will not object. 

o   I write 3 emails a day (or try to!) responding to matches. At first, I wrote long emails; now I write one or two sentences showing I read their profile and I ask a question. 

o   If the person doesn't respond to your email, that is a “no” for now.

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 Kathy Jernigan - Co-Author  

Naked Online:  A Dozen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating at or
Photo and illustrations by John Cargile

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