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Online romancing a ‘risky venture’

Dear Miss Manners: Do you have any “rules” for online dating that pertain to determining the person’s character and integrity before continuing the relationship?

I got very badly burned by someone recently who seemed to be of sterling character, treated me well, then dumped me without a word, and I had to confront him about it. (The precipitating issue was he wouldn’t get an HIV test.)

The whole Internet dating thing is scary to me, and this incident makes me feel like my character judgement ability is weak.

What is the real deal anymore? So many men seem to be just looking to hook up.

Gentle Reader: Let us address only the aspects of the situation that relate to Internet dating. While undeniably making it easier to meet great numbers of people looking for romance, it has, as you say, made an always-risky venture even scarier.

Before this method, people met through other people, whom they both knew.

No, wait. Miss Manners has skipped an era, possibly because she prefers to forget. Before the Internet, determined people were meeting in singles bars. And complaining that these were, as they so elegantly put it, “meat markets.” What they meant was that an awful lot of people were there looking for something a bit quicker than romance.

Meeting through introductions from those who knew both people never precluded such unfortunate misconnections. But it does offer certain protections.

One is reputation. The go-between, knowing something of each person’s character and history, is able to vouch for them – and, if wrong, to damage the reputation of anyone who behaved badly. The online equivalent requires accepting the testimony of people who are equally unknown, and being able to warn only other prospects, without reaching the offender’s own circle.

The other protection is deniability. People who frankly declare themselves to be looking for romance are bound to encounter different interpretations of what may loosely be termed romance. But those who meet socially need not seem ridiculously – if not fraudulently – coy if they make up their minds about prospects slowly under the guise of mere acquaintanceship. They may plausibly become indignant at crude advances. As a bonus, they lack the paradoxically unattractive aspect of someone who is “looking.”

Miss Manners is well aware that all this is little help to those who feel that long work hours and a demise in strictly social entertaining have given them no choice but to turn to strangers. She offers it only with the slim hope that it will encourage everyone to develop and cherish circles in which romance will flourish naturally, as it always has.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com.
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