The Internet Getting Lucky Online

With the quantum leaps in communications technology over the past decade or so, more and more people are making their presence known—and seeking out other people—on the Internet. The unchecked flow of information makes it easier than ever before to reach out and touch someone, whether they live on the next street or half-way around the world.

It's easy to get excited about the increased potential for meeting new people that the Internet offers, but you need to temper that excitement with good judgment and a stiff dose of reality.

For starters, the very lack of regulation over content online that makes it such a potential boon to users is also the source of its greatest potential for disappointment. Since an online presence is such an insulated and faceless thing, it is easy for individuals to present themselves as what they would like to be (or what they think you want them to be), rathep^an what they actually are. And herein lies the peril we've heard so much about.

Wordplay

A chat room a Hows you to have real-time "conversations" online; with many people at once orjujt one person. There are chat groups for every conceivable interest. If someone in the chat room captures your interest, the two of you can transfer to a private chat room an if continue your exchange, one-on-one, Online chat is as safe as you want it to be—since you use a nickname to identify yourself for the duration of your chat; you don't have to reveal your real name or even your e-mail address.

Wordplay

A chat room a Hows you to have real-time "conversations" online; with many people at once orjujt one person. There are chat groups for every conceivable interest. If someone in the chat room captures your interest, the two of you can transfer to a private chat room an if continue your exchange, one-on-one, Online chat is as safe as you want it to be—since you use a nickname to identify yourself for the duration of your chat; you don't have to reveal your real name or even your e-mail address.

We are mildly disappointed when the charming person we met in the chat group starts pressuring us to buy cookware or seminar tickets or the like. We are irritated when that "educated, sincere, professional male" in the description turns out to be toothless Melvin, who lives with his mother just north of Checotah, Oklahoma. We are outraged when we find that our 14-year-old daughter's online boyfriend is really a 42-year-old married man with a history of preying on children. And we are terrified when the sweet young woman we met in the chat room has chosen the psychopathic Glenn Close character from Fatal Attraction as her role model.

The sad truth is that we just don't know if the person we meet online bears even the slightest resemblance to the description they give of themselves. And, even if they're honest in their description, we need to remember that it's pretty easy to be on our best behavior when our contact is limited to a few lines (or even pages) of text. Things can be completely different when you spend any length of time face-to-face with each other.

For instance, if you think that Internet sex predators frequent only the kinky newsgroups or sex chat rooms, think again. These folks can pop up even in the most benign cyber-environments. Take the case of a computer professional's e-mail list to which a client of mine subscribes. This list is similar to hundreds of special-interest online groups where members exchange ideas and tips, commiserate with each other, and form genuine friendships and business associations with other list members.

My client told me the saga of Darrell, a successful software entrepreneur who was one of the most frequent contributors to the list. His posts were often opinionated, and sometimes just this side of arrogant, but were usually very informative as well. Though he came across to the list as a dedicated professional, Darrell had a secret side. He had a habit of initiating private correspondences with new female list members. In fact, he aggressively pursued any new woman who sounded even vaguely interesting, and it didn't matter if she was married or not. (Darrell, by the way, was married, but, of course, his wife "didn't understand him.")

These personal correspondences always followed a pattern. At first Darrell would keep the messages on a professional level, and most of the women were thrilled to receive personal attention and savvy advice from such a successful colleague. But Darrell also wrote quite charmingly and persuasively, and before long, many of these exchanges would disintegrate into steamy cyber-affairs. When the affairs turned sour, as they inevitably did, Darrell would become viciously abusive to his partners. Most of the women ended up dropping off the mailing list.

If Darrell's affairs had been limited to cyberspace, they would have been bad enough, but Darrell was a traveling man. Throughout the year he attended trade shows and conferences all across the country, and he often arranged to meet female list-mates in person. He would always put a professional facade on the meeting, at least initially, but—you guessed it—more often than not, these meetings ended up in Darrell's hotel room. He went through woman after woman, and was instrumental in the breakup of two marriages and the near destruction of another. One of his lovers ended up under a psychiatrist's care, partly as a result of being "Darrelled." I'm not implying that these women were innocents who played no part in their own victimization. But I will say that most of them were fairly young and a bit naive, or for some other reason were very susceptible to Darrell's charms (not to mention the expensive champagne, first-class restaurants and hotels, and limo rides he plied them with).

For these reasons, I recommend that online romances, while they can be beautiful, be approached with some degree of skepticism. Beyond the rules of common sense where personal safety is concerned, you also need to apply that same common sense when you're considering investing your emotional well-being in another person.

Now that we've got the scary part out of the way, I encourage you to look into chat or discussion groups whose focus is on a subject that interests you. Participate in group discussions, and, should someone involved in the discussion tickle your fancy, feel free to carry on the correspondence privately. If you go slowly and use good sense, you might meet someone whose presence in your life is a real treasure. If you get impatient, or throw your good sense out the window, you'll learn why some treasure is better left buried.

Continue reading here: Personal Ads Learning to Read Between the Lines

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