Feature Archive

Dating Dangers: Love's a Minefield

Dating advice from the experts about how to find Mr. or Ms. Right.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Haines, MD

Your parents did it. Hitchhikers, rocket scientists, even nuns probably do it, at least once. The topic is dating, and the custom is as old as Adam and Eve.

Dating is the path to love -- and that path, as we know, can be a minefield.

We date and we date, but we don't find Mr. or Ms. Right. In fact, we may find someone a lot scarier.

There's serious stuff out there, like HIV and STDs, date rape, online stalkers. Then there are other dangers -- boredom, disillusionment, getting dumped, or simply getting taken. Two love experts offer their dating advice:

Danger: Blinded by Chemistry

Face it; finding a great mate takes some research. "You're going to go through a lot of people, until you find someone where there is some kinetic thing, some magnetism, some desire to know more," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"You're looking for a connection, someone you're physically attracted to -- who's physically attracted to you -- plus someone who doesn't make you feel bored from the get-go," Schwartz tells WebMD.

Chemistry, mutual interests -- that's all great. "But don't let the love bug mesmerize you," says Paul Falzone, author of the book, Find the Right One and CEO of "The Right One" and "Together," two nationwide dating services.

Falzone tells a story of a North Carolina woman who fell "totally in love" with a Massachusetts man she met online. Six months later, they met. Eventually, he encouraged her to sell her house, pack everything into a truck, and prepare herself and her two young children for a new life. Then comes the email saying, "I can't go through with this. I'm sorry, I'm dishonest, I'm married."

"You have to be very careful," Falzone tells WebMD. "Especially when children are involved, you want to make sure you're doing the right thing." In fact, he advises hiring a private investigator when getting involved with someone new. "People are nave, they will trust anybody. Then after they're snookered, they feel so silly, so embarrassed about what happened."

His dating advice: "You can't change the spots on a leopard."

Danger: Dying of Boredom

A date isn't a therapy session; don't ramble about lost loves or your personal problems too much, Falzone says.

At the beginning, your dates don't need to know about your insecurities, your dead-end job, your failed relationships, he says. It's one thing to show depth of character, but revealing inner demons can be a turn-off. Keep the conversation lively and fun, and slowly reveal the real you.

If you look back fondly on a past relationship, the message comes across that you're not over it -- causing your new romantic interest to feel threatened, jealous, or insecure, says Falzone. Showing bitterness over a breakup can make your date wonder if you badmouth all former flames. Sure, you need to bring up past relationships at some point. But too much too soon can lead to trouble.

Danger: Getting Cynical

Sure, dating can be frustrating, even disillusioning. But don't let it get you down. If you're feeling negative, you'll scare off the good ones. Get out, meet people, and be open to new people and new experiences. You'll meet someone. After all, dating is a process of elimination -- you just haven't met the right one yet.

"I think some people are much more rigid or sure about what they want," says Schwartz. "They don't want to make the same stupid mistakes. But feeling jaded, that's a self-invented problem. There are many good people out there. If you have a 50-item list of criteria, if you're too specific about what you want, too rigid, you're going to find yourself alone forever."

Her dating advice: Look beyond the bald head and other imperfections. "Have an open, optimistic mind. You've got to have enthusiasm, imagination. I know a 50-year-old woman who thought she wanted an intellectual. But she met a cowboy and is having a great time! When people say they're cynical, jaded, they're really scared of having to change a little bit."

Danger: Is It Date Rape?

Here's the really serious stuff -- a woman is vulnerable to rape in her own home, or even if she voluntarily goes to someone else's home. Even if she consents to some activity, that does not imply consent for all sexual activity. When a woman says, "No" or "Stop" that means STOP. Even if alcohol or drugs are involved, even if she doesn't put up a fight -- even if she's a former girlfriend -- it's rape if she says, "No."