Dating Dangers: Love's a Minefield (cont.)

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."

You can't be too careful; date-rape drugs such as GHB, Rohypnol, or Ketamine can render a victim unconscious and with limited memory. Using these drugs is a federal crime that carries a possible 20-year sentence.

A few rules:

  1. Don't accept open drinks, whether they're alcoholic or not, from someone you don't trust.
  2. At parties, accept only drinks that come in closed containers. Never leave your drink unattended or turn your back on your table.
  3. Do not drink from punch bowls, pitchers, or tubs.

Another idea: Carry a Drink Safe date rape drug test" package of drink testing strips or coasters in your purse or pocket. These act like litmus paper, changing color when they've been laced with a date-rape drug.

Danger: Equal-Opportunity STDs

Here's another reality check: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are incredibly common in the U.S. -- even if your social circle is affluent and educated. The most common STDs are: Chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS.

To reduce risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Ask your partner if he or she has ever had an STD -- even if the question feels awkward. Limit your number of sexual partners. Don't have sex with someone who has sores on his or her genitals. Don't receive oral sex from somebody with a cold sore. Ask your partner to be tested. Try alternate forms of sexual intimacy.

Danger: Meeting Online

The anonymity of Internet dating has obvious hazards. If you're looking for love, your contact may be looking for just a quickie. Establish upfront what you are really searching for. Talk on the phone first, then arrange a brief meeting in a public place -- for coffee, lunch, or maybe a drink.

Dating advice: Take your cell phone with you. Let someone know where you're going, who you'll be meeting. Arrange to call your friend at a specific time. Park in a well-lit place. When the first date ends, don't let them walk you to your car. You don't want them to know your license plate.

Schwartz is relationship counselor for Perfectmatch.com. "I've used all the dating services ... I think online dating is great, absolutely the best thing of the 21st century. I've met some very special people."

Beyond people shaving a few years off their age, "I've never met anybody online who lied," she tells WebMD. "As long as they haven't said they're 40 and they're really 60. But I've never met anyone totally different than they present themselves."

But if someone lies about his or her weight -- lies to the extreme, that is -- that's what people really get upset about, "It's very unwise for women to substantially stretch their weight. If you're a size 14 or more, it's not fair. Just say, 'I'm heavy but still think I look great. You be the judge,'" Schwartz says.

Danger: Too Many Disappointments

Be realistic, says Falzone. "Keep the relationship casual in the early stages and let it evolve at its own pace. It takes time to build a quality relationship and the job cannot be rushed."

Maybe it's time to look at your criteria, says Schwartz. "It's not that bad out there. Maybe you're not choosing well. If you're going out just to be nice, that's not smart. The cost is repeated disappointment. It will ultimately undermine your sense of well-being and optimism."

Guys, are you going after women who are wrong for you, too beautiful and full of themselves, or are they too professional and you need someone more nurturing? "You have to figure it out," Schwartz advises. "There are too many good people out there for them all to be wrong for you."

A smart friend can help: "Tell me honestly what you think I'm doing wrong here." Listen, and then take their advice. "Or if you think it's deeper, you're being dysfunctional, maybe you need to get to a therapist," she says.

"I've never had trouble finding a guy," Schwartz tells WebMD. "It's because I really like people. I don't get bummed out if this one is not right for me. I know the kind of spark I want. And I don't think it's a mistake if it doesn't work out."

Last bit of dating advice: Keep a good attitude about your past. When people get divorced, they forget the good stuff about that relationship, and it undermines their confidence, she says. "It's all about attitude. You have to feel proud of yourself, feel good about yourself, happy to meet people. If you think they all have to be the love of your life, you're going to be unhappy."

Originally published Oct. 27, 2003.

Medically updated Aug. 11, 2004.


SOURCES: Pepper Schwartz, PhD, sociologist, University of Washington, Seattle. Paul Falzone, author, Find the Right One.


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