One of the advantages of online dating is that you can be completely anonymous. One of the disadvantages of online dating is that you can be completely anonymous. Breaking through the anonymity while maintaining safety and privacy is the big challenge of online dating.

Online dating communication usually progresses through four distinct stages: text, audio, visual and in person.

Step 1: Text Communication

Online dating communication nearly always begins with an email. Most people email back and forth for a while before progressing to the next level of communication. While emailing, they usually explore topics of common interest without giving out personal information.

Another online dating communication method is instant messaging. IM is similar to email except that it occurs in real time and allows you to respond to each others’ comments. It’s like a text conversation.

Before signing up for an online dating service, it’s wise to establish an anonymous email account with a public internet service, such as yahoo or hotmail. Use this email account for all online dating communication. You can usually establish an IM account with the same name as your email account.

Step 2: Audio Communication

You can use instant messaging to progress to audio communication if you have a microphone and speakers on your computer. This allows you to continue to interact with each other without divulging any more information.

At some point, however, you will probably want to talk on the telephone. This is an important point in the relationship because it is the first point where you share information that could reveal your identity.

If someone has your home phone number, he or she can find out your address, name, the names of other people who live there and a lot of other personal information. Most people prefer to use cell phones for initial communication in order to protect that information. You can enter *67 before making a phone call so that your number does not show up on caller ID, too.

Somebody has to offer to share his or her phone number. Because stranger relationships are more dangerous for women, most of the time the man will divulge his phone number first and ask her to call him.

Step 3: Video Communication

Not every couple needs this step; many go from talking on the phone to meeting in person. If you are extra cautious or if travel is necessary for you to meet in person, video communication is a good next step in getting to know someone. All you need is a web cam, and you can communicate in real time with sound and picture.

Step 4: Meeting in Person

This is the next point of risk for most people. When your online dating relationship progresses to the point where you are ready to meet face-to-face, you are investing more of yourself, your heart and hope, in the relationship, and you are making yourself more vulnerable to the possibility of personal danger. It’s important to be cautious and to take safety precautions, but this is also the point at which your online dating relationship can turn into something more.

Take time to progress through the stages of communication when you are building an online dating relationship. It’s safer to remain anonymous for a while and to divulge personal information a bit at a time as you develop trust in the other person.

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