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DISCERNING THE GOOD FROM THE BAD IN ONLINE DATING
Conartists are defined by their charm and manipulation and with increasing numbers of people using online dating apps, Auckland clinical psychologist Dr Sophie Muir says it’s important to be vigilant.
Sophie offers insights into how people can protect themselves online in a popular new series of podcasts, Conning The Con, launched recently by Glenorchy-based physiotherapist and breathing coach Emma Ferris, who says she was swindled by a conman she met through an online dating app.
Emma, a switched on, independent mother and successful businesswoman, says the lessons learned from the trauma of being conned can help many women and that’s why she launched the podcasts with her London-based sister, Sarah Ferris, earlier this year.
“We’ve designed the podcast to educate and protect listeners – women and men, from falling prey to the world’s oversupply of con artists,” says Emma.
Emma Ferris recording for her podcast series.
Sophie shares her insights and clinical experience into the criminal mind in an effort to equip dating app users with the wisdom and know-how they need.
“It can be a good idea when first meeting to do so in a public place and to tell a friend the details, including when you’ll be back,” says Sophie. “As a relationship develops, it’s important to get feedback from your friends and family about their impression of your potential partner,” she says. “Those on the outside may be more able to spot red flags.”
No matter how slick and smoothed over a lie is delivered, Sophie says third party information that corroborates what they are saying is your best lie detector test. However, it’s not always practical or realistic, especially in the early stages of dating, she says. “What you’re looking for is consistency in someone’s narrative of themselves over time and congruence between their words and actions,” says Sophie. “Dating does require some trust and tolerance of uncertainty, but if you’re consistently left feeling confused and your attempts to get clarity from someone are met with evasiveness or hostility that should be a significant red flag.”
Looking back Emma says there were a number of occasions when things didn’t add up during her six month relationship. “My emotional needs were being met so I brushed off my instincts,” says Emma. “As he had changed his name legally I couldn’t find his real identity. I tell women now that it’s really important to listen to your gut.”
Traditionally, people met their partners through mutual connections, or frequenting similar geographical areas or workplaces, says Sophie. This added more pressure for assurance, respect and accountability. “Dating apps provide you access to a wide pool of potential partners with whom you could have little to no cross-over with in day-to-day life, reducing their accountability to you. While this has some fantastic benefits, it also adds risk and unpredictability of outcome,” she says. “It’s important to test the validity of information your date has presented to you as they may be less accountable than meeting through traditional methods,” says Sophie. “Make sure any information lines up with their online work and social media profiles and is consistent across time and settings and that they have introduced you to friends, family and colleagues,” she says. “It’s also helpful to consider what your friends and family think.”
“The big struggle I see my clients facing is how to move from a first date into a longer term more meaningful connection,” she says. “Dating apps can be oversaturated with people who are unsure of what they’re looking for, or who are wanting a casual relationship. Dating apps have contributed to a disposable dating culture.” For those who are searching for a long term relationship this can leave them feeling quite hopeless and lonely, says Sophie. “I work with clients to identify warning signs of incompatible partners up front and filter these individuals out.” Despite the challenges, Sophie believes that dating apps are an incredible resource for pursuing meaningful relationships, if you have strategies in place to navigate red flags and risk.
*Check out Emma’s incredible story of courage and resilience on her podcast, Conning The Con, featured as our Podcast of the Month.