Dating and relatioinshop advice from one of pittsburgh’s foremost experts, Susan Dunhoff, Professional Matchmaker and relationship adviser.

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For more than two decades my business has been pairing my clients with single, compatible romantic partners. I’ve seen couples go from sharing a bottle of wine on a first date to reading their vows to one another on their wedding day. People come to me when they’re serious about building a romantic relationship. Herein lies my expertise.

Through this process, I’ve seen my fair share of love, excitement, anxiety, frustration, and a laundry list of interactions that run the gamut of human emotion and experience. I’m here for posterity, to lend some advice to any readers wishing it, and to hopefully help make dating more safe, rewarding, and enjoyable for everyone involved.

In this column we’ll explore the ways in which we interact with and meet potential romantic partners. We’ll talk about how to find and engage with new people, the best ways to go about making the first date happen, and I’ll give some tips along the way on my do’s and don’ts for the early stages of dating. I’ll give pointers on how to make communication easier, and show you how to build trust and respect. We’ll talk about important aspects of healthy relationships like compromise, intimacy, humor, forgiveness, and the importance of understanding the nuances of human communication.

We’d also like to hear from you. Each issue we’ll go over submissions from our readers to answer questions, analyze dating story lines, and give advice. Whether you’re dating online, mingling with friends, or just keeping your eyes open for love, we’ll try to make this a good place of reference for you.

So, for this first issue, I’d like to give a few tips for what many of you are already trying, online dating. The advent of social media dating is revolutionizing the way people meet and interact with one another in a romantic setting. According to the Pew Research Center, online dating sites and applications use among 18-24 year olds has nearly tripled since 2013, and the numbers are also up for people aged 55-64 years. It’s an exciting new way for people to cast a net, as wide as they’d like, and drum up new acquaintances.

These sites can be tremendous resources for people, but they also come with their pitfalls. The foremost concern I have for these sites is safety. Here are a few simple steps to take to be sure you’re being safe, having fun, and not wasting too much time with misleading profiles.

ONLINE DATING SAFETY TIPS:

Get their last name. This sounds almost too simple even to mention, but in my experience a few text messages behind an attractive face can lead people to rush into a date scenario without any real information about the person they’re meeting. There’s nothing wrong with a casual meeting for drinks, but people are rarely forthcoming with negative personal behaviors or experiences that my be unhealthy or unacceptable to others. Which brings me to my next tip:

Perform a criminal background check. Many of my clients are surprised at this suggestion and I often hear people scoff at the idea of going to such measures for a meeting organized on an app like Tinder. However, it costs as little as $25 with companies like InstantCheckmate.com. The price of a round of cocktails could save you a ton of time and increase your safety exponentially. At the very least you can check court dockets using PA’s Unified Judicial website, ujsportal.pacourts.us. or Pennsyvlania Access to Criminal History’s website, epatch.state.pa.us. These searches cost nothing but will give only vague information about court history; they won’t tell you credit history, out of state matters, or potential aliases. While you’re at it, there’s also a free search for PA police records at psp.pa.gov.

Have a backup plan. Call your friends before your date, let them know where you’ll be and how long you’ll be there.

Meet in a public place such as a coffee shop or busy restaurant. If you’re driving, valet parking is best but not common in most restaurants. Try to park as close as you can to the venue and be sure you are not being followed when you leave.

Never get into anyone’s car! Until you’ve met someone, feel comfortable with them, and have a good sense of their character I recommend against getting in a stranger’s car. Once you’re in there, your date is in control of where you go and when you get there.

The most important advice I can give is be comfortable with yourself and have fun. Try to enjoy getting to know new people. Oftentimes, people can become so obsessed with finding their future life partner that they don’t stop to enjoy dating and getting to know new people. Your first date may not be your new partner, and that’s perfectly fine. So long as you’re comfortable and content with yourself as a person, the rest will fall into place.

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