Meeting Online Contacts Offline

You’ve met someone who shares all your important interests online. You might even think you’re in love with this person. You’ve decided to meet in real life. That’s great. In fact, I’ve met lots of acquaintances offline after knowing them online for a while, and the vast majority of my experiences with offline meetings have been positive, or at the worst neutral. I have, however, been very cautious about who I met, where the meeting occurred, and how much information I provided to a new acquaintance.

There are a few recommendations I’d like to share with you. Some of these are rules which I’ve always followed. Some are lessons learned through personal experience (hindsight is still 20/20, even in the year 2001). Some are things I wish other people I’ve known had done differently that might have helped them avoid some very bad experiences. The effectiveness of these measures does, however, rely in part on you being careful about how much information you’ve given out to people before you meet them offline—think about that. Seriously.

When you meet this marvelous individual offline, do it in a public place—very public. It’s best if you don’t meet him or her alone—arrange a group activity of some sort. Don’t go with the person to a private place, either—not until you’ve known him or her offline for some time. Private vehicles are private places for this purpose—don’t get into this person’s vehicle. Period.

Have a local safety contact. Let a trusted friend or family member know that you’re meeting your acquaintance and arrange to check in with that person at a specific time just to let him or her know that you’re okay and say how it’s going. You might want to have some prearranged phrase to let your safety contact know if there’s a problem. Check in when you said you would, no matter how well the meeting is going, because doing otherwise is likely to put any responsible safety contact into panic mode (I know this all too well, having been the safety contact for somebody who just didn’t get around to calling me as arranged). Give the contact some information about who you’re meeting in case they need to find you for any reason.

Personally, I wouldn’t agree to an individual meeting with a person who wasn’t an established member of a social group in which I participate and came with good references from others who had met him or her.

I think it’s a bad idea to go meet someone on his or her home turf. Obviously, if you’re starting a long-distance relationship someone will at some point have to travel somewhere for you and your sweetie to meet in person—but I’m not wild about LDRs, either. I know of too many people who have hared off to a distant location, felt uncomfortable upon arriving, and gone ahead with the visit because a) they couldn’t afford to go stay at a hotel if they planned to stay with their acquaintance, or couldn’t afford to get an earlier flight home; and/or b) they were less "in control" and assertive simply because it was the other person’s territory. Most of those meetings turned bad, some very, very bad—some even dangerous or harmful.

Whether you’re close to home or travelling to see this person, do not allow yourself to be dependent on this person in any way. If you cannot fund your trip comfortably, you have no business going. You must have enough money to feed yourself, obtain decent shelter, and get back home safely.

If you feel absolutely any doubt or uncertainty, don’t agree to the meeting, or cancel it. I don’t care how last-minute it is, or how rude it seems—you have instincts for a reason. Use them. Yes, that’s common sense, but it’s all too common for people not to use common sense!

Originally published December 12, 2000

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