Taking the Online Date Offline
Dating online is a daunting endeavor for some singles and certainly a challenge for many others. Initially, everyone who engages in the process enters uncharted territory, a new experience filled with many unknowns. Naturally, when I decided to give Internet dating a try, I was nervous about the process. Asking someone on a date was never a comfortable experience for me, coming in a close second to having a root canal. So, it was with some trepidation that I took the plunge.
Fortunately, the process was much less intimidating than I expected. Signing up with a dating service, creating a profile and getting my first batch of matches went quickly, though it did take a while longer to complete my “online résumé.” Nonetheless, determining when and how to transition from communicating with someone online to meeting them for the first time in person was a little more complex. Knowing how long to communicate before a first meeting or when to cease correspondence entirely was a bit more nebulous. In the end, it amounted to more of a gut feeling than anything else, a sense that I had covered all the bases and that it was time for a face-to-face rendezvous.
Specifically, I remember my initial meeting with Deb. I was surprisingly calm, unusual for a first date. Yet, when my future wife and I greeted each other for the first time, I experienced an inner tranquility, a sign that we had invested enough time learning about each other online to ensure that we were a compatible match. That can be your experience, too.
Set Yourself Up for Success
I found, as I believe you will, that taking an online date offline need not be a difficult or vexing undertaking as long as you prepare adequately. Several essential ingredients make the transition from online to offline dating smooth, healthy and safe.
Choose the Right Online Dating Service
Of course, in order to make the transition, an “online meeting” needs to occur first through a dating service or mobile application. If you’re interested in marriage, skip the majority of dating apps as they base matches predominantly on attractiveness and initial impressions above other factors, and are used more for casual meetups rather than to find lasting love. Instead, stick with a traditional dating service and use only the apps associated with them.
Further, choose a paid service. Why? While no dating site, paid or free, can guarantee success, paid services tend to draw a higher percentage of singles looking for a serious, lifelong relationship. Cost of entry acts as a buffer for those less dedicated. If you're a Christian, be sure to choose one that’s faith-based or one that recognizes faith as a significant factor such as ChristianCafe, ChristianMingle and eHarmony.
Create an Honest Profile
Your online profile is critical, too. Being honest when creating it should be a no-brainer. Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter to many potential suitors. Embellishing facts and stretching the truth are employed with little thought to the outcome. However, being truthful does matter. No one wants to be the target of lies, even little white ones. The truth will eventually emerge. So, keep the adage, “Honesty is the best policy,” in mind.
A profile also needs to provide an accurate representation of who you are in order to attract the best matches. Make it personable and memorable, keep it brief and be yourself. Make your first impression a great one!
Review Matches Thoroughly
An opinion held by many dating experts is to keep correspondence brief, make a phone call and get to the first date as quickly as possible. Don’t succumb to that line of thinking. It’s a great way to have lots of first dates, but not necessarily good ones. Instead, set a goal to learn enough about a potential mate in advance to decide if you’re sufficiently compatible to warrant a first date. That takes time, but finding the love of your life is not a race. It’s a journey!
Thus, before you contact prospective matches, read what they’ve written. Don't skim profiles, pour through them. Determine if they’re “datable” material and pass on any who fall outside your set parameters, deal-breakers included, and anyone who fails to include photos or who displays a tone of negativity.
Once you establish someone has potential, contact them. Screen your dates in advance to learn all you can to reduce uncertainly and eliminate less-compatible matches. Seek those who possess similar interests, goals and world views, as well as an openness to share about themselves. Ask lots of questions and take advantage of every tool an online service offers to get to know potential mates including email, texting, chatting, quizzes, lists and flirtatious gestures.
￼Prepare to Meet in Person
Once you start communicating with a potential match, how do you decide when it’s time to meet? First, be advised that no set formula exists. As I indicated above from my own experience, it was a gut feeling that I was ready more than anything else. Nonetheless, several steps preceded that determination.
Before you set a first date, be sure that you’re comfortable meeting your potential intended. By this point, you should have covered all the bases with them on matters that are critical to you. Do your goals and interests line up? Are you on the same page with regard to children, existing or planned? Is faith equally important to both of you and are your beliefs compatible? Are you considering a compromise on any non-negotiables or deal-breakers? Questions like these need to be addressed not only prior to a first date, but before you develop an attachment.
Another task to complete beforehand is to perform your own background search. You’re not ready to meet in person until you’ve done your best to discover everything you can about a future partner. Popular search tools like Google and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn allow you to research those you’re planing to meet. Several no-cost options are also available from Intelius. If you discover a valid cause for concern, ask about it before meeting in person or move on to the next prospective match.
If you’ve been thorough in the above, are confident that you’re compatible with each other and you have peace about meeting in person, schedule that first date. Again, it’s partly a gut feeling. You’ll know when the time is right. Conversely, if you have any doubts, you need to ask yourself why and deal with whatever issue is still unresolved.
Plan for a Healthy Date
If you’ve been diligently working towards a first date and the time has finally arrived, what next? Prior to meeting your potential partner, you need make sure that initial face-to-face goes as planned with a safe and positive outcome. At least two things must occur for that to happen.
Put Safety First
Although many singles legitimately search for a life partner online, unscrupulous characters seek victims to prey upon. So, never share too much personal information with someone you don’t know and trust—even if they ask. Guard your conversations and be cautious with what you disclose in your profile and early communications.
Always meet for a first date in public and let a friend or family member know your plans. If you’re uncomfortable going alone, ask someone to accompany you and sit nearby. Keep personal items in sight at all times, stay sober and carry protection—a pocketable defense spray, at minimum, like Mace Triple Action Pepper Spray.
If a potential mate lives in another state or country, are you willing to drive or fly to be with them, and conduct a significant part of your dating remotely? Apps like Skype and FaceTime help span the gap once you’ve met (I usually recommend avoiding such apps before a first meeting since they can negatively impact your perception of someone who is overly nervous or self-conscious). Still, direct encounters are essential to determine if you’re a match. Establish your stance on this issue before you’ve become attached.
A few added precautions should be observed for those in a long-distance relationship. Stay in a hotel, not with a prospective mate. Keep the location confidential and choose a public setting for your meeting at some place other than the hotel bar or restaurant. If you can’t afford accommodations, don’t make the trip. Suggest they do the traveling instead. Finally, secure your own ride. Don’t get into a personal vehicle with anyone you’ve never met before. For additional advice on this topic, read “Five Essentials for Online Dating Safety.” If you would like a more in-depth treatment of online dating, I recommend my book Discovering Love Online: Love May Be Closer Than You Think. And, for a brief overview of key points to help kickstart your dating experience, check out The Do's and Don'ts of Successful Online Dating.
Plan Dates Wisely
First dates should be simple and inexpensive. Even if you date remotely, aim for simplicity and reign in spending when possible. Good ideas include meeting for coffee, dessert, a light lunch or a stroll in a public place.
Keep the date short and the conversation light. Plan for an hour or two max, but allow for extra time should you hit it off. As for appropriate topics, each other’s background, childhood, hobbies and interests, preferences in music and movies, careers, family and friends, and religious upbringing are all good and predominantly safe fodder for discussion. However, leave anything negative such as failed relationships, exes still in the picture, financial woes and health concerns for later. And, don't try to be someone you're not to impress your date. You want someone who likes you for you.
Hold your emotions in check, as well. Don’t create a fantasy relationship in your mind and then get your hopes dashed if it doesn't work out. That way, if you don't click with each other, you won't be too disheartened.
Finally, establish boundaries in advance. It’s critical to solidify your physical standards of conduct prior to any dating. Hormones are a force to be reckoned with and the time of reckoning is never in the heat of the moment. Wait until then and you’re likely to exceed what you or your date is comfortable with physically. If anything has the potential to ruin a relationship before it even has a chance to blossom, it's this. So, make your standards clear in your profile and, if need be, in your correspondence. And, avoid possible matches who don’t hold the same convictions.
Move Forward Carefully
When the first-date has ended, you’ll need to decide whether to move forward or move on. Honestly, it should be evident in 15 minutes or less if you’ve met a potential match or need to keep looking. You will either click or you won’t.
If there’s clearly no chemistry, thank your date for meeting and excuse yourself. No need to prolong the pain. Just don’t be too quick to judge if you’re not 100 percent positive. Some people are extremely nervous on a first date and need time to feel comfortable and open up. Give them the chance.
Once you’ve moved from several dates to an exclusive relationship, it’s time to retire your profile. Make sure you are both in agreement, then notify the dating service that you want to close your account.
The transition from online dating to meeting in person need not be arduous or nerve-wracking. As with every area of life, bathe your dating relationships in prayer, use common sense, trust your feelings and enjoy the adventure!
About The Author
Architect of Propeller Cap, LLC and former singles ministry director, Chuck Miller brings a diverse career background and four decades of experience as a writer, editor, publisher and pastor to Discovering Love Online.
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