Online Dating 101: When Should I Meet Someone Offline?

Trying out online dating is exciting. If you use a niche site like Christian Mingle, you’re surrounded by interesting sounding people on your wavelength – meaning profiles to browse and messages to send. But how long should you spend getting to know people online? Is there a right time to take the plunge and meet up in real life? In this post, Samantha Keller discuss some online dating etiquette 101: when to meet.

“I think I waited too long,” Cara confided to me. “I thought by taking my time and moving cautiously with potential online dates, I was a step ahead of the game. As a single mom, I’ve got my kids to protect and I desperately want to get the next relationship right.”

Cara figured if she kept the relationship online for a greater length of time, she could weed out the weirdos and non-committal types. But her reticence backfired.  After three months of emails and phone calls, Cara finally arranged to meet up with a guy she met online for dinner. By this time, her expectations were sky-high because the online relationship was romantic and whimsical, completely disconnected from the reality of her life as a struggling single mom.

It took Cara about 15 minutes to ascertain that she had wasted months of her precious time in a fantasy relationship. In person, the guy was bombastic and rude and he had a hard time keeping his hands to himself from across the table. It was their first and last date. From then on, Cara changed her dating strategy.

The Problem With Staying Online Too Long

Cara realized the hard way that people can create alternate personalities online that are radically different from their real selves. The hit reality show “Catfish” has documented this phenomenon, following unsuspecting victims who eventually find out their online romantic relationship was created by someone using an online alter ego. The best way to guard against this type of deception is to meet sooner rather than later so you’ll avoid getting involved in an emotional attachment that is headed nowhere.

Do Your Homework Before Deciding When To Meet

For every prospect you meet online, you’ll need to do a little research before deciding when to meet up. Read the profile of your potential dates carefully. Ask good questions. Look for any potential red flags, like no employment, limited relationships with their kids or just being separated vs. divorced. Ask for a selfie taken in real time so you know what they actually look like. Have a phone conversation or two before you meet, but don’t get emotionally hooked before you engage face to face. Remember to keep your expectations low. You are simply looking for a good match, not Prince or Princess Charming.

Meet At A Safe And Neutral Place

I advised Cara to find a safe place to meet, like a coffee shop at a large church. I asked her to try to limit the amount of time for the first meeting to an hour. I also suggested Cara make plans directly following her initial date. If she wanted to connect with the person again, she could plan to meet for a longer date at a later time. I warned her to never give out her address until she was comfortable. Another tip was to plan for group outings initially so she could get input from friends who would pick up on potential red flags that she might have missed.

Eventually, Cara met her future husband online and quickly moved the relationship offline to her local coffee shop where they hit it off. The next date, a week later, was a stroll on the boardwalk and some ice cream. Soon after, she introduced him to her friends. Cara spread out her dates and took her time getting to know her suitor in person instead of wasting too much time online.

Taking a relationship offline to in-person doesn’t have to be a frightening experience as long as you have an intentional dating plan. The online component is crucial to meet interesting people, but its purpose is as a catalyst, not an end in itself. Eventually, the right date will stand out from the crowd and you can move forward offline with confidence because you have already built healthy dating boundaries.

You might also be interested in 3 First Date Mistakes To Avoid