Sometimes it happens at parties or church or at the neighborhood coffee shop. For Anna Broadway, it happened right outside Trader Joe’s.
“I’d gotten pulled into a conversation with a person gathering signatures for a petition and, just as I was leaving, I noticed a guy standing near me, looking sort of nervous,” says the 32-year-old author of Sexless in the City. “The petition guy asks him, ‘Oh, did you want to sign this?’ but the guy says, ‘No, I have a question for her.’ So I’m like, ‘Yeah?’ And he comes up to me and shows me his hand and he has a little piece of paper with my username on it. Then he asks, ‘Does this mean anything to you?’”
Odds are, it could happen...
With more and more people signing up for online dating sites (according to the Pew Research Center, 11% of American adults have tried an online dating site or mobile dating app), it’s hard not to run across your butcher, baker or even your boss while surfing for dates. Equally common is the chance running across an online cutie you’ve been eyeballing or corresponding with while out and about in the real world. The question is, is it kosher to “out” an online date by introducing yourself in person? Or should you wait for the digital magic to take its course?
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Broadway says it was definitely odd having someone do an in-person approach to her through her online dating username but that, in the end, she didn’t mind all that much. “It was a little bit weird, but ultimately, I felt like it took a lot of courage,” she says. “And I admired that. Of course, I feel like a lot of it depends on how receptive you are or whether the person creeps you out. I think the same move could be flattering in one case and sort of weird in another.”
According to Julie Spira, author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating, a lot also depends on how the person handles the outing. “If you’re going to approach someone, I think you need to be a little coy about it,” she says. “If you see someone you’ve seen online and go directly into saying, ‘I saw your profile on Match.com,’ you might be perceived as a bit of a stalker. But you could say something cute and clever, like: ‘You look familiar. Do we know somebody in common?’ then maybe a conversation will develop.”
Spira doesn’t think making up an elaborate lie is the way to go, but suggests keeping things fairly non-specific. “Saying you look familiar isn’t really even a white lie,” she says. “It’s not unlike saying, ‘I think I saw you at the library dinner last week’ or ‘I think I ran into you in the fruit and vegetable aisle at Ralph’s.’ This person looks familiar because you saw his or her profile online. My advice is to be a little vague. And be gracious, even if the other person’s not interested.”
Don’t I know you from somewhere?
Lori D., a 38-year-old web editor from Dallas, says she played it cool when she ran across a man she recognized from Match.com at a party. “One of the first men I found when I first tried online dating was this guy named Cory,” she says. “I just felt immediately from reading his profile that we would be friends. So I ‘favorited’ him and kept going back and looking at him but I never asked him out. And then one night, a friend suggested I go to her friend’s housewarming party and I walk in the door and it’s the guy!”
Lori says she felt awkward at first — “I’d been staring at him for over a year; I almost felt like a stalker” — but says she decided to keep mum and see if he recognized her first. “My friend introduces us and he goes, ‘I know you from somewhere,’” she says. “I was certain he was going to say, ‘I’ve seen your profile,’ but instead he says, ‘I remember seeing you at a party about a year ago.’” Lori told him she remembered the party but didn’t remember him, then after chatting for a bit, confessed she actually knew him from his online dating profile. “He said, ‘Really?’ and asked why I’d never emailed him,” she recalls. “And we actually did become really good friends after that. I guess the lesson there is, if you get a crush on someone online and are constantly looking at that profile, you should just email the person.”
Keep things cool, not confrontational
Are there approaches people should avoid? Absolutely, says Spira: “I was at a singles event and was bombarded by two different men who said they saw me online and had written to me,” she says. “They both demanded to know why I’d ignored their emails.” Spira says that putting people on the spot about an unanswered email is an immediate turn-off. Instead, she suggests a light, flirtatious approach. “If you’ve been checking somebody out and you see that person in real life, there’s nothing wrong with being sweet and saying hello,” she says. “Just be pleasant and start up a conversation — but be prepared to be blown off.”
Online daters might also want to prepare for an “outer” with a bad memory, says Mary W., a 41-year-old web editor from Seattle, WA. “My boss asked me if I would sit in on an informational interview one day and when the guy came in, I immediate recognized him from an online dating site,” she says. “And he recognized me, too, but didn’t know it was from the same site. So he kept saying, ‘I know I know you’ and I kept looking at him, trying to get him to shut up because I had a feeling he would have been mortified if he knew he was outing himself in the middle of a job interview.” Mary says she tried “everything short of feigning a seizure to get him to stop,” but he kept trying to place her. “He was clueless,” she says. “He never did figure it out.”