From Online To Off-line Love

You met someone great online; now it’s time to meet in the real world Here, how to ensure that it’s a success.

By Sara Susannah Katz

ou’ve made a great online connection. Now you’re gearing up for your first face-to-face meeting. Before you do, consider these must-dos from our dating pros:

One step at a time.
“Step up the ladder of interpersonal interaction rung by rung,” says Mark Rogers, Ph.D., dean of graduate training for Pathways Life Management, a
If you email for too long, you could just become pen pals.
non-profit self-help seminar program founded by Dr. Phil McGraw. Once you’ve made your email contact, says Rogers, step up to a phone “interview.” By not skipping steps, you get to know each other better and avoid the disappointment that can come when you rush things.

Get a reality check.
Before your first date, request a few recent photos and offer up some of your own to make sure you both really know what the other person looks like. “Ask to see a few recent pictures, preferably in a variety of settings—and ‘recent’ means within three months,” suggests relationship coach Frankie Picasso. “If he or she has an excuse like ‘I don’t have a digital camera’ then recommend taking regular photos to Wal-Mart and have them put on a disc. Then upload. If the other person still resists, move on. He or she is hiding something.”

Chill out.
Once you set the date for your first meeting, “resist the impulse to be in constant online contact before your in-person date,” whether through email, instant messaging, or texting, advises Erika Moore, co-founder of Romance Language, a New York City agency that helps craft online profiles. “Some people are great at email and then seem disappointing in person,” says Moore. “Too much email can raise unrealistic expectations.”

How many pre-date emails should you allow yourself? No more than three, says relationship coach Terri Sloane. Too many emails “and you risk becoming email pals, which is not your goal,” says Sloane.

Don’t give up too soon.
“If your first phone conversation isn’t as sparkling as you might wish, don’t summarily
Don’t blow off other possible dates too soon.
eliminate your potential date from the running,” says Moore. “The phone is not everyone’s best medium.” Moore suggests using the phone to “weed out people who have nothing to say, are obvious mismatches or make you feel uncomfortable.” Anyone who makes the first cut is worth a meeting, even if his or her phone skills don’t exactly dazzle.

On the other hand…
“Give yourself permission to decline an in-person meeting if it doesn’t feel right,” says Lisa Steadman, author of It’s a Breakup, not a Breakdown ( “Just because you agree to talk to a potential match on the phone does not mean you have to commit to going on a first date. If you’re not feeling a connection, if you’re sensing red flags, or if the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, feel free to decline an invitation to meet in person. You’re not obligated to take any further steps. Just be sure to be courteous and kind about saying no.”

Be safe.
Common sense (and all the experts) suggest that your first meeting should be in a public setting. Other safety tips: Take your own transportation, give your date a cell number instead of your home phone, be sure to tell a friend where you’ll be, and keep your cell phone on. “You may feel like you know the person after chatting a few times, but remember, this person is still a stranger,” notes Andrea Syrtash, author of He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing).

Keep it simple.
The first meeting should be short and simple, says dating coach Keri Newell ( “Meet for coffee, dessert, or a drink,” she says. “A short date won’t waste anyone’s time and will save you both from a possibly less than great experience. Besides, you can always extend the date if you are both having a good time.”

Keep your options open.
“Even if this person sounds perfect, don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” says Erika Moore. “You don’t want to blow off other possibilities too soon.” That could be a challenge if you’re a romantic type who tends to pin all your hopes on a happily-ever-after ending. Just remind yourself that it’s really OK to correspond with a few online daters at once—it doesn’t make you a player, just a realist. Now go have some great dates!

Sara Susannah Katz is the author of Wife Living Dangerously and the blog, The Devil Wears Dockers.
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