The sixth stage of the online dating process is when you meet a potential partner face to face. This section shows you how to come through the experience…
Here we get even nearer to ‘real life’ dating – though there are still some pitfalls. Here are our guidelines.
Get your timing right
If things are going well with emails and phone calls, it’s best to suggest a meeting sooner rather than later. This isn’t just so that you can find out if someone is truly a potential partner – it’s also to protect you against disappointment. Research suggests that there’s a crucial threshold about six weeks into online emails where you can start to raise your expectations unrealistically high and then feel very let down if, as often happens, a face-to-face meeting proves that there’s no compatibility.
Notice how the meetings are negotiated – or not…
As always, be aware of the dynamic of the arrangements. Is one of you making all the running, and the other holding back? Is one of you insisting on a particular venue or activity, despite the other’s wariness? Who makes the decision about where to go and what to do? Who pays and how is the money side of things negotiated? Remember that how you are treated here is probably better than how you can expect to be treated in future.
Create a bounded meeting
Short meetings – coffee, one drink, in a public place – are better than setting aside a whole evening or weekend. If things go well you can arrange another meeting soon; if things go badly you will want the meeting to be short. If you live a long way from each other, even then only firmly fix a limited amount of time together. Trust us, a whole weekend with someone you dislike is a nightmare, especially if they are keener than you are.
Create a safe meeting
The standard safety rules are well-known; they are for the benefit of women, but men too need to be aware of their importance. They bear repeating because after several emails and phone calls there is a (false) feeling of knowing someone far better than you actually do. So however much rapport there is:
- Meet in a public place.
- Make sure you can leave and return home easily.
- Give a friend details of whom you are meeting.
- Arrange a ‘safety call’ to a friend just after you meet the date.
- Never go home with an online partner you’ve only just met.
Be the best you can be
Dress well, not over-formally, not over casually and well-groomed. Drink lightly; alcohol may calm your nerves, but it will make you less likely to act naturally. Be relaxed and friendly, willing to give attention but also willing to reveal more about yourself. As mentioned, don’t talk endlessly about the past, about the downsides of your life, and in particular about partnership breakups. Instead, concentrate on building the here-and-now relationship between you and your potential partner by making the conversation equal, and about mutual interests, common experiences and shared values.
Judge, but don’t over-judge
As always, notice what is happening – the balance of conversation, the interest a potential partner shows, how attentive they are to what you need. That said, people may have off-days or health issues, and the fact of a first meeting may make many nervous; take that into account.
If someone violates one of your deal breakers, it’s only fair to tell them that and allow them a chance to alter their behaviour; “I’d prefer if we didn’t order that third bottle of wine…”, “I notice that you’ve told me a lot about yourself – is there anything you’d like to know about me?” If such alerts are ignored, this isn’t a good sign. What you see on the first date – when people are trying to impress – is typically much better than what you will get in any future relationship…
Minimise your expectations
The first meeting with a potential partner is most likely to be the last meeting. If one or both of you have ignored danger signs in emails and phone calls, the face-to-face meeting will be the moment when you realise the mistake you’ve made..
Sadly, we often have very high expectations; because emails and phone calls are held at a distance, they may have been genuinely delightful there may have been no danger signals to ignore. This makes the face-to-face realisation of incompatibility even more of a shock. Most of the horror stories you hear about online disappointment centre round this issue, but it’s a fact of life; someone who can be bright, witty and socially competent online, may prove to be very far from that in person.
If it feels right…
… say so during, or at the end of, the meeting. Then suggest another meeting or follow up with an enthusiastic email suggesting another date.
If it feels wrong…
… say so during, or at the end of, the meeting. This may seem brutal, but is far better than showing fake enthusiasm to be polite, then sending a dumping email when back home. Again, have your own mentally rehearsed lines ready in advance; if you’re searching for a tactful but firm way to end things then “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, but I’m not sensing any chemistry” isn’t judgmental, but allows for no counterargument or persuasion. It’s good etiquette to wish a rejectedpartner well in their search.
If most of your face-to-face meetings end in disaster, you need to rethink your strategy. Most likely you’re setting your bar for meeting a partner too low. In future, weed out unsuitable candidates earlier – be more aware of what you’re really seeing in profiles, emails and phone calls. Learn to become a better detective at spotting the small clues that spell incompatibility.
It is also possible that you are setting the bar for a first face-to-face meeting too high. Most people will be nervous and not at their best, even if it doesn’t show obviously. You may need to give more people a second chance.
PS: What you may have to cope with in potential partners
However nervous and unsure you are, a potential partner may feel just as nervous and unsure. So give some leeway to overtalking, long silences or anxiety-driven social incompetence – if you think there’s attraction, then suggest another date when you will both be more relaxed and natural. Equally, a partner may not know how to tell you that “it feels right” (or wrong), so if you aren’t sure what’s happening, take the initiative and suggest a brief “where are we at?” conversation.