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Going on a first date with someone is always a mix of exciting and scary. It feels a lot like buckling yourself into a roller coaster. You hope that you will have a good time but know that it may not go well. When you go on a date with someone you met online, the feelings are much the same. You look forward to the date, but you are also somewhat nervous. 

When meeting someone in person that you originally met online, there are some extra concerns that you need to handle. There is always some measure of risk in spending time with someone who is essentially a stranger, but those risks are magnified when dealing with a person that you have previously only interacted with through a screen.
Before you meet with someone you met online, there are a few extra steps you need to take.

Speak to them over the phone.

If you are considering meeting an online friend in person, hopefully you have already spoken to them over the phone. If not, do it immediately. It is very easy to put on whatever sort of persona you prefer when speaking to someone purely through a screen. You have time to carefully formulate each response and can easily explain away any delays. You can hold multiple conversations at once. You can have another person read over your shoulder and help you come up with a good response. You can look back through old messages and check to make sure that your lies are consistent. None of those things are possible over the phone. If you are serious about meeting someone you met online in person, you need to know that you can have an actual conversation with them. So, call them. You will get a better feel for their personality, and you will be able to tell right away if any of their basic traits were a lie. After all, if they have been claiming to be a 32 year old man and a woman claiming to be the mother of a cunning 18 year old boy picks up the phone, you know it’s time to drop that potential date like a hot potato.

Confirm what you know about the other person.

Before you actually meet someone you met online in person, you need to make sure you they are who they claim. Internet dating sites are filled with people who put out fake personas. Some of them are simply trying to be a more attractive potential date, such as a law student lying about being a successful lawyer, but there are predators and other dangerous people online. Make sure that the person you are meeting actually exists. Research them online and make sure the information you find matches up with what they have told you. If you cannot find the supposed doctor who owns his own practice online, the odds are that your would-be date is not who they claim. Exchange pictures as well, and when you do, insist that they take the picture doing something unusual such as doing the Vulcan salute with a fork behind their ear. This will prove that the picture you receive is actually the person you are talking to and not an image they pulled off the internet.

Review the area where you two are meeting.

If you are going to meet a stranger, you want to be familiar with the area. No matter how well you think you know this person, remember that anyone can put on a show online.
Make sure that where you are meeting is a public place, easily accessible and not surrounded by areas where you could end up in trouble. A fine French restaurant might sound like a great place for a date until you look at the map and realize that the only place to park is a five story parking garage down a narrow alleyway. Not the best place to meet a complete stranger. You also want to pick somewhere you are familiar with and comfortable going alone in the event that one of you leaves the date early or your date stands you up.

Tell people where you are going and with whom.

Whenever you are meeting a stranger, you need to make sure that someone you trust knows where you are going. The internet, unfortunately, is full of creeps and predators. Make sure someone knows where you are and who you are meeting so that if something were to happen to you, people know where to start looking. Set a time when you will be home, and ask a friend or family member to check in with you if they have not heard that you are home safely. If you decide to stay later with your date, let your friend or family member know, and continue to check in periodically. For example, if you said you would be done by 9:00 p.m. and decide to catch a late movie with your date, call your friend or family member and tell them so. Then, let them know you will check in again after the movie. Make this conversation a phone call. If something were to go wrong, it is very easy to send a text message pretending to be someone else. It is much harder to mimic a voice.

Decide up front where you will draw the line.

Meeting up with someone you met online can be very exciting, and it can be easy to get carried away in the moment. You do, however, need to be cautious. Decide before your date what you are and are not willing to share with someone that you do not know. This could mean keeping the fact that you live alone to yourself, or deciding that you do not want a stranger to know the details of your job. The sad fact is that some people will use online dating for nefarious reasons ranging from kidnap attempts to corporate espionage. 

Before your date, decide what you are and are not comfortable doing as well. It can be easy to get swept away by someone who seems like the one. Draw your lines beforehand and stick to them. Even if they seem perfect, stick to your pre-established limits. If you said you would only accept a drink from the bartender, politely decline a drink that your date offers to bring to the table. 

Set realistic expectations.

When you meet someone you met online for the first time, it can be easy to assume that things will go perfectly. You two have been chatting online for months without issue, so of course the conversation will flow smoothly. Talking online and in person, however, are two very different things. When you meet someone face to face, there will be awkward silences, uncomfortable moments and times where one or both of you put your foot in your mouth. Neither of you will look as perfect as you do in your profile pictures, and you will both probably be suffering from nerves. Approach the date like you would any other first date and set your expectations accordingly. 

Have fun.

Meeting up with someone you originally connected with online requires extra caution, but going into a first date riddled with paranoia is not a good thing either. Take every reasonable precaution to protect yourself, but do not forget why you agreed to the meeting in the first place. It is perfectly possible to be careful while still having a good time.

First dates always require some extra preparation, and meeting with a stranger for the first time always requires some caution, and the online friend you are meeting is a stranger. Regardless of how long you have been chatting online, you still do not really know them. Approach the date with the mindset of meeting someone who is an interesting stranger, and you should be fine. Have fun, but be cautious. No date is worth risking your safety.