I’ve met over 20 people from the internet in the past year. Some of them have been incredible (the conversations, the outings, the sex), others have been brief and fun, and still others have been downright unpleasant. Many of my friends think this is crazy, and I suppose I can understand this. We grew up at a time when the Lifestyle network was banking on stories about girls being lured online by serial rapists/murderers; girls who would tell no one who they were going to see, and who eventually wound up in a ditch or cut up into little pieces in the woods only to later be discovered by anyone on the cast of Law & Order. But obviously not everyone ends up a victim to (seriously fascinating) internet sociopaths like the Montauk Grifter or worse, victim to complete sickos like the Craigslist Killer. If anything, most of us just end up with a few tame stories about people much like ourselves just looking to connect with anyone.
The first person I ever met from online was an old friend from my days in the AOL chat room back in the late 1990’s. My friend (who i’ll refer to as Alec) and I used to discuss everything from Marilyn Manson to Kids in the Hall throughout a portion of our early adolescence. Then, in 2009 (or 2010?), after many years of random IMs and texts, Alec told me he was coming down to Miami with his girlfriend at the time. The perfect opportunity to meet finally presented itself! We made plans to meet up at the bar on my university’s campus for an afternoon drink. I told my boyfriend at the time about my plans, and he wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“How do you know this guy’s even real?” he asked, more paranoid than usual.
Now, I suppose that it’s true that one could potentially create such an elaborate lie spanning over a decade just to meet one random girl from South Florida. But the odds that the many profiles Alec had created on various social networks over the years, not to mention the phone conversations we had, were actually all falsely created, were slim to nil. On top of that, we would be meeting in a public place during the day time and I was letting people know where I would be. I didn’t doubt that Alec was who he said he was, but I do admit I did want to err on the side of caution.
And so came the afternoon that we would meet. I left class that day in a hurry and rushed over to Titanic for our meeting. It was probably one of the best first-meetings i’ve ever had with anyone. Alec turned out to be exactly who he’d said he was and then some. We continued to speak after our meeting, after he returned to Buffalo, and I even wound up spending an unforgettable time with him in Ohio last Summer – all thanks to the internet.
Not every encounter goes like this, of course. I tell a story about a guy (i’ll call him Richie) that I went out on two brief dates with who I also met via the internet. More specifically, we met via the popular internet dating site, OKCupid. Richie was a native New Yorker finishing his undergrad in town. He was a good looking guy and at the time I had just re-entered the dating scene (having been in a relationship for a good 4 years prior). Richie was the 2nd guy I agreed to meet from OKC. We made plans to meet near his Brickell apartment for dinner. He seemed like a nice enough guy, although a little negative in general. The first red flag came up during our dinner, and it was the kind of flag that should have informed me that this was not the guy for me. There was a table full of women next to us who were all speaking Spanish.
“Why do people need to speak Spanish in public? I mean, this is America,” Richie griped.
The statement was so ridiculous that I just didn’t really know how to react. I’d just met this guy, a guy who I found to be physically attractive, a guy who seemed to have genuinely good taste (according to his profile, anyway), and then this. I put my anthropologist hat on and attempted to see things from his point of view. Why shouldn’t people speak another language in public? I asked. I drank my wine fast as he went on about how he wasn’t racist, how he didn’t mind that people speak other languages, but that he was fed up being in a city where people spoke another language more than English. He went on about his frustrations about being unable to always communicate since he didn’t speak Spanish. He said he thought it was ridiculous how people didn’t make an effort to learn. He continued to spew narrow minded responses until I finished my meal, and I tried to put it into my head that he didn’t really mean it in a bad way. Oh, the things we’ll tell ourselves when we’re trying to hit it off with someone.
The rest of the night went alright. I wound up meeting him again on another night after work. From the minute we met up, he began to whine about being hungry and what a shit day he’d had and wanting to just find a good place for a beer. We walked by several places, each of which he’d say something negative about.
I made a suggestion to hit up Transit Lounge, but when we got there, they didn’t have anything he wanted on draft. He complained about this and so I suggested we go elsewhere. We wound up going to this burger joint of his choosing. And then, the conversation killer began:
“I don’t get why people like shows like Sex and the City. All it teaches is women to be whores. Most TV does.”
Sigh. Suffice to say, he went on trying to explain his position and I retorted with the societal double standards regarding sex had by men and women, but he wouldn’t hear it. Then, smiling as politely as possible, I turned to him and said,
“Thank you for the beer but I don’t think this will ever work. I’m going to finish this drink now and walk out and then we’ll never see each other again.”
And that was that. My first (and potentially only) negative experience meeting someone from the internet.
Since then, I’ve been lucky to meet some pretty awesome people. While I was traveling last year, I used CouchSurfing as one of my main means of meeting folks and finding housing throughout the country. Couchsurfing, for those who don’t know, is a website where travelers can meet up and make plans to meet or even arrange cost-free housing while on the road. The great thing about the site is that it allows others to leave reviews of their experience with you to keep things just a bit more legitimate. I first did this in Pittsburgh and then also got to do it again in St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. I definitely plan to start being more active in the Miami CS community soon, and hopefully even using it again on future travels.
Another site I’ve used to meet people (as I said before) is OKCupid. Some people are still of the mindset that online dating is hokey, while others I know personally have made great friends and even found their spouses as a result. Still, there’s a definite stigma attached to it that seems to hold a lot of people back from doing it. When I tell my friends i’m going on another OKC date/hangout, they often tell me they wouldn’t have the nerve to meet someone from the internet. But I’m here to preach the gospel of meeting new people (not necessarily just for dating), regardless of the means. So here’s a few tips to help you get over your online-people-are-scary mentality:
1. Do your research. First and foremost, make sure you’ve spoken to this person online at least a few times before meeting them. Especially at first. If you’ve found someone via an internet profile site, make sure to read everything on the page and check all the pictures. You can get a good sense of whether or not they’re just an internet troll or the real thing. I’d say most people are legit. Depending on the site, maybe you can get a good sense of what their interests are (note these for topics of conversation). If you’ve got their full name, you could always go the extra step and Google them. Some people might see this as excessive, but it’s always an option for the extra paranoid types. If they’re on a site like CS, read their references. You can even check on their references’ pages to make sure they’re on the up and up.
2. Pick the right scenario. Alright. You’ve exchanged a few e-mails or IMs, maybe even swapped numbers to text each other to make plans. Now it’s time to decide where you’re going and what you’re going to do. When first meeting someone, it’s always wise to pick a public location. Even if you’re meeting someone near their home, it’s probably best to meet them outside, on the street, before deciding where to go next. Bars and restaurants and cafes tend to be ideal of course. Plenty of people around coupled with some form of activity (I find that having a good beverage on hand is nice when meeting someone new. Coffee, wine, tea, beer, whatever. Gives you both something to do while stripping away the awkward layers that always come with first meetings.)
3. Take a few safety precautions. Meeting in public as I just said is definitely one. But another precaution I like to take is letting at least one other person know where i’m going to be. Before heading out, text an address and maybe the name of who you’re going to be with to one of your good friends. I don’t ever enter these situations with the mindset that something will go badly, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe, especially when you’re a single female.
5. Make sure you’re comfortable. The first time you meet someone you’ve only spoken to online might be incredibly nerve wracking. It gets easier the more often you do it, but sometimes the jitters might still appear. Be sure that you’re comfortable with the entire situation. If you have a bad feeling about meeting someone (something about their profile or your conversations felt off, or they want to meet someplace very secluded, etc), don’t do it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about these situations, it’s trust your gut. Never agree to anything you’re not completely cool with. This of course varies from person to person.
6. Have a good time! You and your hang out buddy/potential date are both probably thinking the same things. “I hope they’re cool/they aren’t crazy/they like me” are generally what we all think before meeting someone new. Don’t put too much pressure on the night. Go into it like you would going into any night palling around with your best friends. If it’s someone you met from a dating site, it’s probably still best not to approach it as a date. Instead, just see where the night takes you. Sometimes people hit it off, sometimes they don’t. The important thing is to just enjoy meeting and getting to know someone new. Ask them questions, make jokes, make suggestions, relax. Breathe. Meeting someone new is not the end all be all of your social life. The more relaxed you are going in to the situation, the more relaxed the other person will be, and the more likely it will be that you have an enjoyable time.
Have you met anyone recently from the internet? Was it good, bad, just plain ugly? I’d love to hear your stories. More on meeting online folks and the world of internet dating to come!