I remember the first time I told someone I met my then fiancée and now spouse on-line. Their face went through this weird metamorphosis as they tried to hide their built-in distrust of an icky stranger with their trust in my judgement and happiness over my new attachment. If it hadn’t been so disheartening, it would have been comical. Over the years, I’ve become used to the awkward pauses and baffled looks as people try to process the information after they ask me how I met my beau.
However, it’s horribly confusing to me that I get the same responses from many of my on-line friends and acquaintences. Many people still maintain a fierce dichotomy in their real-life and on-line relationships, and find the absence of those same divisions in others as something wrong. I think those folks are missing out on an opportunity to enrich their lives with love and laughter in relationships that never took the next step–whether in friendship or romance! So today I wanted to look at some of the myths surrounding on-line relationships and hopefully convince some folks that even if it’s not for you, those of us who’ve been successfully running that gamut for years are not bat-shit crazy.
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire
The internet provides a great layer of anonyminity between our real-lives and the avatars that we choose to be. It’s easy to become known as the greatest champion of the universe on-line while suffering a crippling handicap in real-life. That doesn’t make the person behind the screen less honest than anyone you meet in the street–it’s just a more immersive type of escapism that many people enjoy by watching movies and T.V. programs, or reading a fabulous novel.
However, are internet folks really less honest? I don’t really have any data on the veracity of the general or on-line population, so you’ll just have to follow me along as I ride my gut here. There have been some sensational stories about betrayal and loss of trust in figures of the interwebs, but considering the number of people who can plug into gaming circles or just the interwebs generally, I think that it should be expected that some will be dishonest. I mean, con artists fabricate entire lives to suck in folks and take their hard-earned cash. In that context, how evil is believing someone is a sexy fox only to find out they’re a 50 year old man?
The bigger issue most folks have is fearing that the person on the other end of the connection is secretly an axe-murderer living in a haunted house. Seriously people? Don’t you watch Criminal Minds? Ever read a James Patterson novel? Anyone, and I mean anyone can be a total psycho. Meeting someone at your favorite hangout is great but it doesn’t guarantee that the person you’re chatting it up with over a couple of glasses of wine is any more stable than the fella you kill internet dragons with every week.
In many ways, developing an internet friendship is downright the safest way to get to know people and find out about their lives and interests. But just like when you decide to take that retreat back to someone’s apartment, you should take precautions when choosing to go meet a new friend face to face.
A Budding Relationship
There are some things that you should do to protect yourself when meeting new people on-line. They’re pretty common sense, and some can even be useful in more conventional relationships. If a date asked for your credit card and social security number, I assume that you know to say no, right? Well that’s all you’re doing when you protect your passwords and user names from your new dearest friend. You’ll also want to keep your personal information such as place of home/business, personal numbers and probably your full-name to yourself until you’ve established at least a veneer of trust. There’s a lot of information that can be gleaned from the interwebs with a little bit of know how and information, so keep it simple!
And a staple for any new relationship ladies and gents: Do not even think about sending money. New relationships (whether romantic or friendly) should not begin with an outpouring of financial despair and a plea for help. You are not a saviour of mankind. You have your own bills to pay. Once you know someone well enough that you wouldn’t mind them showing up at your job for lunch, then you can consider whether you want to mingle friendship and cash, but until then, there is absolutely no good reason that you should be shelling out your hard earned bucks. (And if you ever do decide to send money to someone, use a service like Paypal!)
Sadly, on-line relationships can be abusive too; however, in many cases (if you haven’t divulged your entire contact list) they can be easier to severe. Change your name, block the idiot, and resume your life.
Meeting Without the Screen
Many of these are rules that women have been taught for years to make sure they’re removing their pants only when they want to. However, some only apply to meeting folks long-distance. Despite some of the kerfluffle about mind to mind trumping all other considerations, there is a chemistry that takes place in real life relationships, whether you’re talking about a friend or more than a friend. Sometimes people don’t translate as well into who we think they are when we meet them. Be prepared to expect some adjustments between your expectations and the reality, and really, don’t let it make you unglued.
Meet in Public
There’s nothing like a cozy bar or restraunt to find out if you can maintain a conversation without a keyboard, plus you have the safety of witnesses! While you might be tempted to make a private escape, give it a couple of days and make sure you’re comfortable. If you’re coming in from out of town, book yourself a hotel and don’t hand over your room key. You’ll want a safe retreat in case something goes weird.
Stay in Control
Feel free to have a cocktail, but don’t let your wits run away from you. If you need to leave the table, take your drink with you or order a new one when you get back. Same goes for your purse/wallet. No sense tempting fate!
Whether in or out of town, you should have an avenue to get to/from whatever venues you’re going to be visiting. It is absolutely not fun to become trapped somewhere with someone you decided should really be leaving you the hell alone.
I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have a cell of some kind these days. Make sure you keep it on and with you, even if it’s on silent.
Notify Friends and Family
So you might not want to call your mother and tell her you’re meeting a “special” friend you met on-line, but you should tell someone who’ll notice if you haven’t checked in and will check on you. In some cases, you might even take a friend or family member (especially if it’s not romantic).
I know many folks who have gone and stayed in a guild member’s home when a whole slew of strangers are heading into town to have a face-to-face guild meeting. I personally would probably feel comfortable staying with a few guildmates I’ve met and played with over the years, but there’s some I wouldn’t be 100% comfortable. Only you can gauge your own comfort level. Things I would keep in mind for a guild meet-up:
- Make sure you’re not the only one coming. If so, be safe, and follow the above.
- If you’re not sure how you feel, get a hotel. No one will be offended that you’re staying somewhere else.
- Make sure there’s a set meeting time, and don’t show up early. You want to enter with the pack!
- If you’re the only one who shows, beat a hasty retreat: it would be odd if 4-5 people confirmed and they all didn’t show up.
- If someone offers you a ride, make sure that everyone knows who you’re going with and get their license plate.
Going With the Flow
Keeping your offline and online lives completely separate may be the best thing for you. Sometimes, people just aren’t comfortable co-mingling the two. However, I know a great many people (and have met them too!) who have allowed on-line relationships to develop into fuller relationships by stepping away from the computer, and meeting in a different locale. Of course you’ll want to take safety precautions any time you’re meeting someone or traveling solo, but for me at least, it’s no more scary than meeting a stranger in a bar or nightclub!