You Met Them Where?

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!

Transport Yourself

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.

Stay Connected

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).

Guild Meetups

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!

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15 thoughts on “You Met Them Where?

  1. I met my husband online too. When I told people the story of how we met, they weren’t disgusted with the fact I had met someone online, but of how I met him.

    I live in California, and he lived in Florida. My mom and I were having huge arguments at the time, and she didn’t agree with me possibly dating a guy online. So she sent me to my Dad’s for about 2 weeks. My dad’s place….uh, is not good at the time. Let’s just say, I was scared for my life. I didn’t want to last a week. My husband’s parents ended up buying a plane ticket for me to visit him and it was only going to be a max of a 3 week visit. Then I got a call from my mom to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to come home. I was officially homeless. So I ended up living with my husband.

    Ironically, my mom had met someone online and was dating him for about 2 years. I will admit that it was a stupid idea to travel across the country and meet someone online…Alone. BUT it was totally worth it 🙂 My husband and I are going on 4 years 🙂 We have a handsome little boy, and I can’t imagine my life without them both ^_^ Oh yea, not to mention Wonderful in-laws 😛

    • It is scary to find yourself with no place to go, and I’m glad you were fortunate enough to find a safe haven! I almost went on my first trip alone as well, but my mom ended up coming with me and sharing my hotel for a few days until we’d met him, his roommate and his family, then she packed up and I stayed on. 🙂

  2. This is a really good post and reflects what I’ve learned about crossing the online/real life frontier.

    After some experimentation, I’ve discovered that online relationships aren’t for me, but I do know plenty of happily married couples who met online and “dated” for some time while living on opposite sides of a continent (or even the world) before finally meeting in person.

    But even though I don’t think I can “date” people online, I’ve met a lot of internet friends in person. There have even been a few occasions where I’ve had a guildie or fellow blogger pick me up at the airport/bus station and let me stay at their place. On the first meeting. And in the dozens of online friends I’ve met up with, I’ve never once felt threatened or alarmed.

    The more I meet people online, the more I find it’s exactly like meeting people the old fashioned way. Some people just feel “wrong”. You want to avoid them. Some people feel “ok”. You just have to be attentive, take things at face value (instead of what you’d want them to be) and take a step back when things don’t feel right.

    I did witness two online relationships (I do mean witness – they happened to other people) that were sketchy. In both cases, I had suspected they’d go wrong from the start.

    The first, the guy involved had a history (that he frequently bragged about) of violence. He’d also come online drunk and get into fight with guildies. When things didn’t go his way, he’d throw temper tantrums and make threats. She had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and even admitted that she didn’t care who she was with, as long as she didn’t have to be alone. I cringed when they became a couple and I was sad, but not surprised, a few months later when she was pregnant and had to file a restraining order against him. So, online relationship gone bad – but totally predictable from day 1 and pretty much identical to a real life abusive relationship.

    The second, he was a single dad with a heart of gold, but lonely and from a dysfunctional family/neighborhood/social class so he had never learned how socially-adjusted people interact. She was on the other side of the world and said everything he wanted to hear. She was overly friendly and the fakeness of it was like nails on a chalkboard. She was also very passive aggressive and couldn’t just say things. She came across as someone who didn’t like herself and didn’t take care of herself. When she posted photos, they were of someone who took VERY good care of herself. I suspected they were fake. I was right. She had also lied about a lot of the personal things that had bonded her to him, and she had gotten him to buy her a lot of stuff. As far as I know, they are still a couple (or at least very good friends), but will never meet and the relationship is unhappy with constant fighting and lying. Again, online relationship gone bad – but obvious from the beginning and no different from a traditional relationship.

    Anyway, apologies for the rambling, but I just wanted to prove how bad online relationships work the same way as bad offline relationships and the things you’d look out for in an offline partner are just the same as for someone you meet online.

    • I think the biggest pitfall people fall into when talking/meeting their on-line friends is projecting what *they* want out of the relationship (whether it’s romantic or not) and coming out surprised that their buddy is different than they thought about them in their head. I’ve also seen some pretty horrible relationship fallout from on-line “dating” but like you said, it’s things that would be major red flags in any budding relationship.

      Although I don’t always follow my own advice (I know anytime I’m in Dallas a friend who’d take me in no questions asked!) I also felt it couldn’t hurt to repeat the obvious.

  3. I met my husband online as well. I was in a bad relationship with someone which had spilled over from University and was only going downhill (someone I met face to face in a bar). The now Mr Harpy and I both worked for branches of the same company which meant we emailed back and forth quite a bit and over the course of those emails, we started getting more and more chatty. Emails lead to phone calls, phone calls led to a face to face meeting and within 2 weeks of meeting face to face, he had a transfer to my branch, told my psycho Italian by then ex boyfriend to leave me alone and moved in with me. The rest as they say is history and we’ve been happy ever since.

    You should be careful whenever you meet someone new, whether it’s in a bar, through friends or on-line. However I hate people assuming that all relationships that began through the internet are dubious. My parents met through letters for example and everyone thinks that is so romantic, yet those same people questioned how I met my husband and really what’s the difference?. Even my parents were negative about it at first, even though when my Mother met Dad for the first time, all she had was a bunch of letters and a battered photograph of a suntanned guy in uniform to go on. Dad was in the military and my Mother signed up to a pen pal scheme to write to “our poor boys aboard”. He wrote poetry, she fell in love.

    • I agree with you. I often think of the many “love letter” stories that are so popular and think “how is that different?” I’d think it’d be easier to make yourself be who you want to be in a letter that you have time to compose instead of a chat/phone type relationship where you have to keep the conversation moving. I love hearing about others successful relationships because, let’s face it, all relationships are tough work, and finding the right partner or friend for you should not be overlooked because they came from a direction you weren’t expecting.

  4. I met my husband online… however we were only casual acquaintances online, and only thought of each other “in that way” after we met face-to-face at a con. (I call that “the sexual sniff test” as in “could you ever see yourself sleeping with this person?” I’m not sure that even pictures will help determine that.) When I went to visit him, I faxed a copy of his driver’s license to my mom and called her every day. Seriously.

    • I’m a great fan of pheromones myself 😉 I am definitely giving you a +1 for the driver’s license though, that’s awesome!

      • As all the comments so far appear to be from women, here’s a guy’s perspective…
        Online dating is much like “normal” dating. Your “date safe” advice applies to both.

        That being said, the Driver’s License fax goes a step to far. If I was asked for a copy of my driver’s license by a girl at a bar so she could take a picture of it and email it then I’d be put off and think she was a bit paranoid. I’d probably still go along with it since we’d just met and she doesn’t know me at all.

        However if I was friends with a girl online, then met her in person, then had a date with where I was still asked for ID to be faxed off.. I’d be very weirded out. I’d back out of the date on the basis that she has too many trust issues and comes with too much baggage.

        So -1 to the driver’s license idea.

        • To put it in context, I flew halfway across the country to a city where I knew nobody to stay in this guy’s HOUSE. At that point, I think driver’s license isn’t overboard.

  5. You know that door is open any time you are up this way!

    At this point I think I know at least 4 married couples who met playing games online. At least that way you start with something more than a bar in common. While my husband and I actually met in high school, we reconnected years later through e-mail and long distanced dated for a while. Heck, we didn’t live in the same state until after we got engaged. The long distance dating thing worked well for really getting to know each other. You spend time talking instead of making out. 😉

    So many of my friendships over the last few years have started online. As a working couple with little kids it was too hard to find the time otherwise. We’ve hosted many guildmates in our home whether they were passing through or coming here just for the get together and meeting each one has been a joy. I talk to these folks more often than I call my mom. How could anyone claim our feelings for each other are any less real because most if not all of our interactions are online? My best friend lives near 1000 miles away and it doesn’t change how I feel about her.

    Congrats on finding some who clicks with you and making it work. 🙂

    • I’m hoping I can make a “I run away” trip sometime later this year. I just find it so sad that I haven’t been up to see you yet!

  6. My best friend is from Germany. Her husband is a gentleman I worked with back before I got married. (He is also one of my best friends.) They met online (same way I met her) and they fell in love. She came out to visit and they got engaged. She moved out here about 6 months later and has been here ever since. (Out here being the USA.)

    Before WoW, my husband, best friend’s husband and I would hold MUD parties for people who played the same online game we did. We started the 1st on out by meeting at a local park, but after ‘vetting’ everyone, we invited them back to our apartment. After that, we started holding parties every year. And it was awesome.

    Now, none of us play that old game, but almost all of us have moved onto WoW. In fact, this Halloween, two of them (one from New York and one from Boston, I think) are coming out for a party.

    And before my husband was playing WoW, I was in an all girls guild on Bronzebeard. I made some friends there and ended up flying across the country to visit them. One of them picked me up at the airport in Atlanta and we drove to Florida to see the other friend. I loved it and they became some of my closest friends.

    If I didn’t have my online life, I’d be really depressed and antisocial. I love being able to meet people and have them be a big part of my life, even though I don’t SEE them! 🙂

  7. I met my ex-boyfriend online, on a forum. We did the long distance thing for almost 3 years, since he was studying abroad. I met my current boyfriend through our blogs (though we didn’t hook up until some time after we met IRL)..

    I met one of my best friends in WoW. We were two of the few girls in that guild and we kinda clicked from the start. This was about 3 years ago, and in the meantime we’ve created our own guild and we even met IRL twice. (Only twice because she lives in a different country.)

    Difference between this and the friends I met at school or at work? Zero. I used to get a lot of strange looks when I talked about my online friends, but now even my mum got used to it 😀

  8. My husband and I met online on a discussion forum we both frequented. We met in person about a year later at a get together of friends from that forum and after that started courting. It worked brilliantly for us, even though we were hundreds of miles apart. 15 months after our first real world meeting, we married and I moved in. It wasn’t til our honeymoon that we actually spent a Wednesday together! And a full month of being married meant we’d spent as much time together in person married as not.

    If you use common sense and take advantage of the benefits of the internet medium – for instance, you can really get to know someone before meeting and having physical attraction become an issue – it can be wonderful.

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