If you meet someone interesting online, you’re going to have to decide at some point when you want to take the relationship offline and meet in the real world. So when is it best to meet for the first time in person? As quickly as possible? Or after you’ve allowed time for the connection to deepen and strengthen?
Every situation and relationship is unique, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this. But in general, my answer to this question is: As soon as reasonably possible.
In my case, that was three months. In yours, it might be three weeks or a year. Don’t push things along too fast—there’s no reason to jump on a plane to meet someone you met in a chat room last weekend. But, assuming you can afford it and you’re out of school, there’s generally no reason to go longer than six months without meeting in person at least once.
So why is it so important to meet face to face as soon as you reasonably can? Here are three reasons:
1. It will help you know for sure you’re not being catfished (or scammed)
Most people will turn out to be more or less who they say they are. Most people have generally good intentions. Most, however, is not everyone.
It’s a sad reality that long distance romance scams are on the rise. You might think you’d never fall for a scammer, but don’t underestimate how good these people are at stirring up emotions and making intense connections. If you haven’t met in person yet, you really should read this piece on 5 common long distance scams and how you can protect yourself.
2. When you meet for the first time it will help you take off the rose-colored glasses you are wearing
In the early stages of a relationship, everyone is prone to seeing the object of their budding affections through rose-colored glasses. Psychologists call this the “ halo effect.” In practice, it means thatduring the first months (sometimes years) of getting to know someone we find attractive, we tend to assume that they are wonderful in all sorts of other ways as well.
In other words, when we are drawn to someone’s bright smile, shiny hair, or pithy text messages, we tend to assume that he or she also smart, kind, and interesting.
This sort of rosy idealization happens when we start dating someone who lives just down the street. However, it’s even easier to idealize someone when they live far away and we have only letters, texts, and phone calls to help us get to know them.
It is easy to idealize someone when they live far away and we have only letters, texts, and phone calls to help us get to know them.Lisa McKay
In long distance situations, our idealized vision of someone usually lies even further from reality. It can also take a lot longer before we start to see the differences between the person we imagine them to be and the person they actually are in real life.
It’s virtually impossible to take off these rose-colored glasses completely during the early stages of a relationship, but meeting in person definitely helps.
When you meet someone in person you learn so much about how they look, move, act, smell… and much more. All of that builds a firmer picture of who they are in your mind. Before you meet in person, your brain will fill in the gaps on this sort of stuff by imagining all sorts of good things. Meeting will help move your ideas about this person closer to the reality of this person, and that’s always a good thing.
It’s a good thing if you meet in person and decide you are interested in getting serious. And it’s still a good thing in the long run if you meet in person and one or both of you decides you’re not interested in taking things further. The second possibility is painful, of course, but if that’s going to happen wouldn’t you rather know sooner rather than later?
3. When you meet in person you’ll learn if you have “chemistry”
Several years before I met my husband, Mike, a friend of mine forwarded me an essay she had stumbled across and enjoyed. That essay was written by a man named Ryan who was living in Afghanistan at the time.
“I turned thirty in Afghanistan,” Ryan’s essay began. “It was my second birthday here. Last year I was hit with a weird flu three days before and the fever finally broke as I entered the last year of my twenties. My friend, Halim, came into my room to my weak groans and cheerily offered me a bowl of rice and beans. He told me again that no doubt I had malaria. ‘Today check blood?’ he asked hopefully, just like every other day. Here everything is malaria. If you have a toothache they suspect malaria.”
It was a short essay, barely a thousand words long,but it inspired the first truly electric flicker of interest I’d felt in a long time. After I finished reading the piece, I forwarded it on to my parents with a brief and blithe, “Read this. It’s amazing. I’m going to track him down and make him fall in love with me.”
It took months, but I did, eventually, track Ryan down.
After I’d pestered Ryan into agreeing to be my friend, he sent me the rest of the essays he’d written during his time in Afghanistan. I loved his wry but thoughtful writing style, and his take on life. As the weeks passed, Ryan left Afghanistan and returned to Canada. He and I began to exchange light, teasing emails more frequently, and I became completely infatuated.
I thought there was a good chance that I’d finally found my soul mate.
There were only a couple of problems with this scenario. By this time I was actually already dating someone else (also long distance—a whole other story I won’t go into here). I had never even seen a photograph of Ryan. And Ryan had no idea of the depth of my interest.
What to do?
Clearly, the answer to that question was to buy a plane ticket to Vancouver, pretend to Ryan (and my boyfriend) that I had a valid work reason for the trip, and fly up to Canada to check Ryan out. Clearly.
So that is what I did.
It sounds ridiculous now, not to mention more than a little morally dubious. But you know what? Going up to Canada to meet Ryan was one of the best decisions I made during that whole crazy period of my life. It put a sudden end to my fevered imaginings that Ryan and I were soul mates, and my daydreams about our wedding.
Because there was no chemistry in person. None.
You may not be able to meet online one weekend and in person the next, but even when you’re long distance you should still aim to meet in person as soon as you sensibly can.Lisa McKay
This lack of chemistry wasn’t even something I could put my finger on. Ryan turned out to be good looking—tall and blond, with blue eyes. I think it was more that Ryan seemed so differentin person to what I’d imagined. The Ryan of his letters was confident and saucy, pithy and witty, wise and articulate. The Ryan in person was quiet, reserved, guarded and diffident.
I had a good time hanging out with Ryan in Vancouver that weekend, but only as friends. There wasn’t even a hint that either of us could want something more in the long term.
I got back on the plane to LA with my questions about Ryan answered. My visions had not matched up to reality. I hadn’t been attracted to the reality. He hadn’t been attracted to me, either. If we had met in person earlier, before I’d invested scores of hours obsessing over my own visions and imaginings, I would have learned all of this earlier and saved myself some heartache and a great deal of time and energy.
Paul Carrick Brunson, a professional matchmaker and author of the book, It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have To Be) says this on the topic. “It’s easy to relate to someone when the interaction risk is low—an e-mail here, an instant message chat there. The only way to find out if you’re truly compatible or possess that ever-elusive thing called ‘chemistry’ is to meet in person … And you should do this while the burden and expectations are low.”
Brunson writes mostly about online dating. When you meet someone online that youthink may have potential, he recommends meeting him or her for coffee as soon as possible after you make that first connection. A coffee date, Brunson argues, is public, time-limited, and low pressure. It allows you to gauge whether or not you’d like to take the next step and see that person again.
That is great advice. You may not be able to tell if you would definitely like to date someone after a single coffee date, but you can often tell if you definitely don’t want to date someone. Meeting someone soon after you connect and in a low-key setting keeps the pressure, the expectations, and the stakes low.
Well, if you’re reading this guide you already know the problem. This all gets a lot more logistically challenging when you’re talking about a relationship that has started across distance. Unless one or both of you has a lot of money and time to burn, it’s impossible to meet for coffee when you live in New York and they live in Los Angeles.
But here’s the bottom line on when it’s best to meet for the first time…
You may not be able to meet online one weekend and in person the next, but even when you’re long distance you should still aim to meet in person as soon as you sensibly can.
Don’t rush into meeting someone, but don’t delay too long either. If possible, meet in person before either of you has invested too much time or emotional energy in your budding relationship.
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