The Challenges of meeting online

I am a single male in my early forties who decided to try online dating. What I found is that it presents unique challenges that make it more difficult than meeting someone in a conventional way due to the fact that you must choose who to contact based on written profiles and pictures that are basically one dimensional and only offer a glimpse of who the person is. Important elements like chemistry, ease of interaction, ability to relate around likes and dislikes, level of maturity and shared sense of humor must be experienced firsthand. Geographical location can also be an issue when you find someone you really seem to click with, but who lives at a distance.

I chose to use a more "exclusive" site because its members seem to be a better fit for what I am looking for. In a relatively short amount of time I met a very nice woman. We began by communicating through emails and have recently been talking on the phone a couple of times a week. The problem is that we live about two hours apart and meeting in person is more difficult and obviously will not be as frequent as it would if distance were not an issue. We have made tentative plans to meet in a couple of months, which forces us to take things slowly--which can be a good thing for a couple who has already met in person, but presents a downside when you have yet to meet face- to-face.

Are there any "rules" for how to take an online relationship like this to an offline one? Can you give me some tips about time frames for meeting, utilizing time and distance to my benefit and anything else that would help to make this a success? Are these relationships basically doomed from the start? --Ron

Dear Ron--

Many singles are choosing online dating as a preferred way to seek introductions to new people and, as you have experienced, this virtual way of meeting has given rise to a new set of questions and concerns.

To begin with, it is helpful for cyber daters to follow some basic rules-- however, I prefer to use the term guidelines as all people and situations are different and flexibility is required. The following tips should provide enough direction and adequate parameters as well as answer your questions about how to move your online relationship to an offline one.

* Take a few weeks to become acquainted through email and phone, but don't delay the first in-person meeting much beyond that. The reason for this one is simple. Until you have met someone in person, you only have a part of the picture and really can't be sure the right chemistry is fully there without experiencing him or her in a physical as well as virtual dimension. It is also important to note if the other person is putting off meeting or isn't placing a high priority on it. If so, this can be a red flag that needs to be explored before you get any further along in the process.

* Be aware of the danger of building up the other person in your mind and romanticizing them into being that "perfect" person you are seeking. Without some real world contact, it can be easy to use your imagination as you paint an unrealistic and idealistic picture that may be very different from the real thing and impossible for this person to live up to.

* When meeting for the first time, pick a neutral place that will be comfortable for both of you and will allow for an easy out if this first meeting does not go well. This is especially true for long distance daters who can set themselves up for a very unpleasant experience by arranging to stay overnight at a motel or at the home of one of the individuals. If you must stay overnight, arrange for separate rooms and have a back-up travel plan ready if you need/want to use it.

If the first meeting goes well and you both want to continue with the relationship, it will take maturity, a shared vision and a strong commitment on the part of both individuals to make it work. Distance does not have to be death to a budding romance if you are both willing to shoulder the responsibility of keeping communication open and being truly present in each other's lives.

Lastly, be clear with yourself and your new friend about your desires and intentions for this new relationship and encourage them to do the same. Continue this dialogue as you learn more about each other online by sharing your feelings, needs and wants. It will decrease your chances of wasting time, feeling frustrated and angry and/or becoming completely turned off to online dating due to a belief that finding someone is only about luck or the right timing.

(from April 2006)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"How, When and What Do I Share about My Past?"
List of more
"Online Dating"

"Separated But Not Single"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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