Twenty-first century dating is prolific – with countless dating apps and prospective partners at your fingertips. This might seem like a smorgasbord of romance but sifting through the masses to find a meaningful connection can prove difficult. Harder still is taking that connection offline.
According to Statista, 1.7 million Australians were actively using dating apps in 2020 – a record number, thanks to the social isolation COVID-19 brought with it. If you are part of this statistic, you will know just how challenging it can be to take a relationship from digital to face-to-face.
Dating apps offer unique way of dating, where users can present a more curated version of themselves. Communication feels safer, and users are more willing to disclose information in order to build a sense of intimacy. Meeting in real life can be a daunting prospect after weeks or months of meticulously mulled over, flirty chats.
The good news is, despite the limitations of the online environment, it is possible to offer up an authentic version of yourself and make a solid connection without first meeting in real life. Taking the next step may be intimidating, but there are simple ways to make the transition from online to offline more comfortable, and explore who is right, or wrong, for you.
Keep dates relaxed and uncomplicated
Take the pressure off your first encounter by meeting in a relaxed, low-key environment – think a café or park. After weeks of back and forth it’s understandable that your expectations may be high but be prepared that your physical reaction to a person may be very different to your digital interactions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you know a person well just because you connected online, but you should treat the date like the first meeting – because, in some ways, it is.
Be aware of the risks
Dating online can be exciting and fun, but it comes with a unique set of risks when compared to traditional dating, as shows like Netflix’s The Twinder Swindler painfully expose.
Whilst most people have good intentions, the anonymity of the internet leaves dating app users open to meeting a range of unsavoury characters, each with different red flags.
- Cheaters: Someone concealing an existing relationship may have limited availability and hesitate to share contact information.
- Players: Players are after casual sexual encounters, which depending on your wants and needs, could be a mutually beneficial relationship. If you are looking for a long-term partner, avoid dating app users who are frequently unavailable and limit their contact to weekend nights.
- Scammers: Scammers will work to exploit their victims’ emotions to take their money. They will develop a strong connection with their victim then ask for money to help with a personal crisis or business venture.
Prepare ‘getting to know you’ questions
The first meeting is an opportunity to build on what you already know and form a deeper connection. Decide what information and questions will give you a better picture of who they are as a whole person – without being interrogating. It might feel strange to have a list of prepared questions but keeping them in the back of your mind can help you overcome first date nerves.
Some dating ‘getting to know you’ questions might include:
- What’s a fun fact about you?
- Have you seen any good movies or TV shows recently?
- What’s the last book you read?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- If money wasn’t a factor, what would you do with your days?
Do they treat others with respect?
One of the downsides of dating apps is they allow people to hide deal-breaking behaviours. The first real life meeting is the perfect opportunity to get a sense of how your date moves through the world. Are they kind to the wait staff? Do they give you attention or are they glued to their phone? Take note of how they talk about the people in their lives – do they seem overly critical or judgemental? Be mindful of these behaviours and make a call as to whether you could live with them or not.
A strong sense of self
Sometimes people can express likes and dislikes just to gain our approval. Do they seem like they have a solid sense of themselves, and can they hold their own opinions and values, while letting you have yours?
Comfortable with vulnerability
How a person deals with vulnerability can be very telling – whether they are reacting to your vulnerability or being vulnerable themselves. If you divulge an intimate detail or issue in your life, take note of how they respond. Are they kind, listen, and offer support? Or do they dismiss your concerns as silly or overreacting? On the other hand, do they show you their vulnerable side? These are all good indicators of how they would behave in a relationship when problems arise.
Take your time to reflect
After your date, allow yourself some time to reflect on how it went and to absorb your physical and emotional response. You may want to debrief with a close friend, who can double-check your thinking and experiences. If you find that a more neutral discussion would help to keep you grounded in the dating process, debriefing with a professional might help.
Ensuring your safety and comfort in any form of dating is paramount, but the nature of dating apps can make safety a little trickier. There are some simple ways to protect yourself when meeting prospective partners in person. And remember, it’s always OK to end a date if you feel uncomfortable.
- Always tell a friend or family member where you’re going, or better yet, share your location using your phone
- Meet in a busy, public location
- If you feel comfortable, video chat before the initial meeting