Going Offline

By Chelsea Evers

You take a deep breath and walk in the door, looking for the face of a woman you’ve seen only in photos. You smooth your hair and fidget with your tie, hoping you haven’t overdressed for the occasion.

No, this isn’t the first date you’ve ever been on, but you’ve never been on one quite like this. It’s your first real-life meeting with your Internet sweetheart — the one you were matched with a few weeks ago on a dating website — and you’re hoping the chemistry in person will be as great as the conversations you’ve had online.

As you go through mental notes of what to say, you see her. Don’t panic—this is the part where you really get to know each other, and can decide if you want to pursue a relationship. Here’s how to ace your first physical date:

Look reasonably similar to the photo you posted online
That’s not to say you’re restricted from dying your hair or getting a spray tan to spruce up your look, but don’t morph yourself into a Lohan overnight. Take it easy — just being yourself is what got you on this date in the first place.

If you look completely different, your date will think you aren’t the person they thought you were — not the first real-life impression you should strive for. Relax, wear what you’d usually wear and look like the normal “you,” unless your usual look includes sweats and an oversize Twilight tee, you’ll be fine.

Pick somewhere you can chat
Going to the movies is not — I repeat, not — the way to steal someone’s heart, especially someone you’ve only been talking to over the Internet. This is your opportunity to meet face-to-face and really get to know the person behind the screen name. Staring at a movie screen together gives you no connection, unless you count the awkwardly sweaty, prepubescent handholding option.

Find a common interest. If you both like art, try visiting a nearby museum (the Brunnier Art Museum in the Scheman Building on campus, The Octagon in downtown Ames and the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden in downtown Des Moines). If you enjoy the great outdoors, take your date on a walk through a local park (Ada Hayden Heritage Park and Brookside Park in Ames have great hiking trails). It doesn’t have to be fancy; in fact, the expensive sit-down dinner dates often make more time for the awkward, silent stares out the window. Whether you go to the zoo or take a stroll downtown, you’re doing something together, which makes it easier to avoid talking about the weather or that time you had the high score on Farmville.

Don’t go in with huge expectations
It’s always easier to open up to someone you’re not talking to face-to-face. When you’re online, you might feel less reserved and give a more candid, honest profile of yourself. Meeting someone in real life who you’ve already opened up to via the web can be daunting — you’ve shared so much, you might feel like you have to have an immediate personal connection. Not true. This isn’t an interview. Donald Trump isn’t going to pop out and tell you that you’re fired.

You’re here to have fun, but understand that it’s not the end of the world if you aren’t swept off your feet in the first hour. Relax and realize that it takes time to develop the same relationship you have online.

Let your guard down
The worst thing you can do on your first date is constantly monitor your actions. It can be nerve-wracking to see your Internet sweetheart for longer than a Skype chat, but real-life confidence is sexy. Don’t play hard-to-get or pretend you like things you found on his profile (Trust me, they won’t be impressed that you like the Kings of Leon too, it’s a pretty popular band).

And quit with the first date rules. If you’re having a good time, don’t be afraid to say so. If you want to kiss her at the end of the date, kiss her (provided she seems open to the idea, too). This may be the first date in person, but you’ve had plenty of time to let the chemistry build via Internet; you aren’t total strangers. Playing games is for high schoolers that want to get asked to prom. If you’re attracted to each other, showing you enjoy each other’s company in person as much as you do online — without freaking out over details – is a surefire way to get asked out again.

Be honest with each other
This sounds obvious, but it’s a step that is almost always dismissed in first date etiquette. If you had a good time, the step above probably led to a first kiss and a plan to communicate soon. But if you didn’t enjoy your first physical date, the worst thing you can do is tell your date “I’ll call you soon” or “Let’s go out again.”

If you don’t want to see him or her again, don’t imply that you do, and don’t continue leading them on through e-mail or online chat. Something like “It was nice seeing you tonight” in conjunction with a handshake or hug might seem like a bitch move, but at least you’re sending clear signals not to wait by the phone or computer in hopes of hearing from you. Own up to your feelings and move on, and your date will too.

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