Making online friends.

— By 27 February 2012

When I was 17, I got a message through a website. It was just a short message commenting on something I’d mentioned in my profile, but it was also the start of one of my first online friendships. We sent messages back and forth for a couple of months, and the more I talked to her, the more I liked her. And after a while, nervous as hell, I asked if she wanted to meet up in person.

Meeting her was awkward, to say the least. The phone number she gave me was wrong, we had more awkward silences than an elevator, and to top it all off, my mum insisted on coming along. Yeah – I’m so cool.

But since then I’ve met up with heaps more people from online in person. To my parents’ surprise, none were axe murderers, and a couple have become my closest friends. Some people I know have even met their boyfriends or girlfriends online, and plenty more have found friends for life.

If you want to meet someone from online, you don’t need to be paranoid like my mum. You do need to be a bit careful though, and there’re a few things to look out for. I’d say the biggest is to make sure the person is who they say they are. Might seem like a no brainer, but I once met up with a gorgeous European model, who ended being a girl from down the road. It’s not hard to make something up when you’re on the other side of a screen. Adding people to Facebook, or having a Skype chat are good ways to make sure someone is the real deal. Photos are good, but in the case of my European model friend, they can easily be faked. My best friend chatted to a teenage guy online who ended up being in his thirties. Situations like this are what you’re going to want to avoid.

One of the major warning signs I’ve experienced is when someone wants to meet up after just a day or two. It’s a bit suss if you ask me, and probably means they only want to get in your pants, which is another thing to keep an eye out for. Tons of people I know have been messaged asking to hook up, and I’d be pretty hesitant to get into that kind of situation. Don’t let yourself be pressured into anything you don’t want to do, make it clear what you want and what you don’t want. Remember, the block button is your best friend for creepers online.

So everything checks out, you’ve been talking for a while, you know they’re legit, and you want to meet up? Awesome! You’ve heard all the clichés about arranging to meet in person. Meet somewhere public, take someone with you, or at least make sure someone knows where you are. You might want to have an excuse to leave ready, just in case something goes wrong or they turn out to be a bit odd. I used to say that my parents were really strict and wanted me to be home by a certain time. You could also say you have a test tomorrow, or that you need to feed your platypus (uh, maybe not). Try asking a friend to give you a call during the meetup, so they can give you an escape route if you need one. And if the person does happen to be creepy, or pressure you, or isn’t who they said they were, don’t feel like you owe them anything. Don’t be afraid to walk out (this is why meeting in a public place is totally better).

Once you’ve decided on a place and time to meet, have a chat to the person on the phone or webcam, and keep their number in your phone. At this point, the nerves might kick in. If you’re anything like me, just before you meet, you’ll be either pacing around looking around constantly, or sitting on the train or tram checking your phone constantly. It’s normal, and it gets better as soon as you start talking. If you’ve been careful, you’ll be fine. If you’ve been chatting online for a while, and you get along well enough that you want to meet up in person, they’re not going to hate you on sight. Meeting someone from online for the first time can be awkward, but it can just as easily be fantastic. So fear not! If you keep your brain in gear and your phone in your pocket, you might just find yourself an amazing new friend.

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