These rules came from mistakes made and lessons learned.
Online dating can be fun. It can also be a little scary or even dangerous. I have met my share of men that I initially met online, and I have developed a few rules that I follow when it comes to meeting in person. Now, I didn't just make up these rules: they came from mistakes made and lessons learned.
1. Always meet in public. This is number one since I cannot stress it enough. No matter how great he sounds, insist on meeting in public for your initial meeting, and even your second or third meeting. Pick a place you are familiar with in a well-traveled neighborhood or place, like a mall, so if there is a problem, there are a lot of people around and you can get home safely. You can always ask a friend to come with you and sit at another table, if you don't feel safe going alone.
2. Take your own transportation. Again, if a problem arises, you can get yourself out of there safely in your own car. If you don't drive, create an alternate plan before you meet—bringing cab fare or arranging a ride. The last place you want to be is in the car of someone you don't know.
3. Talk on the phone several times before meeting. I like to talk to a guy at least 4 times before we plan to meet for the first time. Why? Talking to someone on the phone is a whole lot different than emailing, texting or IMing someone. It's kind of like 'proof' that they are a real person, and not someone with a fake online profile; it's a red flag if someone who says they want to meet you won't give you their phone number or says that they can't be reached by phone. Emailing, texting and IMing are still important tools, though, since communicating in various ways is key to developing a new relationship.
4. Tell someone where you are going and who you are going with; you might also want to give them his/her phone number too. This should be self-explanatory. If you don't have someone you can trust with this information, at least send yourself an email with this information — worst case scenario, you know.
5. Make your first meeting casual. This has more to do with comfort than safety. Meeting someone in person that you initially met online can be nerve-wracking, and agreeing on something casual is a great way to take some of the pressure off. I usually suggest coffee — it's public, cheap (OK, its cheaper than dinner...), and there's little stress or expectations — it's just coffee, right?! I also like meeting during the day, since it's safer. Oh, and never meet at a bar or club for your initial meeting; its too loud to talk and there are so many other risks that you don't want to take going that route.
6. Your first meeting doesn't count as a first date. This is just the two of you meeting for the first time. I know it might have all the signs of a date, but it's not. This is a time when you want to make sure that 'what you saw was what you got' and that this person is truly interested in getting to know you. It also takes away some of those first-date jitters by knowing this isn't really a date.
7. Make a good impression. Remember all of your dating rules, mind your manners, and even though it's casual, put a little effort into your look. I decided to make my first meetings casual because I got tired of getting all dressed up for someone that either didn't show up, or were otherwise disappointing. I'll wear jeans, a cute top, a little makeup—a step-up from grocery shopping, but not exactly girls' night out.
8. Listen to your gut. If something doesn't seem right before you meet, don't do it. There is nothing that says just because you agreed to meet that you actually have to go through with it; you have instincts for a reason.
9. Never travel more than 50 miles to meet someone. OK, so 50 is an arbitrary number, but in the category of "Been There, Done That," there are hundreds of stories (a few of them my own) of meeting someone from out-of-state with promises of love, happiness, and all, only to end up without a way home after a bad initial meeting. If you absolutely must meet someone that lives far from you, both of you should agree to make a vacation out of it—each of you brings a friend or two, and meet at a vacation spot both of you would like to go to. For example, if you live in Los Angeles and he lives in Dallas, maybe you could meet in Las Vegas. My suggestion: I always list that I will only date someone local to me since I don't like long-distance relationships.
10. Don't be afraid to have fun! I know the world of online dating can be treacherous, but there are plenty of good, real men and women out there who are truly looking to meet someone, so as long as you have been communicating with someone, there's no reason that you shouldn't let your guard down — a little! — and have fun meeting someone that may evolve into a potential relationship.