Adventures In Dating: Meeting Strangers

19 Jan

There is always a certain amount of risk when meeting someone from the internet from the first time, and the same truth from online dating is true under all social encounters.

During the week my classmates (on the new course I’ve started) were discussing online dating apps and the limited chances of encountering somebody ‘normal’ as a result. A couple of the others are users of dating apps, but from my understanding have yet to meet anyone they’ve interacted with virtually in the flesh. I on the other hand have – many times. And with mostly okay results.

It may be that I take my time when encountering someone online – certainly now once I’ve got enough details there’s a good chance I’ll do some background research of my own before we meet (nearly all of us have a social networking profile of some sort). As I’ve had stalker-experience in the past I’m slightly more wary. But I’m also well up for new experiences and the occasional risk.

First time
My first encounter with an online person came just after I left school – I think in 2000. I was 19 and had got chatting to a fellow film fan from Dublin – a much older man I might add. After several months of chatting I arranged to go down to visit him for a few days, making sure I left contact info with a couple of local friends. He met me at the station, brought me home, and we spent the next few days eating, drinking and watching movies, becoming firm friends. Some 14 years later he’s still a dear friend – so that was okay.

During the naughties I found myself meeting folk I only knew from the online world fairly frequently through my work – on the whole, they were much as I expected from online chats. And the couple I’d decided I didn’t want to know better before meeting them, I still didn’t want to know later.

Now of course, there is always a real risk that the people you chat to on the end of Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Match or Ashley Madison (got to cater for all sorts) are not as they appear to be. A bit like the number of supposedly straight or married men that arrange casual homosexual hook-ups via Grindr – they are living rather duplicitous lives. I get very wary now when I am interacted with by a profile with none or only one picture – and I tend to tease conversations out unless we hit it off pretty well. Perhaps because I do my research, and am a little particular, most of the folk I’ve met in person have been absolutely charming. They’ve been exactly as they claimed, and if anything, even better in person. Of course, I’ve already mentioned my inability to read signs and remarkable ease with which I friend zone myself.

One does go through a process prior to a meet up with a date potential, wondering whether you’re going to find themselves outside your window everynight, or outside your place of work when you least expect them. Will they be a bunny boiler? Or just utterly insane? Nobody wants to put forward their negatives on a dating profile for fear of frightening off the potential mates – but without a bit of honesty, you only leave yourself open to disappointment.

The Freecycle Disaster
A few years ago I did a bit of freecycling in order to get a phone for spare parts. A couple of days after posting my appeal I received an offer and duly one hot summer afternoon met up with the trader just outside the Europa, clad in my best summer threads (cream linen suit, converse, linen shirt, pocket square). I was met by this rather earthy looking fellow, rotund in body and bereft of hair on head. And he rather anxiously chatted as we walked off to his house near Sandy Row, an area better known to many as a loyalist hotspot, but which I had worked in for several years in the public library service, so had no qualms with. At his house I waited downstairs until he returned with the phone, for which I thanked him. So ends the narrative you might think…

…but no… About five minutes later as I was happily making my way back across town to grab a bus back home I received a text message asking me politely if I was gay. Erm, no, contently heterosexual thanks. Unhappy with this, he then told me that I was good looking and should really consider giving it a go. He himself was straight with a Mrs, but also was a partaker of man-man love. The exchange turned slightly aggressive before I turned the phone off (fortunately the number in use was an old one and not the regular one). Flattering as any interest in me sexually is, I found the whole thing rather uncomfortable and I now have a fair amount of sympathy with women who find themselves tormented either online or in person by people they’ve barely interacted with and are most certainly not interested in.

I relate this story simply to confirm the risks involved in meeting a stranger – I ended up being chatted up, when that was the last thing on my mind. It was also one of those rare occasions where I’d not been able to do any proper background research before meeting – and the meeting itself was in a very public space.

I’d say when you do meet, try to keep to bars, or a cafe. Don’t think its weird to google them pre-meet. I’ve been lucky, and I’ve welcomed folk into my home and not been murdered. But it doesn’t always work out like that.  Next time might be riskier – certainly I regret the last time I let my guard down, but lesson well learnt. Thankfully (or not), I’ve never been one for ‘casual’ encounters (yes, that is a euphemism), which may be what has kept me safe, at least in dating terms.


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