I met Doug online. It was my first time dating after divorce, and I was a little gun-shy. We emailed and talked for two long months before I agreed to meet him. Then, he planned a lovely dinner at an ocean-side restaurant. The second I laid eyes on him, I knew it was a disaster. He was at least 10 years older than his picture and about 20 years my senior. He also walked, talked and looked exactly like my ex-husband, only an older version. Upon meeting, he grabbed my face and kissed me hard. I actually hid in the restroom and called a friend to rescue me from the date. Had I really spent two whole months waiting for this nightmare?

Online dating sites are a great way to meet new people, but making the jump from online to offline can be scary for those new to the scene. Certainly, it’s much safer to stay behind the screen and slowly get to know someone, but truthfully, you can only go so far with a digital relationship. It might seem like waiting to meet up is a good idea, but I generally recommend the exact opposite. Take your relationship offline as quickly as possible so you don’t waste your precious time and energy. You might spend months and months messaging and building an emotional connection with someone who, if you met in person, you could determine is a bad fit in ten seconds flat.

Now I’m not recommending you meet on the same night you first winked at each other; do your homework as much as you can. Make sure your beliefs and values line up via the online profile. Avoid any red flags and try to screen out the obvious weirdos, then when you get a good feeling about a guy or gal, plan to meet in person to find out if dating offline is a real possibility. Here are a few tips to schedule a great first meetup.

1. Keep It Brief

Plan for one hour in the middle of the day or right after work, and schedule a meeting afterwards so you won’t be tempted or pressured into staying longer. Remember, this person is still a stranger and you need to be cautious. You wouldn’t hand over the keys to your car to someone you met online, so keep up the same guardrails for your dates – yes, even if they are super-hot. Meetups are not romantic dates; that part comes later once you are comfortable with the person and have built some trust.

2. Keep It Public

Find a coffee shop or a cafe in a busy place where you can scope the individual out before you even sit down with them. I used to meet my dates in our church cafe because I knew the entire staff had my back and cared about my well-being without being obtrusive. Make sure you get to the location early and park in a well-lit, safe area. If you feel uncomfortable with the person upon meeting them, don’t let them walk you to your car. Have a plan for your own safety and stick to it.

3. Ask Good Questions

If you feel comfortable, then introduce yourself and get to know a little bit about this new person. Try to focus on listening and reading body language to get a good feel for the person. Ask plenty of questions in a non-threatening way, as if you met someone at a party or a barbecue. And remember to keep it casual. Don’t ask about marriage and kids yet, but do find out about their hobbies, passions and employment. This is where you determine if there is some interest in moving forward with this person.

4. Keep Expectations Reasonable

Try to relax, be yourself and attempt to keep your expectations low. It’s always better to be surprised by how much you like someone in-person than be disappointed because you spent way too long emotionally invested in a fantasy guy or gal you made up from an online profile. It’s okay to go on lots of first meetups because it only takes one to find a great match.

5. Plan For Another Date (Maybe)

If the sparks fly and you are interested in planning another date, let the person know you want to plan for a longer time to meet because you like them. Don’t walk away without making your intentions clear, but don’t take it too seriously if they aren’t on the same page. When you take the pressure off the first meetup, then you are free to have fun and meet new people without all the romantic baggage.

My husband and I met in the coffee shop at church for our first meetup. It was a little awkward, but he was easy to talk to. Then, we planned a second date on Balboa Island, grabbed a cup of coffee and walked for an hour on the boardwalk surrounded by water, boats and sky. The coffee made us both a little bit talkative, and we chatted up a storm. It was on the second date that I knew he was different than all the others; he had integrity, character and a heart for Jesus.

Remember, it only takes one great connection, you just might have to weed through many first dates to get to the one that truly matters.

You may also be in interested in 4 Important Questions To Ask On Every First Date

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