Today it is common to meet new people online, and even develop relationships as strong as our in-person friendships or romances. Whether it be through online gaming, social media, dating apps, or forums, young people are communicating with one another every day.
While meeting an internet friend in real life (IRL) is usually fun and safe, there can be risks, as there’s no guarantee the persona created by an online contact is representative of their true self when meeting in person.
Consider taking a few recommended precautions when planning to meet online friends offline.
First, evaluate the status of your online relationship. Do you feel you know as much about this person as they know about you? Are they asking anything of you or pressuring you to do anything? Do you have the same feelings towards one another (platonic vs. romantic)? Are you both around the same age? Before deciding to meet, be confident in your answers to these questions. To ensure the best and safest in-person meeting, it is vital that your relationship is healthy, mutual and communicative.
Second, ask your friend to FaceTime or video chat. While pictures are great, they are easy to edit and manipulate. Face-to-face communication will confirm what they look like and ensure you are talking to the person you think you are. When on video, ask questions and engage in important conversation so that you are aware of any inconsistencies in their previous stories. If someone refuses a video call, or makes up excuses why they cannot meet via video, this could be a red flag that the person is not who they say they are, and it might be dangerous to meet them IRL.
When it comes to an actual meeting, a few simple steps can ensure you are as safe as possible. Take a friend along; if you go alone, share your plans, including your location, with a friend or family member. Provide critical information about your online friend, such as name, number, and picture. Meet in a well-lit, open public place. Oftentimes, coffee shops, restaurants and bars are good meeting spots. If at any point you feel uncomfortable during the meeting, head to the restroom or make an excuse to leave, and never leave your drink or purse unattended.
Lastly, trust your gut! If you don’t feel ready to meet your online friend in person, are not confident in your relationship, or you are just scared, it is okay to postpone a meeting. A good friend will understand and make you feel comfortable rather than pressuring you into meeting. More often than not, people have good intentions and mean well, but keep these suggestions in the back of your mind in case your instincts tell you otherwise.
Meeting an online friend in person can be lifechanging in a positive way, but it is important to feel safe throughout the process.
If you are still unsure about meeting your online friend and want to talk through the situation, contact the National Runaway Safeline anytime. Our crisis services team won’t judge you, and all interactions are confidential. We’re available 24/7 to talk through your feelings and all possible options. Call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit 1800RUNAWAY.org to chat.
Special thank you to Caroline Cummins from Colgate University for the collaboration on this blog!