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Dear Philippa:

I am a recently divorced woman who is trying to get back out into the world. I have been using the Internet to meet people. The problem is what to do or say to someone, who sounded great on the phone, but when you meet them, it's obvious they aren't right. I don't like hurting people's feelings and this all feels so awkward.

�Helen, Toronto, Ont.

 

Dear Helen:

After those first, uncomfortable minutes when you meet someone, I think there is nothing more difficult than knowing what to say when the date is over. I wish we could have thought balloons over our heads like cartoon people. Then we could understand what the other person is thinking-did the date go well? Do you or they want to see each other again?

One way to ease this situation is to be realistic before you meet anyone for the first time.

First, build a safe getaway into your meeting plans. Agree to meet for just a quick cup of coffee. Say this before you meet so that the other person will not think you have just decided to get away from them. Even if rockets go off when you meet, you have the option of setting up another date or staying for another cup of coffee.

Second, realize that it does not matter how well you got on together on the phone, there is absolutely no guarantee that this rapport will continue in person. The anonymity of the telephone allows people to let their guard down and reveal their humor more easily. When you meet for the first time you both are understandably uncomfortable and rapport can easily go out the window. Sometimes you have to give each other enough time to relax and see if the rapport comes back. Sometimes the change in rapport from the phone to the first meeting has to do with expectations about looks. Spending a great deal of time imagining what a person looks like before meeting them is dangerous. Other than each other's basic statistics, it's best to have no specific picture in mind before meeting.

Beware of the person who wants to know every detail about how you look, or whom you look like before you meet. This kind of person is sure to have some fantasy that can only pale in comparison to the reality. Some people try to get past all this by exchanging pictures before they meet. But people can look very different than their picture, if it is their picture!

What if even after an OK time together you feel strongly that there is no reason to see each other again? Don't wait for the other person to bring it up. Simply say that there is no real connection between you. This is something everyone can understand. Then leave so you won't be pulled into unpleasant explanations-the other person may well be planning your next date.

What if you clash with someone right after you meet them? What if you find something unpleasant or threatening about them? Decide to leave immediately. Don't tough it out for the full 15 or 20 minutes. Simply say something like: I'm sorry, but this just isn't working out for me. And then leave as quickly as you can. Your well being and safety come first. The other person shouldn't be that surprised. Negative chemistry is a two-way situation.

Meeting people online is a great way to reach a large number of prospects. The down side is the extensive screening process. So be discriminating about whom you want to meet. Listen to your instincts and how the voice at the other end of the phone makes you feel. Then be realistic and save the dreaming until you've at least met each other and agreed to go out on another date. All this will help cushion the inevitably uncomfortable "thanks-but-no-thanks." Meeting the right people online is a numbers game. Keep your sense of humor and remember the numbers are in your favor, Helen. You only need one right person-and that person is looking for you too.

 

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