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How To Go From Online Relationships To Real-Life Ones

Online communication is all about flashy surfaces and instant gratification. Everything you want is beautiful and glamorous and available at the touch of a finger. Real-life interactions are different.
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A young couple having coffee at a restaurant
PeopleImages via Getty Images
A young couple having coffee at a restaurant

It's spring, and you should be out there dating, so why are you indoors, typing in front of a screen?

These days, we're conducting so many of our relationships online that when we're finally face-to-face with another person, we're often more awkward, uncomfortable and unsure of ourselves.

Lately, I've heard stories from a few women who were trying online dating. They shared that the men they were communicating with were happy to chat online but weren't getting around to making an actual in-person date.

We figured that maybe the men were married and not ready to take their flirtations beyond the virtual, or maybe they were so used to online interactions that they didn't feel comfortable meeting in the real world. Either way, these men weren't setting up actual dates.

This underscores the two main problems of spending so much time online: first, that people often misrepresent themselves in their online profiles and second, that the more we email, text, Facetime, Tweet or swipe right, the less comfortable we are with dating in real life.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution to both these problems. Learning a few basic communication skills will help us take our online chats into the real world and create more successful dates.

First, we need to identify the dishonest people online, and this comes down to recognizing a few red flags.

If the other person immediately wants to go off the dating site and start emailing on their private email, that's a red flag. Or, if they want to skip the protocol of the site and go directly to communicating via personal email, this is also suspicious.

Online dating sites do their best to keep you safe, so when someone wants to leave the site or break protocol, it's often because they're not on the level.

Another red flag to look for is when a date is being planned and the other person is very particular about when they can and can't meet. Someone who has obvious time restrictions could very well be in a relationship and have only a small window of time in which to cheat on their partner.

Another red flag is a profile photo in which the person is flaunting wealth; for example, leaning up against a fancy car or flashing a high-end watch. Think of these as fishing lures- shiny objects meant to snare the unsuspecting minnows in the dating pool.

Of course, some people are so good at lying and cheating that they won't show you any red flags before you meet. So then you need to look for the red flags when you're on your actual first date.

It's best to make the first meeting a short, daytime coffee date. Drinking alcohol on a first date makes it much harder to observe the other person and to get a sense of whether or not they're legit.

A too-long first date or a too romantic one is more likely to create a premature or false sense of intimacy that could make it easier to ignore any red flags.

Red flags on a first date include bragging, name-dropping, rudeness toward servers, hostile or critical remarks, talking excessively about the ex, being overly flirtatious or sexual, poor eye-contact, or focusing on technology more than on you.

They also include any signs that the person could be married; for example being cagey about their living situation or extracurricular activities.

If you notice any of these dating red flags, do take them very seriously. You can avoid a lot of trouble if you pay attention to the red flags early on.

Communication is so important when it comes to dating. The key at the beginning is to keep it light and pleasant. Too much intensity is uncomfortable and inappropriate.

Don't get into your deepest thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams on the first date. Or even the next few dates. It's too much, too soon. Likewise, don't overshare about past relationships or painful experiences. There's a gradual process of getting to know each-another that should happen over several months of dating.

Physical intimacy can be tricky as well, because oftentimes, having sex will give you the impression that you're a lot closer than you are. Unfortunately, though, for many people, sex is just sex.

Sex too soon can make you feel more vulnerable, and then if the other person was only looking for a quick hook-up and has taken off, you'll be left feeling violated and humiliated, and you're still single.

You have all the time you need to get to know each-other, both physically and emotionally. Take your time, enjoy some small-talk, and get a feel for one-other. Let things evolve gradually over several dates, rather than trying to cram it all in at once.

Good communication on a date is expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs clearly and directly. If something bothers you, speak up. That's the only way the other person will know how you feel. The same goes with asking for what you want.

Listening is the other side of good communication, so listen carefully to the what other person is saying, and ask yourself how it makes you feel.

Don't make assumptions about what they mean. If you don't understand something, clarify. If what you're hearing makes you uncomfortable in any way, trust your gut. Don't let this person or anyone else talk you our of your reactions.

One issue with online communications vs. real-life dating is that we often present our online persona as more attractive, charming and successful than we are in real life.

It can be nerve-wracking to meet someone new, knowing that the real you is not quite as fantastic as the online version. The antidote to this is to trust that other person is probably presenting a shinier version of themselves online, as well.

When the two of you meet, there might be a bit of surprise at seeing a slightly less glamorous version of each-other, but hopefully you can both get over this and begin to discover who the real person is, beyond the online persona.

Online communication is all about flashy surfaces and instant gratification. Everything you want is beautiful and glamorous and available at the touch of a finger.

Real-life interactions are different. They're more imperfect and need to be slowly cultivated like a garden, in which you plant the seeds, add water, sunshine and fertilizer, and then patiently wait for whatever types of flowers might decide to bloom.

Please sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. May is all about resilience and overcoming adversity.

You can buy my latest books on creating successful relationships: "Women Decoded," to help men understand what women want and how to choose the right woman, and "Back on the Market," to help women successfully return to dating.

Listen to my latest podcast, with amazing artist and sculptor Jeff Deboer, about creativity, transformation and the Hero's journey.

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