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Five Tips for Taking Your Online Dating Relationship Offline

New research explains how to make your first date a success.

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If you’re anything like 41 percent of Americans, chances are you probably know someone who’s tried online dating. Internet-initiated relationships are at an all-time high. As a result, it’s now nearly as common to meet a romantic partner online as it is to be introduced through traditional relationship intermediaries such as friends.

Yet the evolving norms and rules surrounding online dating can, admittedly, be difficult to navigate. Despite what the name implies, online dating sites are more like introduction services, with most of the actual “dating” (at least as we’re accustomed to thinking of it) still happening offline. For that reason, the success of a new relationship often hinges on the first offline date.

The following are five research-based tips that can help when meeting someone from an online dating site for the first time.

1. Be ready for disappointment. Some of my own research with colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has shown that the first offline date can often trigger a decline in attraction. We suspect this is because of the tendency for people to idealize their partner by making assumptions — for example, based on a snippet of information from the other person’s profile — that aren’t necessarily grounded in reality. Try tempering your expectations going into the first date. Although some disappointment may be expected, if you find the other person isn’t at all what you imagined, it’s okay to move on.

2. Don’t drag it out. Another surefire way to develop unrealistic expectations is by spending too much time getting to know someone online. For instance, it’s quite possible that after months of intimate conversation, the first date reveals there just isn’t any chemistry. Studies suggest moving the relationship offline within about 2-3 weeks from when you first started talking. By then, you should have a pretty good sense of whether you want to take things to the next level.

3. Be honest. Obvious, right? But given the pseudo-anonymity of online dating, it can be especially tempting to stretch the truth. A study by Nicole Ellison and colleagues recommends treating an online dating profile like a contract: Think of it as an agreement that the person you see on the screen won’t be dramatically different from the one you encounter in real life. Thus, the best profiles are positive — but also realistic.

4. Keep an open mind. Many people approach online dating with a “wish list” of things they’re looking for in an ideal partner. However, studies have found that people aren’t all that good at predicting which of these qualities they’ll actually be attracted to in person. The implication is that you may be missing out on finding someone because of things you might not even notice (or care about) offline, like that they’re an inch short of your height requirement. By all means know what your deal breakers are, but also consider whether you’d be willing to make an exception for the right person.

5. Go for drinks. To many — especially millennials — dinner can feel outdated (and pricey). As Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor for, explained to The Washington Post, “The first date really should be just for cocktails, because you really shouldn’t invest a lot of money or time. It’s a look-see.” Keep it simple, and save your money for the second date.


Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1012-1032. doi: 10.1037/a0024062

Ellison, N. B., Hancock, J. T., & Toma, C. L. (2011). Profile as promise: A framework for conceptualizing veracity in online dating self-presentations. New Media & Society, 14, 45-62. doi: 10.1177/1461444811410395

Ramanathan, L. (2016, June 8). Your romantic first dates? Restaurants hate them. The Washington Post. Retrieved from…

Ramirez, A., Jr., Sumner, E. M., Fleuriet, C., & Cole, M. (2015). When online dating partners meet offline: The effect of modality switching on relational communication between online daters. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20, 99-114. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12101

Rosenfeld, M. J., & Thomas, R. J. (2012). Searching for a mate: The rise of the Internet as a social intermediary. American Sociological Review, 77, 523-547. doi: 10.1177/0003122412448050

Sharabi, L. L., & Caughlin, J. P. (2017). What predicts first date success? A longitudinal study of modality switching in online dating. Personal Relationships, 24, 370-391. doi: 10.1111/pere.12188

Smith, A. (2016). 15% of American Adults Have Used Online Dating Sites or Mobile Dating Apps. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

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