Sometimes it feels like online dating brings up more questions than answers—that’s why you’re here, right? One of the toughest timeframe questions to master with online dating is when to finally meet in person. Do you meet right away, or do you take a while to really get to know them, or is it something in between?
That’s what we’re going to dive headfirst into today. Here are five things you absolutely must know when making this decision.
1. Be Patient
Right now is almost never the right answer. Even if there seems to be some compelling reason, like that a movie you’re both interested in is on its last day at the theater nearby, this is an intense move that will turn most people off. While meeting that day may seem spontaneous and fun, it can also telegraph that you’re more than a little impulsive, which may tip people off to the fact that you’re not for them in the long run.
That also means playing it cool chatting online, at least for a little bit. A nice back and forth sets the tone for a longer conversation, and whatever old-school rule you’ve been told about waiting two days between contact doesn’t apply here—yet. Everything about dating online is compressed: how you gather information, how you sort through potential dates, and how you communicate.
You do want to show interest right away, but keep it brief, make sure you’re both equally interested in the conversation, and then make a polite exit. Check back in the next day and see if you still feel the same chemistry. If so, you’re on the right track.
2. Switch To Text First
Even though blocking cell numbers is easier than ever, you or your potential date might not want to swap phone numbers right away. If you’re chatting through the app long enough, though, eventually it will be time to take it to the next level.
Put the ball in their court and say “Hey, I’ve enjoyed talking to you online, but if you every want to text me, here’s my number.” It’s a nice, low-key way to let the person know you’re interested without putting the pressure on them to provide their phone number when directly asked.
Most often, if they’re interested they’ll text you back from their own number in the next day or so, and the conversation can go from there. If they don’t, or if they don’t respond to the online message you sent in-app, don’t follow up. They’re sending a message that they weren’t ready to take it to the next level.
Don’t worry about it if that’s the case. You’ve saved yourself the time and energy of worrying about someone who’s not right for you. And while you don’t want to be one of those obnoxious people who puts “not looking for a pen pal” in their profile, some people really are just on dating apps for casual flirting.
A solid portion of those pen pal folks are actually married or are part of a couple and may be flirting as a way of “not quite cheating,” and there’s no reason to put yourself through that.
3. Be on the Lookout for Dealbreakers
You don’t have to go into every possible dating scenario with a negative mindset, but the longer you chat, the longer you’ll have to pick up on things that will either make you more excited about meeting them or more willing to wind down the conversation.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with either one! But giving yourself a little extra time to text as that next step before meeting allows you to do a little more personal filtering and figure out if you have enough in common to keep going.
4. Why Not Wait A Week (Or Less)?
While you might not want to meet in person right away, you definitely don’t want to wait too long. Good timing matters, and there’s a sweet spot between too long and just long enough. While everyone has a different comfort level, here’s a good rule of thumb: if it’s the Wednesday before the weekend, go ahead and see if they’d like to make plans.
If it’s a Thursday or the weekend has already hit, try making plans for the following weekend. That way the person has time to think over a potential date and may feel less pressured to say yes if they’re on the fence.
5. What About A Weeknight?
While the same rule of thumb above applies, some people like a midweek first date better. Dinner or a quick drink can feel less weighty than a weekend, since there’s usually a set end time to the evening. If it goes well, great! You’ve left each other wanting more. If not? No problem. Finish your meal or drink and head on home.
It puts you both in the position of an easy, polite escape if you find that you just don’t mesh in person. Again, make sure you’re asking at least three or four days in advance. Not only do you not want to seem pushy, you also don’t want to make it look like you think they might not have other plans.
Ultimately, the right time to meet someone in person when you’re online dating will probably present itself on its own. If you and the other person gel, it’s likely you’ll both naturally come to the conclusion that it’s time to meet at about the same time.
And if not, you’ll likely get that vibe early on in the conversation. But one of you has to make the first move, and being assertive and suggesting plans can be a great way to show you’re interested. It’s not a tough thing to get right, but as long as you follow a few simple rules in communicating like give it space, give it time, and set reasonable expectations, you’ve set yourself up for a successful first date with someone you’ve met online.