Many LGBTI people now meet friends, hook-ups and potential partners via apps. When meeting up with a complete stranger you’ve met online, it’s always wise to play it safe – even if you’ve been talking digitally for a long time and think you know the other person well.
Intentionally or unintentionally, people can present very differently online than they do in person. They may not be what you expect.
Here is advice to bear in mind
• When arranging to meet someone for the first time, ask them for a phone number or email, and exchange an email or text with them first. If they refuse to give you an email or phone number, be very cautious of meeting them at all.
• Ask them for their Instagram, Facebook or other social media accounts, so you have an idea of their real identity. Let’s face it: most of us don’t use our real names on hook-up apps.
• Arrange to meet in a public place. This is perhaps obvious advice, but many guys ignore it and just arrange to turn up at someone’s house or apartment. Meeting at a nearby café, coffee shop or just a public landmark, is advisable – ideally with plenty of other people around.
Meeting for a drink or coffee means your less committed than a sit-down dinner. You can cut a meeting short much quicker if it’s not working for you.
• If someone offers to pick you up in a car and drive you to their apartment, be cautious. Where are they taking you? Why can’t you make your own way there? Again, arrange to meet somewhere public to check them out first before agreeing to get in their car and be driven somewhere.
• Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk in advance about each other’s expectations. You might think you’re simply meeting them for a date; they might be assuming you’re visiting for sex. It’s good to be clear about these things before meeting.
• Take a screenshot of their app profile – just in case you need it at a later date to make a complaint to the app creators or authorities but find it’s already been deleted.
Your phone is your friend
• Do you have a trusted friend with whom you can share your GPS location? Many apps, including Find My Friends, Geozilla, Find my iPhone, FB Messenger’s Live Location feature and iMessage can allow you to do this. Some track you only for a temporary period, while others work until your phone is turned off or your battery dies.
Tell the friend where you are going, who you’re planning to meet and how long you think you might be gone.
• Make sure your phone is well charged. Having numbers programmed into your phone for local taxi companies is also not a bad idea.
• If you think you may need a phone call or text to rescue you from an awkward or undesirable date, maybe discuss having a code word to use with friends. This way they know you are on a date that you want to bring to an end; they can call or may be able to intervene.
‘Trust your gut instinct’
• Be extremely wary about accepting drugs from a stranger: you will not know their strength or dosage. Gay men have been raped and murdered after being drugged with GHB. Some didn’t even know they were being given a drink containing a drug. Also, know your limits when it comes to alcohol.
• Finally, trust your gut instinct. If you get a bad feeling about things, or the person is not what you were expecting, make your excuses and leave.