You're not looking to bang every person you meet online. Sometimes, you're just looking for friends. But somehow, meeting someone you know online platonically has become a far more awkward endeavour than a random OKCupid date. You know her, but you dont know her.
Do you shake hands? Do you hug? Do you do that open-palmed half-wave? God forbid she goes for the hug and you go for the handshake like you're in some jerking, uncoordinated, chest-poking dance.
We know how to navigate these waters with dates we picked up online, but digital friendships don't always translate seamlessly to the real world. And yet increasingly, internet is how we meet people now. So you better be able to ride out that unavoidable initial awkwardness.
I've made some of my closest friends on the internet. In fact, next month I'll be moving in with someone I met on Twitter. But before we consummated our friendship in real life (minds out of the incognito browsers, children), we had fairly skewed ideas of what to expect. "I was nervous to meet you because we had so much in common," she told me, reasonably. "I was suspicious. Like, what if you were a bot?" I was just afraid her jokes would be corny.
That looming uncertainty of what someone you already know is really like is where a lot of the nerves come from. Plus, there's the very normal desire to make a good first impression. But there are a few easy ways to make the butterflies in your stomach chill out a little bit.
Meet in a group setting. Do you have a few people you know from the internet you'd like to meet? Why not all meet at once? If you're going to be awkward, at least be awkward together. You'd all have to be trying very deliberately to achieve much awkward silence between the five of you. (Though god help you if you do.)
Meet somewhere public. As with Craigslist transactions and blind dates, you'll want to meet somewhere with other people around. A bar is the most obvious destination, because there will at least be a bartender there and there's a clearcut escape route. Plus, booze!
Bring a friend for support. The buddy system isn't a bad idea, either. Sometimes it helps to have another mouth around to keep the conversation going. And again, it provides you with an easy out.
I've actually done real life meetups quite a bit. One that stands out happened in February with a bunch of media types at a dark bar in Brooklyn that serves kitschy beach drinks. We decided, Hey we jabber at each other all day through our keyboards, why not make it honest and actually, you know hang out? This is sort of an extraordinary circumstance, but everything came together perfectly. It started with a few people who knew each other from Twitter and whatnot and wanted to have a drink together, and the word sort of spread to others who wanted to join in on the fun IRL. It was great! And all the awkwardness was avoided thanks to the group setting (and the drinks).
The beauty of the whole thing is that we never would have met were it not for the internet. Not every situation is so ideal, but there's no reason your internet friends can't be real world friends too.
User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette.