should i meet my internet friend?

Dear Suzie, I’m a 20 year old female and have recently been talking a lot to a 23 year old guy i met on the internet. We chat via msn, webcam and phone. We get on really well and want to meet each other. He wants me to get a train to his home town and meet him there (there’s nothing to do where I live). Is this such a good idea?

I’m in favour of any way of getting in touch with and meeting people – after all, in essence what’s the difference between meeting someone at a party, a bar, through an old fashioned Lonely Hearts column and through the Internet?

Well, there’s one difference with the Internet. Meeting someone through friends at a party means you have some form of personal recommendation; they know him as well as you and if he’s a wrong ‘un will warn you off. And the guy knows that if he puts a foot wrong you know where he lives and where he can be found. Even meeting someone in a local bar gives you some sort of protection in that you may have mutual contacts.

The danger of the internet is that you and he may have no mutual connections, and most of all the person you’re chatting to can spin a total web of lies about who they are and where they live. You may have eliminated one really big danger which is that since you don’t see the person they can tell you they are one age and turn out to be very much older. You say you have chatted with a webcam so I’d hope he’s not going to turn out to be a 50 year old dirty old man. But getting on the train to go see him is a risk too far – far too far. Seriously, how do you know his intentions are decent? Go to him and he turns out to be the sort of man who thinks a woman coming into his territory is ‘asking for it’ and where is your help and protection?

What do you mean by “there’s nothing to do where I live”? Not one pub, coffee shop, café? Nothing? Codswallop. Safety is far, far more important than glitzy bars or theme parks. If he’s genuine he’ll be more than happy for you to say “No, come and meet me in my home town for our first meeting. And you can meet a friend of mine too – we’ll double date.” And make sure you go to meet him, in public, with a friend or relative either with you or a table away. Then, if your instincts tell you something is wrong you can get the back up to leave safely.

If he’s genuine, he won’t be at all worried that you’re taking precautions. In fact, it’s a good test; if he objects don’t take any notice of whatever argument he uses. If he objects, my anxieties are proved correct.

You may think I’m over reacting but trust me. The sad thing about the internet is that while it is a fabulous tool to link up like-minded people, it is also a playground for users and abusers to trawl chat sites just looking for lonely, young, inexperienced or naïve people and take advantage of them. I hope he turns out to be lovely. But please, don’t take risks.

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