- "Catfish" creators say play it safe when meeting an online acquaintance in real life
- MTV show, based on a documentary, unites online crushes
- People often aren't what they seem from behind a computer screen
- Tips: "Stalk" before meeting, don't meet at your home, bring a friend
Everyone -- and we mean everyone -- puts their proverbial best foot forward online. And why shouldn't they?
They say that first impressions are everything, and in today's screen-welded-to-your-face age, you may not even be present when someone first makes your acquaintance. A Facebook photo, blog post, or tweet is as good as a handshake. But that handshake that seemed so firm and reassuring online? Yeah, it could be limp as hell in real life.
It's probably pretty safe to say that we've all been intrigued by someone's online presence at one time or another: a cute mutual friend on Facebook, a blogger with a particularly attractive headshot, a minor celebrity with a penchant for oversharing.
Some of us may have even struck up relationships with said objects of affection, trading e-mails, texts and phone calls into the night -- forming attachments with people we've never, essentially, met.
And therein lies the rub: An online connection isn't necessarily a real-life success, and people aren't always who they say they are. So how should you prepare to take an onscreen relationship off?
To supply you with the necessary tools, we turned to the experts: Nev Schulman and filmmaker Max Joseph, from MTV's new reality series, "Catfish: The TV Show."
"Catfish" (airing on Monday nights at 11 p.m. ET/PT), is based on the documentary by the same name. In the movie, Schulman meets and falls in love with a woman online who is not exactly (or at all) who she says she is.
After the release of the film, thousands of people turned to him and asked if he would help them meet their online beaux IRL. Here are some of the lessons Schulman and Joseph have learned along the way.
1. Ask to Skype or video chat before meeting
"If the person is hesitant or reluctant, reconsider meeting," Joseph says.
2. Don't be scared to stalk
"Spend a good two hours looking the person up on Facebook, Google, Myspace, and Instagram. It's not spying, it's virtual contraception." Joseph says you may want to reconsider if:
-- They have fewer than 100 friends on Facebook,
-- They are a model-slash-something else incredible (e.g. model/doctor)
-- None of their photos are tagged
-- They are talking primarily to a ton of other guys or girls who don't seem to know them personally
3. Dress down
"You would be shocked how casual people tend to be when meeting their online crushes and you don't wanna feel awkwardly overdressed," Schulman says.
4. Don't do it at your home
"The last thing you want is some stranger knowing where you live," he says.
5. Have an activity planned
"Sitting across from somebody for coffee or dinner can get real awkward real fast. Better to make it a social event and go bowling or something," Schulman suggests.
6. Bring a friend and an open mind
"You never how things will go down," Joseph notes.