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I recently accepted the friend request of a guy on Facebook. We shared a couple mutual friends, so I assumed we had met at a college party somewhere in the last few years. As it turns out, we haven't ever met, but have continued to chat with each other anyway.

Recently he offered to drive 2 hours to take me out to dinner and hang out. While I'd like to meet up with him in person and develop a further friendship, I'm a little uneasy because I've discussed how I currently have a partner (to which he acted indifferently upon discovering), yet this offer sounds potentially date-like to me based on the distance he's willing to travel and the particular restaurant he suggested.

I've met "friends" from online before, some of which had the wrong idea about our relationship when we met up, and I want to avoid that at all costs here. I'd feel more comfortable agreeing to meet with him if we discussed intentions first, but I do not want to come off accusatory in doing so (other than this invitation feeling kind of date-like to me, he really hasn't done anything to set off any red flags).

How can I tactfully discuss the boundaries of our friendship before agreeing to meet up with him? I'd like to find a way to feel more comfortable about his intentions without offending him or making him think he did anything wrong.

Note: My partner will more than likely not be able to (nor want to) hang out as part of this meet up.

Additionally: I touched base with the two mutual friends we share, and both said only positive things about him (very sweet, super shy, etc).

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    How did you bring up that you have a partner? How did that conversation go? How did he react? – scohe001 Jul 16 '18 at 14:09
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    @scohe001 He said he had guessed so judging by my photos and has even made suggestions about stuff to do with them when I'm having a bad day. Didn't seem to react poorly or anything - just indifferent. – Jess K. Jul 16 '18 at 14:34
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    Just to confirm, you assumed you had previously met the guy at some point in the past, which turned out not to be true. Did your online friend make a similar assumption? Did he ever explain why he got in touch with you? What do your mutual friends make of him? – user8671 Jul 16 '18 at 15:05
  • @Kozaky No, he knew we hadnt met, but said he was interested in talking to me because of my association to our mutual friend and simply because he wants more friends. – Jess K. Jul 16 '18 at 15:08
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    @Philbo Sure - that's fine! I do have a preference for dating females but I've had boyfriends in the past and don't have anything against dating men, so I've been hesitant to use my sexuality to deter him. If we actually end up friends I don't want to look like a liar. – Jess K. Jul 17 '18 at 14:18
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I use a chat app to meet friends sometimes, and lots of people use it for dating, so I run into this all the time. Once we get to the point of planning to meet, I say something like this:

So we're on the same page, I am only looking for friends. I am not interested in anything romantic or sexual. Is that okay with you?

You don't have to use that exact wording, of course, but do make sure you keep the key aspects:

  • Be clear and direct. Don't leave any room for misinterpretation.

  • Keep it impersonal by using "I" statements. Notice there is no mention of anyone but myself anywhere in my statement of boundaries.

  • Ask if they're willing to respect your boundaries (that's the question at the end). If you do not get a clear "yes, I'm fine with that", then don't meet up.

Don't bother mentioning your significant other. The reason you aren't interested in a romantic relationship is irrelevant and only provides guys fodder to argue over whether your reason is good enough or not. (Surprisingly, "I'm in a committed relationship" isn't a very convincing reason to many people.)

Most people will say they're fine with it and then behave themselves when you meet. Some people will say they're not interested in friendship, and that'll be that. A few guys will become rude and/or try to negotiate different boundaries than the ones you've clearly set. That minority reaction is unpleasant, but I'd rather find that out while I can easily block them and never hear from them again!

In short, be direct, clear, and concise about what your boundaries are. Keep it about you, and the only people who will be offended are the ones you really don't want to know anyway.

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Each time I found myself in this situation, honesty and simplicity paid back. I think that simply approaching the topic directly can clarify his expectation. Refer to your previous experiences to explain why you want to discuss it with him:

Hey, Onlinefriend, I'd like to see you in person, but I'd also make it extra clear that I'm happily in a close relationship and as such I'm only open to have a friendship with you. You know, it happened to me in the past to meet other online friends who assumed that the meeting was a date; I think I could have spared them and myself the misunderstanding and the disappointment had I only been clear enough.

This way you show that you're acting for the sake of your relationship, not only for yourself.

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If the guy knows you are in a relationship and is in fact trying to take you out on a date regardless, I'm not sure any tactful discussion will stop him from 'making a move' given the opportunity. Someone who disregards what you are communicating to him once is perfectly capable of doing it again even if you communicate more clearly.

In this case I think actions speak loudest - and these are actions it's good to take any time you are meeting someone offline for the first time. Make sure you have your own transport organised to and from the venue and avoid agreeing to any situation that would have you alone with him. Let other people know what you are doing so they can check up on you if necessary. You can explain to your friend what you are doing and have a general discussion about ensuring you are safe with someone you have never met in person, which is perfectly normal and sensible when taking online friendships offline. This may provoke an assurance of it being a non-romantic/non-sexual invitation from him, but if it doesn't you will still be able to retreat safely if you do encounter unwanted advances. Sadly you really can't know the guy's intentions until you meet him.

This way you also avoid embarrassing your friend if he is, say, simply clueless about the possible connotations of the arrangement, or a foodie who has always wanted to visit that particular restaurant. There are some guys out there who do just like to take female friends out to nice places with no strings attached. It's probably rare and all the guys I've known like that have been... complicated, to say the least, but if nothing else makes you wary of him it is at least possible.

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    The question does not say he is trying to take her on a date. The question is asking how to make sure that's not the case. – reirab Jul 17 '18 at 19:04
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    My answer doesn't assume he is trying to take her on a date. The point is that if he is the sort of person who would try to manipulate her into such a situation knowing she doesn't consider herself available, there's no reason to assume he would engage in such a discussion in good faith either. Do suggest any way I can express this more clearly but the intent should be apparent from reading the whole answer. – Kami Jul 18 '18 at 3:28
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First, one of the basic lessons of male-female communications is: What women think is a broad and obvious hint often goes completely over a man's head. Don't hint. Tell him straight out. It doesn't have to rude. Not, "I suspect you're just trying to get some cheap sex and I want you to know I'm not a prostitute" or something crude like that. But, "I have a boyfriend and I'm not looking for someone else. I'd love to get together with you as friends, but if you're thinking this could lead to a romantic relationship, I don't want you to come all this way and then find out that that's not a possibility." (Or from your wording, maybe you're saying you're in a same-sex relationship. Whatever.) Those may not be the best words. That's off the top of my head, and when I have something important to say in a relationship I'll work on the exact wording for hours or days. :-) But something to that effect. This is my situation. It is not subject to negotiation. I don't want you to have a wrong impression and waste your time and/or set you up for disappointment.

Second, the fact that he wanted to push ahead after you said you had someone else could mean one of two things: (a) He's not looking for a romantic relationship so this fact is irrelevant. Or (b) He is looking for a romantic relationship and he thinks he can win you over from the other person. Well, maybe also, (c) He's looking for cheap sex and doesn't care if you go back to someone else afterwards. That's why I say not to rely on hints. You may be thinking, "I told him I already have someone else, so obviously I'm not interested in him." But he may take that as, "Well, I have someone else at the moment, but I didn't know YOU were available."

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    Can I recommend a quick change to "partner" instead of boyfriend? It's more correct in OPs situation and also better for future viewers of the question. – Philbo Jul 17 '18 at 15:20
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A simple, direct way of asking when someone proposes meeting up like this is:

Do you mean like a date?

I feel like it fits best on the first ask, but you can adapt it for the next time he brings it up (which it sounds like he will), with something like

Wait, you don't mean this like a date do you?

An approach like this will not dig up hidden intentions, but it does let you establish the expectation and prompt him to affirm that it's not a date, so that if he later tries to make it into one, you can remind him that he said it's not. And unlike some other approaches, it doesn't veer into the realm of awkwardness, your own relationship status and orientation, or explicitly saying anything about sex. These should be perfectly fine things to talk about, but some creeps think that any willingness to mention these things means you're "loose" or want to have a relationship with them and are "testing the waters".

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