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So many romances today start online. Two people find each other on the World Wide Web and form a connection before they ever meet up in real life. One of my Twitter followers even met her husband after they bonded in the comments of an article I wrote. (See? I keep telling my wife that our marriage would be stronger if it were based on our mutual belief that I'm awesome.) But despite success stories like that, sometimes cyber love just doesn't work out. Magical e-connections fail to translate in the real world.

For some reason, Rachel Bilson -- who totally sexts me all the time -- still won't meet up with me in real life.

So when business brought me to California last week, I thought I'd do some research on this topic by having an "in real life" meet-up with my strictly online acquaintance Adam Tod Brown. There were only a few problems with this plan. For one, I had already met Adam once before when he begged me to fix his terrible article on the Phaal Curry Challenge by adding a hilarious video appearance. The second problem was that Adam "I don't know how to spell 'Todd'" Brown and I hadn't been sustaining a gay online relationship. Still, I was desperate to find a way to drink and eat in a tax-deductible way, so with ATB's help I set about my research.

Pick a Safe Meeting Place

This is so important. Sure, you and your friend have spent countless hours texting, IMing, Facebooking and Tumblr-messaging (is that a thing?), but this is real life. Your friend is no longer a blip on the screen, but a living, breathing person who might be dangerous. There is every possibility that those hundreds of hours of online communication were just a ruse to get you alone long enough for a leather gimp costume fitting. (Although if you met on Craigslist, there's a 68 percent chance that's what you're hoping for.)

There's probably also an acronym for that, but I'm not sure what it is.

So when I pulled up to Adam's government-subsidized housing, I was relieved to see a surveillance video camera in the visitor parking lot. If Adam murdered me, the world would have evidence. (And if Adam got promoted the following week, you can be sure Cracked Editor-in-Chief Jack O'Brien would see the tape.)

"Hi, Adam," I said, desperately trying to stay on camera despite the oncoming eclipse of his massive frame. "Got any plans for our first in-real-life encounter?"

"What are you talking about, Gladstone? We've clearly met bef-"

"TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DINNER!" I replied. "Don't destroy my premise. So where to, Daddy?" I asked.

"We have to pretend to be gay, too?" Adam shook his head. "And how come I'm the daddy?"

We walked the Santa Monica promenade looking for a safe first encounter meeting place and finally stumbled upon a quaint little eatery called Yankee Doodles. And while it had a completely mediocre pub menu and an incredibly boring beer selection, it was brightly lit with easy access to exits. A safe meeting ground.

Here I am looking for an emergency exit.

Make Sure You Share a Common Activity

So, you've met your online friend in real life. Were they fatter than you thought? Did they have a funny odor? Were they missing vital genitalia that you had expected? These are the questions you will have answered right away. And now that you're safely in some nice meeting place (or if you're me, a shitty sports bar chosen by a neurologically impaired blogger), you need to move on to the next step: What will you do?

The answer is share a common activity. Something you both enjoy that will break the ice. I wasn't worried. I knew ATB and I were going to be doing something that we were both good at: drinking. The waitress came and I ordered an Anchor Steam, in the spirit of being on the West Coast. Adam ordered an iced tea, in the spirit of being a 12-year-old girl.

"Iced tea?" I asked. "Why are we in a bar for iced tea?"

"I'm not drinking these days," Adam said, and I contemplated the fun of watching my online pretend gay lover watching me drink alone.

That's when he pulled out the medicine he'd filled with his medical marijuana prescription.

In my day, we didn't need our tasty treats to make us trip balls.

"You can't do that," I said.

"Take it easy, narc," he replied.

"No, I mean you can't bring outside food into a restaurant. Of all the guys I was gonna go on a pretend gay date with, why did I have to pick one with the manners of a boorish Philistine?"

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Don't Lie About Your Junk

At some point in the encounter, you're going to have the moment of truth. Clothes are going to come off, and the delicate online fantasy you've constructed might come crashing down. That's why you should never lie about your junk or pretend to be something you're not. You've tricked some woman into thinking you have a circus penis online? Why? So you can see the look of disappointment and horror when you whip out your little warrior?

No, not that one.

It's the same with padded bras or any form of online deception. Your in-real-life encounter will be ruined if it's based on lies, but this is why my night out with ATB suddenly started going so well -- because we'd been completely honest about our appearance and feelings. Adam had told me from the very beginning that he was a guy who dressed like an impoverished Frenchman whose testosterone deficiency prevented the growth of a full beard and whose liver dysfunction produced a green facial pallor. And true to his word, that's just who came to dinner.

Have a Good Excuse for Calling the Night Early

You never know what strange turns real life will take. That's why you'll always need a back-up plan if things go south. Secure that early exit.

After some tax-deductible food and drinks, Adam and I took a stroll among the streets of Santa Monica.

"Where to now, G?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. I mean, since we're pretending to be gay, maybe we should go to Chick-Fil-A, where they pretend to be good Christians," I suggested.

Sorry, I don't mean to get political, so in the interest of even time, here's a picture of Sarah Palin (that Adam and I mutually masturbated to earlier in the evening).

But instead, we just kept walking on. Eventually, the conversation turned awkward, each of us consumed with a gay lust that we did not feel. I took Adam's hand and pulled him into an alley. (They have alleys in Santa Monica, right? Yeah, I pulled him into an alley.)

"Dude," Adam exclaimed. "I don't think we really have to commit to this. We had some dinner. You're writing an article about it. I mean, we don't really have to have actual gay sex to facilitate your tax fraud!"

And although his mouth said no, his hands (which I'd cuffed while he was discussing the finer points of tax law) said yes. Well, they didn't really say yes, so much as they made wild "I don't want to be raped" gesticulations.

But just in the nick of time, Adam said, "Oh, wait, I just remembered!!! I promised Jack that I'd feed Cody tonight. My turn to walk him, too."

And when I say just in the nick of time, I don't mean prior to criminal alley sex. I mean, Adam stopped me before I wrote a rape joke into one of my columns. Close call. (Probably why he's an editor.)

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Say Goodbye in a Nice Way

So now you've met, dined and had sex (or came close in a Santa Monica alley), but how do you end the encounter? Real life is not like the Internet. You can't just say BRB and then never return. You have to do it right because you might be forced to speak again. What if one of you gets diagnosed with a venereal disease? (Always a possibility with Adam.) You'll have to make that awkward call where you notify former sex partners. Or what if one of you is pregnant? (Again, totally possible with Adam. Do you know he has a birthing gill directly below his third superfluous nipple?) So whether or not you had a good time, you need to be polite and cordial.

Picture from Adam's first delivery. Here, the doctor listens for the sound of Adam's offspring shedding its pig tail before birthing.

"Well, Adam," I said. "Thank you for a magical evening. Spending some time with you in person has been illuminating. Mostly in the sense that I now have a better understanding of why you're incapable of being funny."

"It was nice to see you, too, Marion," he said, using a name that is no way my actual name.

"You know, that's not my name, right, Adam?" I asked.

"I know," he said. "But I call you that because ..."

Adam never finished the sentence. It was at that moment that I removed his head from his body with a giant machete I had fastened to my junk and worn down the side of my pant leg all night. See, I had bought it at a bodega outside of LAX, and I needed to write a column about it so I could deduct the purchase in my taxes as a business expense. Coming next week: 5 Things You Can Murder With a Machete.

When not murdering people with a machete, Gladstone is at work on a new season of HATE BY NUMBERS. Also, be sure to follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.

For more from Gladstone, check out The 9 Most Likely Reasons You've Been Unfollowed on Twitter and 30 Harrowing Days in Rehab for Facebook Addiction.

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