If the past few weeks in our news cycle have highlighted anything, it's that having and respecting personal boundaries is extremely important. But all too often in the dating world, this becomes complicated, difficult, and sometimes even dangerous. For a variety of reasons (and yes, many of those reasons stem from bad experiences I've had in the past), I often find the prospect of dating, and simply meeting a date for the first time, to be both daunting and intimidating. It's why learning how to feel comfortable on a first date is a skill that's worth working on and talking about.
At this point, my priorities on a date are first and foremost safety, respect, and enjoyment. But in the past, I've definitely done things that didn't jive with those priorities, like, for example, staying on a bad date much, much longer than I wanted to because I was too uncomfortable to leave. As a result of so many dreadful experiences, I've often canceled a date at the last minute because my nerves got the best of me — which is totally fine, but doesn't necessarily do the trick if you actually want to meet someone, you know what I mean?
One thing I used to do to make myself feel more comfortable meeting dates for the first time in New York City was to plan for us to meet at a restaurant where my roommate worked. Not only did I have a pal secretly nearby, I also had a reliable person to walk home with, and someone to help me dissect the after the fact.
Now, that was obviously a pretty lucky scenario for me, but you might not have a similarly solid safety net like that to fall back on in your own dating life. So, to help you feel more safe and comfortable in your own dating experiences, Elite Daily spoke with a few experts who have some great advice about how to cultivate that sense of security in your dating life, while still having a genuinely good time as you meet new people and build new relationships.
Here's to a future of greater and safer communication in the realms of love and friendship, my friends.
Communications coach Lesli Doares says one of the biggest hurdles people encounter when trying to create and enforce boundaries in a dating environment is being overly concerned about how the other person is going to respond.
"Having boundaries isn’t something you're doing to someone else, it’s something you're doing for you," Doares tells Elite Daily. "Think about [your boundaries] like locking your front door or your car. They are for your protection. Remembering this when you are in an uncomfortable situation is really important."
She adds that any discomfort you might be feeling is your body’s way of sending a warning, so trying to be “too nice” can be problematic. If you need to leave a date, you don’t have to be rude about it, but you don’t need to justify your decision either. Simply stating that you're not feeling well is all that is necessary. There's no need to go into detail or overexplain. "It doesn’t have to make sense to, or be accepted by the other person," Doares says.
Matchmaker and relationship expert Bonnie Winston advises her clients and friends to download smartphone apps for their safety, since even dates that start out well "can turn weird quickly."
At any point you start to feel uncomfortable, Winston tells Elite Daily, you can turn on one of these apps and have a subtle, but authentic-sounding excuse to leave. For example, the app uSafeUS has a feature called “time to leave,” which sends an urgent fake phone call or text from your parents or roommate, such as "I AM LOCKED OUT, COME LET ME IN."
These apps can definitely provide you with a good fallback excuse if you find yourself having trouble leaving on your own.
"The dating advice I offer comes from my experience with transgender individuals, who are always especially alert for the 'panic' scenario," says Hannah Simpson, a transgender identity advocate and writer. "But they really apply to anyone," she tells Elite Daily.
Simpson recommends making some strong choices about your options for leaving if necessary. "That includes choosing public places for initial meetings, wearing flats (or keeping a pair handy), and considering your transportation options in advance," she says.
She adds that good communication matters above all, and if the person you're dating is actually worth dating, they'll respect you for saying you're uncomfortable: "They will either try to mollify whatever is upsetting you, even (and especially) if it is their own behavior, or they will be smart enough to respect it may be out of their own control — like you feel sick because the food didn't agree with you — and they'll be eager to reschedule and see you again."
Erica Basso, MA, AMFT, an associate marriage and family therapist practicing in Santa Monica, California, stresses that it's more than OK to bow out early on a date that you are certain is not going anywhere, that's making you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or unheard, or if the person is just being straight-up rude or difficult to be around.
"Leaving when you want to models honest communication and respect to both parties. [These are] fundamental elements of a healthy relationship," Basso tells Elite Daily. And, she explains, if you're practicing these things on a date that you don't even see potential for in terms of a real future relationship, "then you're on a good path to one day finding that perfect someone for you."
Remember, if you feel like you want to go, it is, and will always be, 100 percent OK to call it quits at any time.
While you're on the date, make sure to pause regularly and check in with how you're feeling: Butterflies? Nerves? Discomfort? At ease? Once you know, you can make clear decisions about how you want to proceed throughout your date.
Sex and relationship therapist and social worker Dr. Donna Oriowo of AnnodRight points out that, in order to know your boundaries and what you do or don't want during a date, you have to know yourself first. "If you don't know yourself, it will be hard to communicate those wants or needs with anyone else," she tells Elite Daily.
Consider ways in which you can actively get in touch with your own feelings outside of dating scenarios, whether it's through journaling, therapy, talking often with trusted friends, or starting a meditation practice. This way, you'll be well-equipped to practice those same check-in skills later on an actual date.
Dr. Oriowo also points out that, if things don't seem clear, or communication or boundaries somehow got muddled during your date, it's always a good idea to address these things and be super, super clear about them.
"If you feel like the wires got crossed in what you want versus what they want, ask for clarification," she tells Elite Daily. "Let them explain to you what they want, explain what you want, and together, you can decide if you're on the same page."
Clinical psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo tells Elite Daily, "The energy behind saying your 'no' is important. If we say 'no' without believing in the power of our 'no,' it can come out misinterpreted."
This boils down, she stresses, to how we sometimes see boundaries as a bad thing. "If we have firm boundaries, then we can trust ourselves to enjoy our time without worrying too much. This simple reframe can help us stop feeling guilty or rigid about having boundaries."
Here's to the betterment of our communication and our dating lives!