Setting Healthy Boundaries for Dating

man and woman sitting on bench in woods

Before you go on this date, make sure you are in agreement with yourself. You don’t want to be caught fighting with yourself over a decision when you need to make one. Decide in advance what behaviors and situations will be acceptable to you and what won’t. As long as you are comfortable and feel these boundaries have not been breached, you can relax and flow with what’s happening. But, once a line is crossed, you must be willing to take control of yourself and not just go along with something you find uncomfortable, unacceptable, or dangerous.

You’re likely to be nervous when you’re newly dating someone, and knowing what your boundaries are can help you be safe and get this relationship off to a good start. If you’ve decided on your boundaries in advance, and thought about how you’d handle it if a boundary is crossed means you will know what to do already, and not have to come up with your responses on the spot. This is very helpful when you may be nervous, excited or not thinking clearly. Normally, I recommend getting face to face as soon as possible, because you get so many clues, including pheromones, that you don’t get over phone, texting, email or video. However, these are not normal times, and we’re sheltering in place, so face to face is out, unless you want to risk getting within six feet of each other. Keep in mind that people can be infected and not know it, so be extra cautious. Dating online is the best option, because you can connect through video, phone, text and email. Face to face meeting should be put off until after sequestering is done. Keep in mind that, while most people will be genuine, some bad actors can fake things and mislead you.

I. Some examples of setting clear, healthy boundaries for yourself in a new relationship are:

• Deciding to keep yourself safe with social distancing and wearing a mask. In case wearing a mask feels uncomfortable for you, deciding in advance that you’re going to wear one (you can choose one to match your outfit, to be artistic, or to make a statement) means you’ll keep yourself safe and shows your date you care about both of your health. If you’re going to drink a beverage or eat something, take the mask off for that, and then put it back on. Most places you will go require a mask anyway.

• Deciding how much and what you will eat or drink. This prevents drinking too much or eating things that may be wrong for you because you feel caught off guard on the date. For example, if your date suggests a restaurant you’re not used to, you will be more comfortable if you know what your food and drink preferences are in advance.

• Deciding not to get in a car with someone you just met and don’t know well. This means you will not be subjected to drunken driving, bad behavior or just plain bad driving with a stranger.

• Deciding to meet only in public places until you have a chance to get to know the person you’re meeting. This keeps you safe, and helps you keep things in bounds. This also will help you social distance until you know more about how well this date protects himself or herself, and therefore, you.

• Deciding when it’s OK to have sex. If you know in advance you’re not having sex until after several dates, you won’t be as likely to make bad decisions when you’re emotionally charged.

• Deciding to set a spending limit. You need to know how much you’re willing to spend before dating someone. If your date has more money, and spends it lavishly on you, you’ll need to let the date know you won’t be reciprocating, or that reciprocation will be a homemade meal for a fancy restaurant one. How you and your date handle money and can discuss money is a critical component for knowing whether you’ll be successful in a relationship. After a few dates, you can discuss finances (for example, you have a good job, but you want to pay off student loans, or save for a house. Or, you are financially strapped because you just got out of school or some other circumstance.)

II. A guide to dating safely (physically and emotionally) in the time of COVID-19

• Be skeptical, not gullible. When you’re meeting men online you have no way of knowing who they are. There are documented cases of prisoners conning gullible people to send them money, marry them etc. online. Don’t be afraid to ask for details, Google any date that interests you enough, ask to talk to friends and family members. Don’t keep secrets about your possible date.

• Be realistic, not romantic. Don’t develop a fantasy about the date until you know the facts. It can be a tough world out there, and being realistic helps you achieve real goals, like a loving relationship.

• Focus on friendship. Concentrate on developing the friendship. Romance follows later, after you’ve checked your date out, and met in person.

• Don’t tell your date too much: Don’t give away your address, or work location until you know who this is. If you have children, protect them by being discreet and careful.

• Pay attention to how your date acts, what they say; seek to discover character, don’t fall for just looks and charm.

• Don’t assume you’re exclusive if you haven’t discussed it.

• Don’t get too self-conscious. The media focus on youth and fitness can make you feel insecure and unattractive. When you are on video, look your (appropriate) best, and then forget about it. Instead of worrying what your date thinks of you, focus on what you think of your date.

• Be your own date: Sheltering in place is a perfect time to get to know yourself better. Consider your own personality, character and qualities: How do you feel about you? Learning to enjoy your own company means you’ll be more secure and relaxed around other people, including potential dates. Use this extra time to develop your style, consider what you want a date to know about you, and what you want to know about a date. That will be the foundation of your eventual success in dating.

III. Boundaries for after the first date or first few dates:

• Don’t have expectations of a text or call after a date. You can’t control when someone will text you, but you can decide not to text until you get a response. This keeps you from text-stalking your date, and gives you a chance to evaluate how responsive this date is. You need to learn what you’re date’s response time is, and that also gives you a clue about your date’s feelings about you.

• Decide how often you want to see each other. You need to have an idea of how often you want to see a new date, but you’ll also need to take into consideration things like schedules, and your date’s availability. But if you have an idea about how often you’d like to date, at least in the beginning, you’ll have something to go by if your date asks.

• Decide whether or not you invite them to stuff with your friends. As I said, in normal times, I recommend getting a new date together with friends as soon as possible, because your friends can give you valuable feedback. Do decide to get together for something safe and limited, maybe a video get-together, or a socially distanced meeting, to see how your friends and your date deal with each other. How your date handles meeting your friends can tell you a lot about your date.

• Decide to clarify your communication style. If you prefer not to text, and want to have discussions via phone or in person, it’s valuable to let your date know this if you think future dates are a good idea. Whether you or your date are willing or able to talk while at work is good to know. Also clarify how often you’d like to contact each other, and whether you want some notice before being asked out. For example, a few days before instead of on the day your date wants to go out, unless there’s a special reason.

• Get clear about the commitment you’re looking for. This is a discussion you have with yourself first. If you want a casual dating relationship, without commitment, you need to let your date know, and also probably why you want that. If you want to eventually get married and have kids, you don’t need to bring that up until you have a few dates, and see if this has the necessary components to last. Bringing it up too soon is presumptuous, and may be offensive to your date. It is OK to say, “I’m looking for something serious and lasting” without going into details. If you have young children from a previous relationship, you should also disclose that pretty early. You don’t want to get caught up in a relationship with someone who won’t like your kids.

IV. How to stick to your decisions:

• Boundaries change as you learn more. In the beginning, however, set the line pretty high. If your new date shows signs of rage, drunkenness, hysteria, rudeness, disrespect (such as leaving you alone and flirting with others) recklessness, or other embarrassing or dangerous behavior, do not be polite or tolerant. Remember, your date is supposed to be on his or her best behavior, and if you tolerate this, it will only get worse. Many people do this backwards, excusing behavior they shouldn’t, and getting hurt or upset later.

• Don’t hesitate to leave if you must. If you’re driving for both of you, tell your date you will take him or her home immediately. If you’re not the one driving, tell your date you want to be driven home (unless the driver’s been drinking too much), and if that doesn’t work get yourself home by taxi, friend or family member, ride-hailing service, or public transportation. You need to set things up so you always have the ability to leave.

• Leave your date, male or female, at the restaurant, in a club, at a party, or at a movie, if his or her behavior is seriously out of line. This is the precise reason you need to be prepared in advance. If the date is your treat, leave enough money to pay the check, or see the waiter before you leave.

• If you stick to your limits on the first date, you’ll find that your date will get the message, and either move on to someone else (good riddance!), or apologize and correct the unacceptable behavior.

� 2020 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. ( is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 40 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 15 books in 17 languages, including Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today; It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog (, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” and offers courses at Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina

Setting Healthy Boundaries for Dating

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