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Apr 21, 2022

Setting boundaries for casual dating

Healthy relationships thrive when we have clear boundaries. But what does boundary-setting look like when it comes to casual dating?

By Almaz Ohene


Right now, lots of us seem to be waking up to the social positives of having clear boundaries with the people in our lives. Boundaries are basic guidelines that people create for themselves to establish how others ought to behave and communicate with them. Setting boundaries can ensure that relationships are mutually respectful, appropriate and caring.

Boundary setting can encourage you to dismantle habitual patterns and become more intentional about how you show up for yourself, meaning how you allow yourself to be treated by others. Though establishing boundaries might feel frightening, the goal of instilling them is to allow greater, invited intimacy between you and someone else. 

When you respect yourself and someone else respects your needs, it can feel revolutionary. But maintaining your own boundaries can help you settle on the people you’re likely to feel good around. If someone is unwilling to adhere to your boundaries, then they’re probably not someone you want to be dating anyway.

Though boundaries are different for everyone, they can include making sure you’ve messaged enough for you to feel safe before meeting or asking questions that could help indicate if you and a potential date are aligned in your approach to relationships.

Boundaries when chatting on the app

When you start chatting to someone new on the app and it’s going well and you’re in a fun groove with it, if the rhythm suddenly changes, it can feel jarring. You might even start to question whether your match found the joke you sent offensive.

To help prevent your mind from anxiously dwelling on how you might be responsible for a text conversation stalling in the earliest stages of your connection, you can let the other person know in advance if there’s going to be a change or pause in the speed of your engagement.

You could message something like:

 ‘I’m about to hop into a meeting and probably won’t be able to reply again for another four hours.’

Or, if your attention gets pulled elsewhere for a few hours, you could return back to your chat with a message along the lines of:

‘I just got out of a meeting that started in the middle of our conversation.’

This way, the delay in messaging shows the other person that the change in response time has nothing to do with your interest in them, but that you have a whole life separate from that spent messaging people on dating apps.

Maybe your match actually prefers sending their chit-chat via voice message rather than text. To encourage them to keep the rapport going, you could send one back – if you’re comfortable doing so – saying something like: 

‘Hey [NAME], I noticed that you were really enthusiastic and engaged when you sent me that voice message. I’m happy to communicate in voice notes!’

Or if you’re someone who likes using phone or video calls you could let them know by messaging them something like this:

‘During the day I’m at work and don’t have that much time to be messaging back and forth. But I really enjoy video/phone calls, so why don’t you let me know when you’re free and we can get to know each other more that way.’

Letting your match know your communication preferences doesn’t make you seem pushy or intense. Instead, it helps ensure that your connection progresses at a rate that feels right for you.

Boundaries on a first date

Boundaries with a date might include where you meet – for example the type of place that you go to (whether that be a walk in the park or drinks at a bar) and how long you stay out for. You can set temporal boundaries before the date and say that you’ll have to leave in an hour or two. Or you can be clear about when it’s time to leave, by casually mentioning that you’ve had a great time and that it’s time for you to head home now.

Emotional boundaries

These boundaries can include not talking about something that’s potentially sensitive, like your salary; not feeling ready to bring up something traumatic; refusing to do emotional labour for someone else by educating them about social justice issues like racism; and taking red flags seriously – for instance, if you feel your date has spent a lot of time being overly critical of you.

Physical and sexual boundaries

The only person who knows the right time to get physical is you. It’s entirely possible that your boundaries and comfort level can change over time or as you get to know the person you’re meeting. 

What’s key is to check in with yourself. Some questions to consider during a date are:

Am I feeling comfortable?

Am I feeling safe?

Am I seeing any red flags?

How do I feel about spending more time with this person?

Physical boundaries might involve not engaging in public displays of affection (PDA) or choosing not to have sex on the first date. They could also extend to covid-19 safety measures such as asking your date to take a lateral flow test before you meet.

If someone is pushing any kind of boundary that you’ve set with them, it could be a red flag or a window into how the relationship might look in the future. If they’re not willing to respect your need for space, time, etc. now, have a think about what that might mean for the months ahead. And remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you have specific boundaries. Quite simply, if someone doesn’t respect them, they’re probably not the date for you.

Almaz Ohene is a multi-disciplinary writer and creative working across sexuality education, journalism and branding. Find her work via almazohene.com, and follow her via IG: @almazohene and Twitter: AlmazOhene

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