As I have been in private practice, I have realized how few people get good ground rules for dating. I have decided to pass along some of the dating advice I have received over the years that has greatly eased much of my own anxiety around dating.
Most of this advice will focus on safety tips. I believe this is incredibly important for all women, men, and trans people since most of us use online dating services to meet people. Meeting strangers from online can pose great risks to all of us and it’s worth having some skills in our arsenal to stay safe.
If you leave your drink, just get a new one (even if you’ll be right back for it).
This is to avoid getting drugged during a date. I also apply this one to house parties or parties in general.
This is especially important in college. If you are in college and attend a house party and you leave your drink somewhere (say to go to the bathroom which means you’ll be right back for it), just dump it out in the sink and get a new one. The risk of getting drugged is just too great and it’s just not worth it, even if you paid for it.
An alternative is to just take your drink with you wherever you go. I can tell you that I’ve taken my drink with me to the bathroom while on a date with someone I met online (yes, mental health counselors go on dates, it’s true).
He made a joke about it but quickly realized what I was doing and respected my behavior. Even if he hadn’t responded in a respectful way, it still would have been worth the ridicule in order to ensure my peace of mind.
Tell someone where you’ll be, with whom, and approximately how long for.
This might sound like helicopter parenting, but when meeting with someone you met online (i.e. a TOTAL stranger), its worth doing. If it goes poorly, it will be important for someone to know where you were if you mysteriously disappear from your regular life.
I often will take this a step farther and ask my person to text me at a specific time and if I don’t respond, to call me. If I don’t pick up, I ask them to call the police.
You might say “well what if I forget?” My response? Just don’t forget. Set an alarm if you have to and pretend it’s a phone call you have to take and just go text your friend.
Or, here’s a radical idea, just tell the truth, that you’re having a friend check up on you since you’re meeting a stranger for a date. It’s honest, and you might find that your date’s response to this info can be very revealing of their character. More information isn’t a bad thing, especially your date’s response to your safety needs.
Carry pepper spray.
I understand that if someone is out to hut someone else, a little pepper spray isn’t going to do anything much. However, showing alertness and having something to protect yourself with isn’t a bad idea anyway.
Just make sure it doesn’t instill a false sense of security in you. I know I often feel better if I carry my pepper spray in an easy to access place and it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t mean I’ll win in a fight to defend myself. However, I still see no reason to stop carrying it as it can give me an edge in some situations.
So invest in some good pepper spray, learn how to use it and when, and keep it with you. It’s legal and non-lethal but effective means of self-protection (i.e. its not as nerve wracking as carrying a firearm can be).
Meet in a public place first. ALWAYS.
Basically, people are less likely to assault someone if there’s a crowd present. So meet at a well-populated coffee shop or bar to get a good read on your date before meeting someplace more intimate. Of course, people who intend harm can be very good at hiding it. At the same time, you might see some little red flags that might deter you from going on a second date or going back to their apartment with them.
Listen to your red flags.
If you have a gut feeling that something is off about a person, listen! Then, try to figure out where that’s coming from. It can certainly be coming from a past, bad memory or experience. In those cases, it’s worth thinking through if what you’re feeling is a past or present threat. Try some deep breathing in the bathroom to calm your nerves to figure this out.
If it’s a present threat, however, listen and excuse yourself from the date and don’t go out with them anymore. It is okay to protect yourself!
Take a self-defense class.
There are many self-defense class options out there and many of them are free. At the very least, learn how to throw a solid punch and not break your thumb (yes, this can happen if you don’t know how to make a fist correctly). Also, try to find a class with actual body contact where you will learn the feeling of what it might be like to try to throw someone or how to resist someone grabbing you.
I used to take Tae Kwon Do regularly and one time I got kicked in the gut so hard I got the wind knocked out of me. While that experience was terrifying to my 12-year-old self, I am extremely grateful to those sparring class experiences.
You’re pretty much done when you can’t breathe like that, but it was good to know what the feeling was like so I could wrap my head around what a real life situation might be like and what I could realistically do.
Laugh all you want, but use a condom or some other form of barrier method even if a biological female involved in dating is on birth control. Birth control does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Some of these are still life threatening and pregnancy is not necessarily your worst fear when considering engaging in sexual activities with a partner.
It is just not worth the risk. Furthermore, seriously consider if it is worth being with a partner that does not want to use protection. While it may not feel as good as going without it, I would really wonder if that partner has your best interest in mind if they insist on going without something like a condom.
It might not be sexy, but learn how to break through the potential awkwardness of talking about sexual health with your sexual partner. Ask questions about if they get regularly tested, make sure you’re getting regularly tested as well. AT LEAST once every year. No, I’m not kidding, I don’t care how expensive it might be. Your sexual health is worth it!
Some people don’t get tested because they’re afraid of the results. However, STD screening is definitely something I advocate feeling the fear and doing it anyway because untreated STDs can result in devastating damage like cervical and other forms of cancer, infertility, etc.
Bottom line? Use protection, specifically a barrier method. STDs are on the rise in Denver, CO. It’s just not worth the risk.
Get consent NO MATTER WHAT.
I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, or trans person. GET CLEAR AND EXPLICIT CONSENT BEFORE CONTINUING ANY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY WITH A DATE OR ROMANTIC INTEREST EVEN IF IT IS JUST A FLING OR ONE NIGHT STAND.
Just because your partner is allowing you to do certain things, that might not mean consent! Moving forward with physical intimacy is not legitimately or clearly asking if what you’re doing is okay.
Many people are embarrassed to ask for consent, but it shows your partner you care about them! Even if it’s just a one-time thing! That is so important! We must always care and respect each other’s humanity in every context.
This doesn’t even have to break the mood! In fact, let’s just make asking for clear consent for sexual activity part of foreplay and make it the new norm.
You can just quietly and calmly ask your partner any number of these lines:
“are you okay with what I’m doing right now?”
“are you okay if we keep going on this track?”
“are you okay if we progress to <insert activity here>?”
“is there anything that is off-limits for you that I need to know about when engaging in physical intimacy with you?”
This doesn’t have to be embarrassing and if anyone gives you crap for asking, just tell them that you genuinely care, and you don’t want to push anyone into something they don’t feel comfortable doing.
I hope this is helpful for anyone reading my blog. My goal is always safety first because when we meet that initial basic need, we can then move onto meeting emotional needs and really connecting with the people around us.
I will say that this article is intended for everyone’s eyes, not just women’s. However, I strongly believe that women are generally at greater risk when dating. Therefore, I would like to encourage men in particular to perspective take the next time that you are on a date. You are not the enemy. But please be considerate of your date’s potential anxiety and that some of her behaviors may be self-protective. Let her do them. And please have beautiful, meaningful conversations about consent. Consent is sexy!
As always, if this is a triggering topic, talking and processing with a trained mental health professional can help us learn the assertiveness skills, coping skills, and other helpful techniques to date safely and more comfortably.
Happy dating all!