Starting Safe and Healthy Relationships
There is no perfect time to begin dating. Every person will be ready for a dating relationship at a different time. When you decide to start a new dating relationship, it should be because you care about someone and not because you feel like you have to have a sweetie. A dating relationship is a special chance to get to know someone, share your thoughts and feelings with each other, and do activities together.
Healthy dating relationships should start with the same ingredients that healthy friendships have, such as good communication, honesty, and respect. As with all relationships, it may be tempting at first for you to spend all of your time with your new partner. But making special time to spend together and apart means that you will be able to work on having a healthy relationship with the person you are dating and with other people in your life, like your friends and family.
You should NEVER feel pressured to do something that you don’t want to do. They should always respect your right to say no to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. It is important that you are both clear with each other about your values and your limits. By talking about how each of you feel about a lot of things, you may avoid getting into situations where you are pressured into making a decision on the spot about something very important.
Here are some tips for starting a healthy dating relationship and ways to stay safe:
- Get to know a person by talking on the phone or in a community setting before you go out with them for the first time. You can write their number down, rather than giving out yours, and call them from a friend’s phone or a pay phone (you can also block your number by dialing *67 before their number) if you want to protect your privacy while you first get to know them. Talk to your friends about who you’re considering dating and listen to their feedback. Does anything in their dating history give you or your friends a red flag?
- Take your time getting to know them. Emotionally invest in them/let them into your life sloooowly. How do they interact with their friends? Family members? How do they treat and talk about those they exercise authority over (for example: employees, servers, children, nonhuman animals), especially regarding boundaries, needs, and autonomy? How do they talk about ex-partners? How do they talk about people with gender presentations that are not cis male (male-assigned and male-identifying)? How do they react when they don’t get their way? How do they handle conflict? Do they take responsibility for their own feelings and actions? For the way their actions affect other people? How well do they show respect for their friends’ needs and boundaries? (i.e., if a friend does not want to do something, do they respect their friend’s “no”? Do they make fun of them or pressure them in other ways?)
- Go out with a group of friends to a public place the first few times you are spending time together. How do they handle making plans? Are they good at listening to other people’s needs and compromising so that everyone’s needs are met? Get to know their friends and introduce them to yours. What are their friends like? How does their friend group interact? Are they respectful of peoples’ emotions, boundaries, and differences? Do they talk about emotions, boundaries, and differences? Do they voice disagreements? How do they joke around/what do they joke about? Are they respectful of you? Do they relate to you as your own person (not just as their friend’s love interest)? How do they talk about partners of other friends in their friend group? Introduce your date to friends whose judgment you respect and trust. How do they interact? What do your friends think of this person? Your friends shouldn’t make your decisions for you, but sometimes they can pick up on aspects of someone’s character that you might miss, especially in the initial exciting stages of getting to know them.
- Plan fun activities like going to the movies, a picnic, the park, a walk, a show, etc. Avoid drinking or using recreational drugs to ease any nervousness you might feel around this new person. You’ll be better aware of your boundaries and needs, as well as better able to assert them. You’ll also get a much clearer picture of the person you are getting to know, including their boundaries and needs, and how they assert them. Again, some people find it helpful to transport themselves to the meeting place, which serves the joint safety purposes of protecting your privacy and allowing you to freely leave if at any point you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
- Be clear with the other person about what you feel comfortable doing and what time you expect the date to end. Some people find it helpful to make plans with a friend at a specific time following the date for the added feeling of safety which comes from letting your date know that someone is expecting you.
- Tell at least one friend where you are going, who you will be with, and how to reach you. Some people ask a trusted friend to “check in” with a phone call or text message during the date; this can be used as a measure of safety, or to allow you an excuse to exit an uncomfortable situation more gracefully.
- Trust yourself. If something your date does gives you a “weird feeling” or if a situation feels uncomfortable or unsafe, listen to your instincts. Your intuition is telling you that something is wrong. Sometimes we pick up on subtle signs that something is “off” about someone but dismiss/ignore those feelings in order to “be nice” or please our date. Listen to what your body is telling you—check in with yourself throughout your date. Does your stomach feel upset? Is your throat tight? Conversely, do you feel relaxed? It’s important to take the space and time you need to feel in touch with yourself and comfortable with someone.
~ Shel Silverstein
Dating relationships can be a fun and exciting part of your life. They may be a little confusing, especially if dating is new to you. Once you know that the person that you like likes you too, you may be unsure of what to do next. You can start by learning about what makes a dating relationship healthy. The most important thing to remember is staying safe, especially when you begin to date.