in: Dating & Relationships

How to Establish Boundaries When Dating Someone New

Leslie Malchy

How can you prevent your date from inadvertently crossing the line? Leslie Malchy offers advice on how to establish boundaries sooner rather than later.


I once went on a first date to a restaurant with somebody who proceeded to order my food for me. I was so stunned that I was unsure how to respond. It was many years ago and I remember just sitting, making a mental note to myself that we would never go on a date again.

But here is the thing: I was also unclear to him that I was bothered by the action. My assumption about this person indicated that I was on a date with an old fashioned misogynist. But there are other women who may not be offended by this gesture, and may even feel cared for by it. I needed to speak up.

Here are three tools you can use to make sure no one crosses your boundaries:

1. Speak up!

If you know, be as clear as you can from the beginning about what your boundaries are. Although we tend to change and our boundaries become more permeable as we relate more closely to people, it is important to start out with clarity. A hand on the arm can be a welcome source of intimacy and comfort to one person, or a privacy violation to another. Communicating what we need is a way of protecting ourselves in relationships and protecting others from the pain of hurting us.

Hint: Where and when you can, state some of the important “deal breaking” boundaries you absolutely need anyone you might date to know.

2. Disagree! It can be an opportunity.

It is often hard to acknowledge differences between people on the first few dates. Unless you are someone for whom the philosophy “opposites attract” is paramount, you may find this difficult also. It is seductive to believe you finally have found someone just like you, who is into the same movies, music, lifestyle or who shares the same values and life goals. Many people turn a blind eye to initial differences, even when there are warning signs, because they are reluctant to burst the romance bubble created by sameness. This is also the easiest period to discuss make or break limits since relationships only become more complex over time. I have worked with individuals who can pinpoint the exact moment when a red flag came up but they ignored it and are now in the middle of a messy divorce.

Hint: Learn about your conflict style. Say “I see it differently” and express your point of view. Try to approach differences as an opportunity to figure out how to navigate those inevitable future points of dissention.

3. Take a chance and be surprised.

Setting boundaries too rigidly can create problems. When rules become excessive, we find ourselves stagnant. If you are too strict with your likes, dislikes, will/wont do’s, you may be missing out on new experiences that could grow your personal edges or expand your worldview. I went on a first date with someone about whom I’d made some pretty big assumptions and I almost didn’t go. Had I listened to my assumptions, I would not be where I am now: living happily together with my now spouse.

Hint: Say yes when you are tempted to say no. Meet in a new coffee shop instead of your old standby. Stay curious and ask questions about things you don’t know about, even if you worry you may sound silly to your date. You never know where it may land you and sometimes it just may be exactly what you needed.

[image: via bigbirdz on Flickr]

About the Author:

Leslie Malchy Leslie Malchy

Leslie Malchy is a Relationship psychotherapist working in private practice, Soft Landing Therapy, in Downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada. She is an experiential therapist working from a bio-psycho-social-spiritual and strengths based framework of change. She holds a Master of Science degree in Psychiatry from McGill University and a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy from Antioch University Seattle. When Leslie is not working, she is busy writing creative and literary fiction, tending to and growing kale in her community garden plot or jogging along Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park seawall.

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