By Michele Theil
There can be a lot to consider before a first date, from fitting each other into your schedules to choosing the location. But, while you may think that you’ve got all your bases covered, you might have forgotten one key step: setting some boundaries.
It might seem a bit odd to set boundaries before a first date. You don’t even know the person well, and boundaries are usually associated with long-term relationships and serious commitment. But it’s important to make sure you’re going into a date knowing what you will and won’t tolerate. Here’s what you need to know about identifying, setting, and communicating your boundaries when meeting someone for the first time.
You’re the expert on you
The first thing to recognize is that you’re in total control of your boundaries. No one can tell you what works for you—every person is different, and what feels right to you will be different too. “The most important thing is for you to feel that the boundaries you want to set are in line with your values,” says sex and relationships coach Lucy Rowett. Every boundary is a personal one, and you can decide whatever feels right for you in the moment, as it may change while you’re on the date.
Consider these suggestions
If you’re not sure where to start, Rowett suggests asking yourself: How long do you want the date to be? Are you comfortable being alone with this person? How far do you want to go physically and sexually? Other things you may want to think about in terms of boundaries are if you want to drink, what time of day you feel comfortable meeting, and what kind of spaces you’d prefer for a meetup.
There are also “emotional safety boundaries” that you might want to consider, says sexologist and therapist Jessica Cline. For these, you might want to consider topics you want to stay away from and if there’s anything that you don’t want to share.
If you’re comfortable with it, share your boundaries before the date
A conversation about boundaries prior to a first date can help you decide whether you’d like to meet your Bumble match IRL. It also ensures that you’re prepared for the date, which can alleviate anxiety and stress.
Still, it might be difficult to work out what to say and how to say it. You can set your boundaries in a casual, low-stakes way. For instance, if you decided that you can only meet for an hour when planning the date, you might say something like “Hey, let’s meet at 2pm. I have to meet a friend at 3:30 but it would be great to grab a coffee with you beforehand.” Or, if your date suggests they want to pick you up but you don’t feel comfortable with this, you could say, “I’ll take the subway/bus/my own car and meet you there. Send me the address!”
Stay firm, but be kind. While we may be nervous about boundaries, it’s always best to assume your match has good intentions first and then work with how they respond to you, Rowett says.
You can always change your mind
It’s absolutely normal to change your mind about your boundaries in the moment. If, before the date, you decided you didn’t want to kiss your Bumble match, it’s perfectly acceptable to go in for a smooch if it feels right for you both. The same is true vice versa. Sexologist and therapist Ness Cooper explains, “Even if you have these boundaries set in place for your date, if you feel you need to make exceptions to the rule, listen to your gut instinct and change things up a bit.”
Respect each other’s boundaries—and reconsider the date if they don’t
Boundaries are a two-way street. The person you’re meeting may also have their own boundaries, whether they’re physical or emotional, and you should do your best to respect those the same way you’d want them to respect yours, even if they don’t necessarily align.
Psychologist Dr. Jaime Zuckerman advises that you should cancel your date if the person indicates a refusal or reluctance to accept any boundary you’ve discussed beforehand, or to excuse yourself from the date if it happens in person.
By setting clear boundaries and communicating them effectively, it can make your dating experience much more seamless. Everyone has their own idea of what boundaries they want to set, and while it may be difficult to figure out what they are, the more you try them out, the easier it will get in the future. Go forth, date, and have some boundaried fun!