Safe Dating in a Complex Culture
By Lauren Dummit, LMFT, CSAT,
Co-Founder & Clinical Director,
Triune Therapy Group
We live in a culture which seems to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and dependency while exalting independence, yet at the same, many people feel pressured to find a partner. People spend months, if not years obsessing over finding “the one.” There are countless dating sites, dating apps, meet ups, and speed dating events that people participate in in order to find a companion.
According to John Bowlby, the psychologist who pioneered attachment theory in the 1950’s, “our need for someone to share our lives with is part of our genetic makeup and has nothing to do with how much we love ourselves or how fulfilled we feel on our own…attachment is an integral part of human behavior throughout the entire lifespan.”
In the search to find “the one,” how, in this day in age, do we protect ourselves from physical, sexual, and emotional harm? “Safe dating is the act of using caution and discretion in selecting a person to spend intimate time with, to explore a friendship, or committed relationship.” With the watershed cultural moment of the #MeToo movement and the reckoning it has inspired, we are all called to reflect on consent and how to stay safe while dating.
THE DATING BILL OF RIGHTS
I have a right to my own, separate identity.
I have a right to have my own friends and hobbies.
I have a right to speak my mind, even if it means disagreeing with my partner.
I have a right to change my mind.
I have a right to express my feelings.
I have a right to decide where I go and what I do on a date.
I have a right to refuse to do anything that makes me feel uncomfortable.
I have a right to pursue my dreams.
I have a right to live without fear of my partner.
I have a right to end the relationship at any time.
Taking a few simple precautionary measures can be vital to staying safe when dating. One should always inform others when and where one is going, with whom, and what time one plans to return. It is important to keep your support network updated with the date’s name or phone number as well as any changes to your plans if they occur. When making plans, having one’s own transportation allows for more safety and freedom as it enables one to leave at his or her own discretion. In the same vein, meeting in a public place decreases one’s chances of being put in an unsafe situation.
Dating can be awkward, and we’re often compelled to use alcohol as a social lubrication, however, because alcohol lowers inhibitions and often blurs boundaries, it is important to be mindful of our surroundings and ideally limit ourselves to one or two drinks maximum. Googling a potential date can also be a source of important information and alert us as to whether someone has a criminal record. Finally, everyone could benefit from a source of protection, whether it be a whistle or pepper spray.
Ultimately, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners feel safe, respected, and loved without guilt, humiliation, or control. Conflicts are worked through without violent, controlling, or manipulative behavior. Healthy sexual relations are also important in an intimate relationship. Being respectful of sexual and physical boundaries allows both partners to feel safe and open in a physical relationship. Not only is communicating one’s sexual needs and boundaries important, but it is just as important to respect one’s partner’s boundaries by asking for clarification if a partner’s verbal and physical cues are not completely clear.
Communication is key. It is crucial to express oneself so the other person is not left guessing or making assumptions, even if the conversation feels uncomfortable. It can be helpful to ask your partner to be open as well. Listening to one’s partner is equally necessary.
Making the choice to have sex or not and when is a very personal decision. Some boundaries to consider when contemplating whether or not it feels right include making sure one feels confident in the decision as well as being able to talk openly and honestly about what one feels comfortable with or not. One has the right to say “no” at any time for any reason. Our body is our own and only we have the right to decide what to do with it. It’s appropriate and responsible to talk with your partner about safe sex practices, such as birth control or getting tested for STD’s. You also have the right to talk openly about your fears, worries, and feelings. If someone continues to feel pressured verbally, emotionally, or physically, that can be a sign of abuse.
Empathy is also a key component of emotional safety. Empathy affirms that our struggles are okay and that we can let down our negative judgements and barriers. Overcoming one’s toxic thoughts towards one’s partner is imperative in creating emotional safety. Empathy creates freedom for one to express one’s emotional needs and to be true to them.
In order to feel emotionally safe, it is helpful to have some awareness about one’s attachment needs so that one does not waste time in a relationship in which one’s needs are not being met. John Bowlby argued that the bonds formed by children with their earliest caregivers have a profound impact throughout that person’s life. New discoveries from neuroscience have helped us to comprehend how early relationships shape brain development as well as individual’s physiological ability to experience and manage emotions, which we rely on daily, throughout our lives. These patterns, developed in our early years, affect the way we later conduct all of our relationships, from how we deal with authority figures to the ins and outs of romances and friendships. Our need for a sense of safety is developed in childhood and the fear of separation drives numerous behaviors. The physiological basis of that triggers certain automatic responses in all of us.
While dating, it is important that one is clear about what one is looking for and one’s motivation for dating. Being aware of one’s own attachment needs and emotional responses in addition to being able to identify one’s emotional boundaries is key to protecting one’s wellbeing. If an action or event makes somebody feel uncomfortable, induces a sinking feeling in his or her stomach, or is upsetting in any way, it is important to recognize that process and learn from that response. This person has just discovered an emotional boundary. Defining and discussing that boundary with the other person is empowering and decreases the chance that the other person will misread one’s cues.Demonstrating consistency also contributes to a sense of stability and safety. It is difficult to feel safe in a relationship if one’s partner is moody and unpredictable. Demonstrating commitment involves being faithful, loyal, and supportive, and protecting the relationship from outside influences.
- Long, S. (2017, February 21). Have fun dating, but just be smart and safe while you’re doing it. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from http://sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/814219/10-rules-for-dating-safety-1
- Safe Place . (n.d.). Starting Safe and Healthy Relationships. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from https://www.safeplaceolympia.org/starting-safe-and-healthy-relationships