Last year I emerged from a 10+ year relationship and suddenly discovered how much the dating scene had changed. Back in 2008, there was no Tinder. Grindr had only just been launched and dating sites still had a whiff of desperation about them. Flash forward a decade and meeting partners online is the standard. In fact, the idea of stumbling across someone great IRL is now seen as some rare, mythical experience. This means I’ve been on one hell of a crash course with dating apps in the past year and quickly learnt how important setting boundaries in dating is. So, here are my tips for having a healthy relationship – not just with that new cutie but with yourself and your phone.
We’ve all had those nights. You’re feeling a little lonely and end up taking one long, depressing scroll through a dating app. As you swipe endlessly left through a sea of faces, you become even more convinced that you’ll never meet someone cute again. Or, in an act of true desperation, you swipe right on a whole bunch of people you know you’re not actually into. Yes, fellow despondent swipers, I see you.
Using dating apps in this way can be terrible for your mental health, so it’s really important to develop a strategy for having a positive relationship with dating apps. If you know that using them at night makes you feel down, set yourself a rule that you won’t go on them after 6pm. Does looking online every day cause you to feel hopeless about your love life? Arrange a date with your apps by choosing a set time once or twice a week for some quality swiping time. Make a cup of tea or a cocktail and settle in for a fun session of perving on people. Then ignore these apps till your next date with them – hide them on your phone if you have to. Whatever you need to do to have some boundaries with yourself.
I limit myself to only going on dating apps at lunchtime. That way, it feels like a fun, interesting and positive thing to do briefly in the middle of the day. If I’m having a tough day with my mental health (or my PMS is kicking into overdrive), I skip swiping that day because I know my head isn’t in the right place. I also like to be on a couple of apps so that all my time isn’t spent on just one. Having a quick swipe through a couple of different dating apps feels more satisfying – even if there isn’t anyone of interest – than always scrolling through one source.
Scope out their communication style
“HELLO, ARE YOU STILL THERE???”
The other day, a guy on Feeld sent me this because I didn’t respond to his message within a couple of hours. The way people interact on dating apps says a lot about their attachment and communication styles. So right from the moment you connect, it’s important to start setting boundaries.
Firstly, be upfront about what you’re looking for. If your dating profile doesn’t specify this, then now is the time to be clear. Want to spend time getting to know someone on chat first to see if there’s a connection? Say that. Are you non-monogamous and have other partners? Be transparent about this. Feel like the chat has immediately become sexual but you want to avoid a one night stand? Make that clear – and ask what they are looking for. Being upfront about what you’re looking for isn’t a sign of being too intense, demanding or picky. It shows that you’re comfortable with who you are and smart enough to know how to express it. You should expect the same from your new connection.
Secondly, slow down and take it easy with the chat. Unless you’re looking for someone to hook up with that night, there’s no need to jump into swapping numbers and making plans straight away if you’re not ready. By taking your time, you can also get a feel for this person’s communication style. Are they a bit pushy? Do they pepper you with questions but are reluctant to reveal anything about themselves? Or do they leave you on read, only responding every couple of days? For me, these things help me work out if this is someone I want to give my phone number to.
Slowing down can also help prevent you from projecting onto this new person too much. Yes, they seem cute and funny and interesting but don’t try and fill in the gaps with what you imagine them to be like. Our mono-normative relationship culture makes us feel like we should always be on the lookout for ‘the one,’ so when we get excited about someone new, we’re conditioned to start projecting this idea onto them. Be self-aware and actively stop yourself from doing this. Instead, spend time getting to know who they really are.
I switch off all message notifications on my dating apps so I only read and respond when I use them once a day. This helps to stop me from feeling pressured to respond straight away and keep the flow of conversation pretty chilled. Occasionally, a new connection will question this, seeing it as a sign that I’m not interested, so I always explain that I use dating apps once a day and will usually respond at lunchtime. If my communication style doesn’t work for them then we’re not suited. I never apologise or allow someone to pressure me into changing my boundaries.
Similarly, if someone doesn’t respond within a week then I delete that connection. If a person isn’t excited to talk to me then I’m not interested, no matter how cute they are. When I first used dating apps, this woman abruptly disappeared after we started chatting, only to return a few months later being like “Oh hey, I thought I responded to you sorry. How have you been?” She disappeared again a week later. Suffice to say, I no longer leave chats open if someone isn’t keen to get to know me. If a person doesn’t respond after a few days, I let them know that I delete connections after a week when they go quiet. That way they know what my boundaries are.
Remember, WhatsApp isn’t real life
It’s pretty standard for people to move the chat away from dating apps and onto WhatsApp, Instagram or texting once they feel like there’s a good connection – but you don’t have to. I’ve previously arranged dates through dating apps and then only swapped numbers after meeting up with them in real life. It’s completely down to what makes you feel comfortable.
Sometimes, when you give a person your number, they can suddenly go into a communication overdrive. It’s like you’ve given them an all-access pass to message you day and night. There’s nothing wrong with someone being enthusiastic but you’re also allowed to set communication boundaries. For example, let them know if you won’t respond during work hours or would rather they didn’t message you late at night. Similarly, if someone leaving you on read for three days doesn’t work for you, tell them. There’s no one right to communicate – it’s about what suits you both individually – but discussing your communication styles or preferences saves a whole load of annoyance and confusion.
It’s also good to remember that chatting is a great way to get a feel for what someone is like and see what kind of rapport you have but it’s not real life. Even though they photograph well and make you giggle with cute memes or swoon with well-crafted playlists, you don’t actually know them yet. So don’t leave it too long to meet up because chances are, this person isn’t exactly how you imagined them. Maybe they’re better. Maybe they’re someone you only want to be friends with. Either way, don’t invest too much time in this connection by chatting without actually meeting them.
Ask the important questions
When you get around to hanging out, it can be nerve-wracking to ask anything like “are you seeing anybody else?” or “when was the last time you were tested?” However, the more effort you put into asking the important questions on the first couple of dates, the less chance you will end up experiencing any difficult surprises later down the line. Encouraging a connection based on honesty from the start is a very healthy way of setting boundaries in dating.
If the person you’re dating is non-monogamous, there are some key questions that you absolutely must ask. Who are their other partners? Do they have a hierarchical relationship structure? Do they have any agreements with other partners that you should be aware of, such as veto power or staying the night? This can be a lot to remember but knowing what you’re getting into is vital. Thankfully, the Multiamory podcast has created a really handy MOVIES acronym to help you with this. Listen to the whole episode to understand what and why you should be asking these important questions.
So you start dating your new cutie and it’s going well. Very well. You’re so excited about spending time with them that you can barely think about anything else. Sound familiar? What you’re experiencing is New Relationship Energy (NRE), which means your brain is suddenly awash with chemicals that are making you feel like you’re on drugs.
NRE can feel incredibly exciting but it’s also a really important time to continue setting boundaries in dating. Trust me when I say that your brain is working against you. It will let you ignore any red flags and forget any boundaries you would normally have around communication and spending time together. So slow down, enjoy the bubbling sense of elation but also remember that this crazy swirl of emotions will eventually calm down. If you’re finding yourself a little overwhelmed or anxious, then check out my tips for handling NRE.