It’s been a long Hot Vaxxed Summer, and your news feed might feel like a blur of people rushing back out to socialize — and date. (Even though plenty of us, despite all the pressure, aren’t ready — and that’s perfectly okay.) After more than a year of Zoom dates and dating app messages, when meeting in-person might’ve been a struggle, a May 2021 study from Tinder found that more than half of respondents were specifically looking forward to casually dating this summer in light of increased vaccine access. But a year inside might’ve given you, as Mashable’s Anna Iovine put it, FODA: Fear Of Dating Again. When many of us spent lockdown figuring out how to take care of our mental health during crises, how do we make sure a return to the dating scene also prioritizes our emotional boundaries?
Even though you might feel in a hurry to schedule IRL meet-ups with all the Tinder matches collecting dust in your app, worried about the next lockdown, letting that emotion drive your dating life might not help you keep your own best interests in mind. Experts tell Allure that resisting the urge to rush, and prioritizing having direct conversations about your wants and needs, is an important step in setting boundaries together.
“What I can see happening most often is kind of moving past your boundaries, because you want connection, especially after so long feeling disconnected from people,” Nicole L. Gonzalez, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, tells Allure. Maybe you have a first date who’s comfortable with sex on the first date if you’re both vaccinated, but you’re not so sure. Maybe you’re the one comfortable with it. How do you broach that conflict?
Get Familiar With Your Core Values
Gonzalez, who has expertise in couples therapy and relationship counseling, suggests that the easiest way to avoid that conflict is to fully understand your own personal boundaries around COVID, so it will be more clear to you when someone tries to cross them. If you’re struggling with really defining those values, Gonzalez says, taking the time on your own to establish them will go a long way in preparing you to explain them to someone else. Gonzalez says she often directs her clients to one of the many free websites that have lists of hundreds of “core values” to consider, then write down the ones that resonate the most with them. “You kind of boil it down to values around who you are… When you’re making decisions, and when thinking about things for yourself, you can look back [to reference],” she explains. That way, you’re already clear on what’s important to you — and consequently, what will be important for you while dating.
Keep Taking Things Slow
Maybe you’ve already started having these conversations on the dating scene. Corinne Novella, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, tells Allure that plenty of her clients started figuring out how to date during lockdown. According to Novella, who is an expert in couples counseling, what was key then — and should be key whenever approaching the dating scene — is taking things slow.
“Naturally, because of how everyone’s lives had to completely slow down or even come to a halt in certain circumstances, people have approached dating in an equally measured and slowed down pace,” Novella says. Her clients routinely started new romantic relationships with FaceTime chats to test the waters of what each person expected, and opening up early on helped that process. “I’m really proud of how people were able to do that, successfully navigate this whole new realm with really taking the time, having these conversations and saying, ‘What are you comfortable with? Where are you at in this?'”
Evaluate the Risks
This slowness and communication is key because, Novella points out, even if dating might be physically a little safer, it’s still fraught — and we’re not even out of the woods yet, with fears about the Delta variant and breakthrough cases rising. “There are certain decisions that people have to make, that might contradict what your friend or your parents might say is the sacred, safe thing to do,” Novella says. “People have to negotiate what they need, and to balance the risk that they’re taking.”