Tips For Setting Healthy Boundaries When You're Casually Dating

In every aspect of our lives, boundaries are essential. Not only do they keep us feeling safe and respected, but they let people know when and where certain behavior of theirs won't be tolerated. While people have the right to behave as they want, we don't have to put up with it — that's where having boundaries comes into play.

Because every corner of our lives and the relationships we have with people need boundaries, one place where those boundaries should be made clear is when you're casually dating. Although casual dating can look different to different people, it requires setting up boundaries and communicating them so as to avoid any unnecessary issues or drama.

"Establishing boundaries in the beginning allows you to set the tempo for what you expect and how you should be treated," licensed therapist Sasha Jackson tells Cosmopolitan.

You should never feel bad for having boundaries, no matter how strict or rigid they may come off to others. The boundaries you have, you have for a reason, making them entirely valid. But having boundaries and setting them are two different things. Here are the tips you need for setting those healthy boundaries while you're out there in the casual dating world. 

Know what you want

Just because you are causally dating doesn't mean you're not allowed to have expectations — of yourself and others. If you're dating just for fun and maybe NSA sex, you should know that about yourself. If you're casually dating in the hopes of ultimately finding your perfect partner-in-crime, then that's also something you should know about yourself. It's only when you know what you really want for yourself that you can decide on what types of boundaries you need so you can happily date without second-guessing your core values or intentions.

"You kind of boil [setting boundaries] 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]," licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Nicole L. Gonzalez tells Allure.

Setting boundaries based on what you do and don't want won't only help you weed out people that aren't a good match for you but will also keep you stay true to what you're looking for out of your casual dating experience. 

Examine how important your boundaries are

Although everyone has boundaries, not everyone draws a hard line when it comes to them. For some people, certain boundaries are negotiable, while for others, no boundary is negotiable.

"Our non-negotiable boundaries are those that we must have in order to feel safe and secure in life," clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly tells The Everygirl. "While some boundaries may be rather flexible in nature, our non-negotiable boundaries are absolutely essential to our sense of being honored and respected."

A good way to figure out what's negotiable and what isn't is by making a list of the boundaries you'd like to set, then highlighting the ones that are negotiable. Ask yourself, in what way are these boundaries negotiable? Will they only be negotiable for some people you date or all of them? For example, if one of your boundaries is that the people you're dating aren't allowed to text you during the workday, is that set in stone for everyone, or are you willing to loosen that boundary after dating someone for a certain amount of time? It's best to know what's okay with you and what isn't before you start dating. We can sometimes allow people to overstep our boundaries in the moment if we haven't taken the time to decide what's negotiable and what isn't.

Decide what type of boundaries you want

If you're single, meaning you're not in an open relationship, nor do you have any kids, you're likely to have fewer boundaries than if you had such extra aspects in your life. If fact, you might be able to get away with just three types of boundaries.

"One helpful way to think about boundaries in a causal relationship is to consider three classes of boundaries: sexual, relational, and personal," Lovehoney scientific advisor and social psychologist Dr. Justin Lehmiller tells Elite Daily.

What this can look like when put into practice is, for example, will your sexual boundaries include no sleepovers or sleeping with other people? Will your personal boundaries involve putting a cap on how often you text or call each other throughout the week? Will your relationship boundaries have to do with who pays for the bill, and will it always be split 50/50? Breaking your boundaries into these three categories, as Dr. Lehmiller suggests, can give you a way to focus on components that are specific to casual dating.

Communicate your boundaries

So, you've made your list of boundaries and highlighted what's negotiable, what isn't, and in what categories all these boundaries reside. Fantastic! Now it's time to tell the person (or people) you're dating what your boundaries are. It's important not to hesitate to share this information when you first start dating someone.

"In the early days of a relationship it is rare for a couple to discuss boundaries, which will mean that the ground rules are unclear and uncertain," founder of online couples therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm Neil Wilkie tells Mashable. "It is so much easier to talk about boundaries in the early days of a relationship as that will be coming from a place of growth and clarity rather than resentment and blame."

A decent person will respect your boundaries and not question them. So, if the person you've shared your dating boundaries with does question them or, even worse, mocks or insults them, then obviously this isn't the person for you. In fact, that should be a non-negotiable boundary in itself. 

Listen to your gut

Sometimes we can make an exhaustive list of our boundaries only to realize that, when something particular arises, that list didn't include absolutely everything — it's not as though we're able to see into the future where the person we're dating asks for a $5,000 loan or something else that couldn't possibly have been imagined.

It's in these moments that you need to pay attention to your instinct. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe and/or triggered, you'll know it in your gut. Don't ignore that warning sign or let someone dismiss your feelings just because you didn't assert earlier that this particular issue is a boundary for you. Your triggered response is enough to let you know that you need to draw a line, a hard one. Sure, this may mean adding other boundaries to your list or even setting up a whole new category of boundaries, but that's a small price to pay for not feeling unsafe or like everything you stand for has been violated. 

Have a plan if your boundaries are overstepped

Perhaps, one of your boundaries while casually dating is no PDA, but the person you're seeing leans in for a kiss anyway. If they did this because they forgot, then remind them it's not okay. If they did it because they didn't take your boundaries seriously, then, in addition to telling them it's not okay, give them a warning that's attached to a consequence. If it's the latter, it may be indicative of some behavioral issues on the part of the person you're dating. 

"[Crossing boundaries] may point to an unhealthy effort to control or manipulate you under the guise of doing it 'out of love,'" licensed psychologist Jaclyn Witmer Lopez tells Bustle.

Sometimes, although we've communicated our boundaries to someone, it doesn't always mean that they actively listened and made mental notes, or, in other cases, they may have just simply forgotten. In either case, it's a good idea to have a plan ready to put into motion should someone overstep your boundaries — a plan that's calm, effective, and includes a lot of "I" statements to get your message across. In some cases, it can just be a matter of communicating your boundaries again, or if this overstepping has become a habit of the person you're dating, it might be time to let them go.