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Discovering your boundaries and implementing them into your dating life is necessary but difficult. How do you decide what feels right to you? And what do you do if you meet someone whose ideas don’t align with yours?
This week’s reader, 59-year-old Jessica, is having trouble figuring out what her boundaries are when it comes to having sex with someone new.
“What are some examples of boundaries? I’m unsure what is physically acceptable,” she says. “I’m thinking of having an eight-date rule. No sex prior. I don’t want to make stupid, regrettable mistakes and be on an emotional roller coaster. I’m a 59-year-old divorced woman after 25 years of marriage. I’ve been divorced for three years. I’m in recovery.”
Laura Duester who is a psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member, says it sounds like Jessica is still feeling hurt after her divorce – and may be afraid of getting hurt again.
“It’s understandable that you want to avoid making mistakes as you venture into the ‘scary’ dating world again, but will having an arbitrary ‘eight-date rule’ or similar really protect you?” Duester asks.
“Physical boundaries also need to be accompanied by emotional boundaries to ensure that you’re treated in a way that is emotionally-comfortable and healthy for you.”
Duester thinks emotional boundaries while dating might include things like “respecting your need for physical space (and not continually asking for sex when you’re not ready), not cancelling dates at the last minute, or replying to texts within a reasonable timeframe”.
“Communicating your boundaries clearly is key so that everyone knows where they stand. It’s perfectly ok to say ‘I’m not comfortable with any physical contact until we know each other better,’” Duester adds.
“You don’t necessarily need to set a specific limit (like only kissing after date three) – just be aware of your own needs, express these to your date, and keep reviewing how you feel and where your boundaries are.”
Duester believes our physical boundaries can change over time, especially in a situation like Jessica’s, such as dating after a long marriage.
“Hopefully boundaries will become more relaxed as you get to know your date, but it’s also ok to go ‘backwards’ and reinstate boundaries that have been broken,” says Duester.
“Things may also be different with different people and at different times; you might feel ready to hold hands with one person on the first date, but only develop that level of comfort with another person after a few weeks.”
Most importantly, Duester reminds Jessica (and any readers in similar situations) to remember to be kind to yourself.
“Ensure others treat you with the same respect,” she says. “If you express your boundaries and these aren’t accepted, that doesn’t mean your boundaries are wrong or need to be changed, but should be a clear warning sign that the other person doesn’t value you and your needs.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.