How to date authentically in this new era

Dating has changed. Face-to-face dating has made a comeback in some places, but it may be a long time before everything gets back to normal. In many parts of the world, some form of social distancing remains in place and a lot more dating is happening electronically than before the coronavirus. By the time we meet someone in real life, we may have got to know them quite well online. This new landscape has its challenges and its opportunities. So how do we avoid the pitfalls and make the most of what this new reality has to offer?

One way to navigate this new era of dating successfully is to manage our boundaries as best we can right from the start.

I know from experience that it’s very tempting to dive deeply into a potential relationship before we know much about the other person. This is even more likely to happen when online and video-based conversations continue for weeks or months before an in-person date. It’s tempting to share too much of ourselves – to divulge our entire back stories before we even meet. This over-sharing can create a sense of intensity that’s incredibly enticing and can be exciting, but it isn’t based on reality. What once felt really intense may soon fizzle out.

I also know how easy it is to build up a picture of a person in our heads, especially when communicating virtually. We can create an idea of someone or imagine our future with that person, based on our conversations, but we may find there’s no connection when we meet them in real life. This can be hugely deflating and disappointing for us, and it can also be hurtful to the other party if we’ve created false expectations.

We can avoid these pitfalls if we are aware of them. Simply knowing the risks of sharing too much or of creating a fantasy image of a date is helpful. And if we can set boundaries for ourselves at the start around how much we share and how much we allow our minds to wander, even better. When we start writing the script of a Hollywood romcom in our heads, we can shout ‘Cut!’ rather than continuing to make a movie out of our thoughts.

We can also avoid these pitfalls with honest, authentic conversations. Why not talk about these risks on phone or video calls? Talk about how easy it would be to get carried away before meeting face-to-face. Talk about the fact that both parties are simply gathering information, to see if there’s a connection. Acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that there won’t be a connection in real life. Talk about the dangers of raising false hopes. Perhaps ask whether your date is chatting to other people online, or explain that you are doing that. This allows for clear communication right from the beginning. It will save time and spare heartache later.

We can also correct course quickly if we go off track. If we find we’ve shared too much of ourselves or the other person has over-shared, we can discuss this together, and agree to slow down and keep things light until we meet. All of these conversations require courage, vulnerability and emotional maturity, as well as lots of self-esteem and self-worth. Our ability to hold these conversations in the early stages of a potential relationship is a sign of our ability to maintain a healthy partnership over the long-term. We will also be more likely to discern emotionally available people if we are willing to be vulnerable and real, while maintaining good boundaries.

Ahead of a face-to-face meeting, it’s helpful to agree to some shared ground rules. How long would you like the date to last? Do you prefer to meet indoors or outdoors? Are both parties willing to respect the social distancing guidelines in place where you meet? It can be a shock when someone offers their hand for a shake or opens their arms for a hug, so try to discuss boundaries in advance as people interpret the guidelines differently.

As for opportunities, the coronavirus and social distancing measures have slowed dating down in a big way, which, for many of us, is a good thing. Although face-to-face meetings are important, it’s incredibly helpful to practice authenticity, vulnerability and clear conversations virtually, without the pressures of a face-to-face meeting or the hormones that inevitably kick in when we’re around someone we find attractive.

So make the most of the slower pace, especially if you’re someone who tends to rush into relationships. And also use the space in between dates to keep building your relationship with yourself and with God, so that you are ready to discern the right man or woman for you when the time comes.

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