I hear my share of romantic woe, including numerous dating disasters that become cautionary tales. After you’ve been around the dating block a few times, it’s easy — too easy, perhaps — to become overly cautious.
But how much is too much? How can you strike the right balance between building up healthy boundaries and overly self-protective emotional walls? What clues tell you if you’ve become too quick to shoot down Mr./Ms. Maybe? And what are the signs that you might need to lighten up a little? At the end of the day (and date), the goal should be stay emotionally safe and smart while leaving some room for spontaneity and an acceptable level of risk-taking, too.
Take this quiz, then evaluate your score and check out my tips on how to have a smarter approach to healthy boundaries in your dating life.
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1. When you feel yourself falling for someone new after a couple of dates, your first inclination is to:
Jump blindly into the romance despite any reservations you might feel in your gut. (Score = 1)
Assume the worst; you’ll just get hurt again. After all, you’ve been hurt before, so you preemptively shoot down the possibility of moving forward with this person. (Score = 2)
Be totally honest and admit to your date why you’re being suspicious and mistrustful. (Score = 3)
Move forward in a slow but steady manner while keeping an eye out for red flags; in the event that any should arise, they can be discussed with a close friend who’ll help you be more objective. (Score = 4)
2. Your date tells you that he/she really likes you — a lot. How do you respond?
Let his/her emotions guide your emotional response, responding affirmatively without stopping to consider how you really feel. (Score = -1)
Immediately feel something inside you turn off. You were starting to feel closer to this person until he/she pulled this stunt. (Score = 2)
Respond by telling your date how risky it is to say something like that. What does it really mean in the long run? (Score = 3)
Accept the compliment for what it is, if you don’t feel ready to respond. You are under no obligation to respond to your date by saying something like, “I really like you, too!” But you sincerely take it in and thank your date for expressing it. (Score = 4)
3. You have a date scheduled for tonight with someone you like and have been seeing for at least several weeks. But something happened, and now you’re feeling low and vulnerable. What do you do?
Stuff your feelings and go through with your plans. Your date doesn’t need to know the truth. (Score = 1)
Cancel your date without giving the other person any reason explaining why you did so. (Score = 2)
Meet your date and share that you’re currently in an off mood, but don’t provide any details explaining why. (Score = 3)
Decide what’s best for tonight by considering whether both you and the person you’re supposed to see would have a better time if you postponed the date until you could enjoy it more. If so, call your date and postpone — but definitely reschedule your date for another time before getting off the phone with him/her. (Score = 4)
4. When it comes to dating, your motto is:
What could possibly go wrong? (Score = 1)
Why bother? They’re all lying jerks who’ll eventually hurt me. (Score = 2)
There’s no such thing as sharing too much, too soon. (Score = 3)
Wait and see; only time will tell whether this feels “right” for the two of us. (Score = 4)
5. During a romantic tête-à-tête, your date asks you a question on a topic that’s perfectly within bounds, but sensitive for you personally (i.e., former relationship, your family, an event from the past, etc.). You respond by:
Spilling your guts (and your emotions), even if it makes you uncomfortable. (Score = 1)
Getting angry. How dare he/she bring this up? Clearly, your date is just trying to tick you off and put you down, as past dates always end up doing. (Score = 2)
Asking your date why he/she would ask you about that subject. On the one hand, you acknowledge that it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to ask about at this stage of getting to know each other, but you also make sure to slip in a verbal guilt trip during your response. After all, your date made you feel uncomfortable, so now it’s that person’s turn to feel bad. (Score = 3)
Take a deep breath, consider how much you want to share with this person, and then answer it. Since it’s a topic that’s within bounds, there’s no reason to unleash any hostility on your date. On the other hand, you can decide what you want to share and then leave it at that for now. (Score = 4)
0-5 points: Naively unguarded
Better boundaries tip: Finding — and staying — in your personal comfort zone is not only your right, it’s your responsibility. There are legitimate reasons why you don’t need to say too much, too soon on dates, reveal more than you are comfortable revealing about yourself, maintain a physical boundary with someone if you’re not ready for intimacy, and listen to your gut if you feel something isn’t quite right. Make sure you have this strong sense of self established before interacting with dates.
6-10 points: Overly self-protective
Better boundaries tip: When you’re this overly self-protective, it’s nearly impossible to establish a romantic connection with someone because you’ll shoot any possibility down before giving it a chance. If you’re bitter, angry, and prone to not giving the benefit of the doubt to someone new, then you need to work on yourself in order to let go of past resentments, understand the difference between being reasonably and unreasonably guarded around others, and open yourself up to the possibilities of having a future with your date. It’s also important to learn that you can share information about yourself that’s sensitive to you, for whatever reason (i.e., difficult relationships with family) in a cool, factual way, with a kind (or at least neutral) tone of voice. More often than not, a date will judge you on your tone of voice as much as the facts stated in your response.
11-15 points: Unattractively wavering
Better boundaries tip: You’re aware of your self-protective tendencies, and that’s a first step. But you’re letting them unduly influence your dating behavior, and that can be a real turn-off to a potential paramour. As humorist Fran Lebowitz says, “Spilling your guts is as attractive as it sounds.” Consider what you’re going to say before you accidentally “over-share” information. It’s normal to slow down the response process if you’re feeling scared or vulnerable, but don’t let your fear rule you. Carefully considering what to share and what to keep to yourself is fine, but in those instances where you need to back off a little in order to feel more comfortable, consistency and communication are key — after all, a slow and steady approach can help you win the romantic race. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you prefer taking things slow, for whatever reason (i.e., you’re recently out of a relationship or you want to really get to know each other before committing to a relationship). But don’t alternate acting hot and cold towards someone based on your fears alone.
16-20 points: Smartly attuned to your boundaries
Better boundaries tip: Good news! You have your tendencies toward self-protection in check. You know the value of judging a person’s actions over words alone, and you also have a support system in place to help you evaluate a date’s true potential. Especially if you’ve had a tendency toward self-protection in the past, it’s important to have friends or a counselor who can give you objective feedback. It’s easy to misinterpret someone’s words, but actions are more clear-cut — and frankly, they’re the most reliable way to judge whether someone’s a worthy date (and, ultimately, mate) for you.
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit hiswebsite, follow him onTwitter, oremail him.