Here’s How To Protect Your Self-Esteem & Energy While Dating

how to protect your self-esteem while dating
Photo by Isa Tricerri

I haven’t heard from him all day, and we are supposed to meet up tonight. While we agreed on a time the evening before, I had no idea where I would be meeting him, if we’d be eating dinner, or if he hoped to turn this into a booty call.

Four hours before our date was supposed to begin, he reaches out on the dating app with a lethargic “what’s your number.”

I decided to give him a pass (maybe his workday was hectic?) and send my digits anyway.

Another two hours go by before I get a playful TGIF message, to which I respond, “I’d still like to meet you, but since I haven’t heard from you all day, I made other plans. Are you free next week?”

My new beau wigs out, sending a series of exclamations like “What do you mean you didn’t hear from me!” and “I didn’t make any other plans because of you!”

Within minutes he’s blocked me on the dating app and sent a final message that made it clear I was not to reach out again. While I regret hurting his feelings, I stand by how I handled the situation. Little did this guy know it, but he overstepped my boundaries, and I was protecting my energy.

How do you need to be treated to enjoy romance?

I love being pursued. It makes me feel cherished, which inspires me to give affection or love.

There is a downside to expecting to be pursued. Not everyone likes the chase, and there have been times where I’m waiting around to hear back from a person who asked me on a date. When this happens, I recognize that it isn’t because I’m not worthy of love; I just stumbled upon someone who is not compatible with me.

How do you need to be treated to enjoy romance?

It’s empowering to understand this about yourself. It can help you avoid situations that zap your energy and puncture your self-esteem.

Knowing how I like to feel pursued, I developed boundaries that honor my “romantic needs” and protect my feelings when I interact with someone who isn’t compatible with me. One of those boundaries is not going on a date if it’s left to the last minute, especially if I’ve made that date with someone from an online app.

Dating boundaries remind us that we’ll meet many people who are not compatible with us. This isn’t personal, but without a plan in place, the friction caused by incompatibility can be deeply draining.

How to discover your romantic needs.

Needs are very different from wants. Perhaps you want to date someone who can afford a luxury lifestyle and dotes on their partner. But you need to date someone financially healthy who enjoys using their expendable income to get surprises for their boo.

(Hint: if the above example sounds like you, your love language might be giving and receiving gifts. Knowing your love language is a great way to gauge what romantic gestures make you feel safe and desired.)

A great way to discover your needs is to consider what romantic actions make you feel respected, appreciated, or aroused. Especially consider any time that another person’s actions inspired you to reciprocate a romantic gesture. These are great indications of what your needs are.

When our romantic needs are met (even with a casual lover), we feel relaxed and able to give or receive pleasure. It’s a way to protect your energy because getting our needs met is a rejuvenating experience.

Once you know your needs, put a “boundary plan” into action.

You never know what is going on in someone else’s life, and I strive to assume that people are trying their best even if they’ve irked me. When someone oversteps a dating boundary, I don’t make them the “bad guy” or myself “the victim.” I have a plan in place that attempts to treat the other person with respect while honoring my well-being.

I’ve already introduced you to one of my “boundary plans.” When a potential date makes me feel like an afterthought, I explain that I made other plans and give that person an opportunity to do better next time or move on. Then comes part two of my boundary plan.

Everyone will have their own needs and thereby their own boundaries, so it’s up to you to decide how you honor your needs. However, the second part of a boundary plan is more universal. Dating is exhausting, whether from unmet expectations or harassment, so the second part of a boundary plan is taking care of your nervous system.

“The nervous system takes in information through our senses, processes the information, and triggers reactions, such as making your muscles move or causing you to feel pain. For example, if you touch a hot plate, you reflexively pull back your hand, and your nerves simultaneously send pain signals to your brain.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Soothing our nervous system is important. When pain (emotional or physical) lasts more than several minutes, it can leave a trace in your nervous system. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to prevent these traces from occurring. Life is anarchy, but we can rehab our mind and body after a discouraging moment.

What helps you relax or recharge?

It can be as simple as taking a shower or have friends that agree to be a support system as you date. “Singles need support too,” emphasizes therapist and sexologist Nicoletta von Heidegger. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loving, non-judgemental friend and ask if they’ll lend emotional support as you mine the fields of dating. It’s encouraging to know that someone you love is there when a stranger makes you feel unimportant.

Other great methods for soothing the nervous system are meditation, yoga, exercising, massages, or spending time in nature. Even beauty rituals are a wonderful way to self-soothe. Devoting time and attention to beauty routines builds self-esteem. Whatever your definition of rejuvenation is, taking care of your nervous system is a healthy and helpful way to approach dating.

Support your self-esteem and protect your energy at the same time.

Having a plan in place helps me bounce back from discouraging moments and prompts me to stay open-minded. While the low moments can be a kick in the stomach, there is an abundance of joy and lust to be experienced as a single person.

No matter who you are dating, remember that you are your primary partner. In this way, everyone, regardless of their relationship status, is in a relationship: it’s called being “self-partnered.”

When our energy is preserved as we date, being single can morph into an adventurous experience. It is a privilege to be able to organize your life without consulting a romantic partner. We have the freedom to explore lust, creativity, careers, travel, and life on our terms.

Similarly, it helps to remember that a romantic partnership is not a bandaid. I have many friends who’ve met their life partner and still experience loneliness or exhaustion. Therefore, it behooves us to enjoy being single just as much as we will (eventually) enjoy a significant other.

Knowing your dating boundaries and having soothing activities in place can bring empowering joy to the single life.

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