Staying safe this cuffing season

Whatever “staying safe” means to you, we cover dating tips from not getting COVID-19 to not getting ghosted

Dating should be fun, and with these tips it can be. ILLUSTRATION: Alyssa Marie Umbal / The Peak

by Victoria Loptka

You’ve been swiping, liking, messaging, and now you’ve found your new potential boo. It’s time to go on your first date. Dating can be confusing, intimidating, or even scary. “Staying safe” on a date means a variety of different things to different people. For some, it’s about not having to fake an emergency phone call to get out of the date early. For others, it’s about protecting your physical health from COVID-19 and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This article will outline a few safety tips for your debut back into the dating world. 

1. Talk with potential dates for a little while before planning a meet-up 

It can be difficult to read someone in only a few sentences — talking with potential dates for a little while can help you determine if they’re a good match for you. Then, if you decide they are, having pre-existing inside jokes and references can reduce that first date awkwardness.

 

2. Ask mutual friends

If you’re comfortable with and know some mutual friends pretty well, they can serve as personal references for your date. Mutuals can give you insight into this person, including any potential red flags or deal-breakers that haven’t naturally come up in conversation. This can save you and your potential date time and energy. Personally, asking mutual friends about someone has given me valuable insight into their personality and how they treat someone prior to my date 

 

3. Tell a trusted person what you’re up to 

Before I go on any date, I let a friend or family member know all the important details: where I’m going to be, when I’m going to be there, when I expect to be home, and who I’m going to meet. I’ll also update that person if the plan changes. If you find you’ll be moving around a lot, like going on a walk, turning on your location services is a good idea.

 

4. Establish an escape plan in advance

Your first date will probably go great . . . but on the off-chance it doesn’t, it’s important to have a way out. Maybe that escape plan includes you saying “Hey, I think I’m going to head home now, I have a few errands to run today.” Maybe it includes getting a friend to call you with an excuse to leave, like a fake minor emergency. Another excuse could be that you work early in the morning and need to get to bed early. Additionally, make sure you have your own way home. If the date doesn’t go well, you don’t want to be stuck relying on this person to take you home. Drive yourself, have a reliable friend pick you up, plan your transit route, or budget for a cab or Uber.

 

5. Meet for the first time in a public place

I think this is self-explanatory — people you meet on online dating apps are literally strangers. No hiking to secluded, forested spots. Instead, consider meeting in a place with lots of people. A coffee shop or a picnic in a public park are great date ideas.

 

6. Get on the same page about COVID-19 safety

If you have any preferences regarding vaccination status, the use of masks, and social distancing, this is something you should discuss with your date before meeting up to avoid any awkward surprises. It can be tempting to “go with the flow”. It can be even more challenging to implement boundaries with someone you are trying to impress. However, it’s important to advocate for your safety, comfort, and health. If you live with other people, be it your family or roommates, you may also want to check if they’re comfortable with you opening up your bubble to potential new partners. 

 

7. Get on the same page about safe sex

This first means figuring out what safe sex looks like to you. Does that include using a condom or dental dam?  Does this mean exclusively sleeping with one person? How often would you expect partners to get tested for STIs? What does “safe” oral sex look like? What does “consent” mean and look like to you? Lube? Birth control? Toys? Kinks? Then, see what your partner thinks about these topics. Talking about sex can be uncomfortable, but getting on the same page is necessary to avoid potentially confusing or scary situations. If you feel completely unable to discuss this with your partner, it may be an indication you’re not ready to have sex with them. 

 

8. Pick dates and activities within your comfort zone 

If the idea of hanging out in a bustling, crowded bar seems like a bad idea in this current health climate, then that’s okay! Plan a picnic or patio happy hour. If you’re unsure how you feel about sex on the first date, you’re not alone. There are a variety of activities and environments that allow you to get to know someone and feel close to them outside of sex. If going on a first date alone is anxiety-inducing, then maybe your single friend can help. See if a double date is a good option. First dates can already be pretty anxiety-inducing, so doing activities that feel unsafe or scary doesn’t benefit you at all. Sometimes it even helps to go somewhere you’ve been before or stake out where you’re going to meet before your date. If you’re in your environment and comfortable, that comfort and ease will be apparent to the person you’re with, and probably put them more at ease, too.

 

9. Take post-date precautions, if feeling sick or unwell 

This tip applies to both COVID-19 and STIs: if after your date, you notice symptoms associated with either, it’s important to discuss them with a healthcare professional. Get tested, and share any positive results with your partner so they can take precautions. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, fatigue, and a dry cough. Different STIs have different symptoms, and some can be present with no symptoms at all, but common things to look out for include unusual discharge, pain when urinating, itching and rashes, lumps, blisters, sores, or warts. 

 

10. Post-date self-care

Dating can be fun and exciting, but it can also be tiring and nerve-wracking. After a date, it’s important to give yourself the time and tools to recharge and feel good. This may include talking to a friend or family member about the date, journaling, meditating, taking a hot bath, having a skincare routine, exercising, or just relaxing out on the couch with some Netflix.