“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brené Brown
I was a serial dater for a decade.
Dating can be fun and exciting, but it can also come with lots of disappointment and emotional pain.
All those rejections, ghosting, and shattered hopes had a huge impact on me.
They left me feeling exhausted and heartbroken. Probably because I dated too much but also because I didn't do much to protect myself and my energy on these dating adventures.
I'd say yes to many men who were not suitable for me, because I didn't want to be single. I'd do things that I didn't fully agree with just to keep the relationship going. I'd dishonor my own values and ideals so I wasn't lonely. I was too available for men. I didn't realize the power of no in dating.
I lost faith in love. I lost my confidence and self-esteem. It took me a while to realize that it was unhealthy; but eventually, I did.
One day, I understood that the price was too high to pay and it was not worth it. I was losing myself—the most important person in my life. I was betraying myself. I was dishonoring my own needs and wants.
The pain I experienced during those dating years was the greatest catalyst for my transformation, like it often is in life. We want to avoid the pain at all costs, but the pain makes us find strength for making difficult decisions and the motivation for making radical changes in our life.
I actually bless all the painful experiences I’ve had. They helped me wake up.
They helped me to re-evaluate my approach to dating and relationships.
They helped me step into my power and start to respect myself more in order to find men who would respect me back.
It was the pain that helped me stop dating compulsively and find a better way. One day, enough was enough. I was ready for something else.
I took a break to reconnect with myself. During these months, I reviewed all my previous relationships, all the dating I’d done and the men I was attracting.
It wasn’t looking good. But honesty brings clarity, and clarity gives us an opportunity to make some decisions.
I made many life changes and promises to myself, but there was one obvious thing that stood out to me.
My boundaries in dating were way too weak. That’s why I was creating so much heartache in my dating and love life. That’s why I was losing myself in relationships.
I was giving my power away by being way too accommodating and compromising too much.
Because of weak boundaries, I allowed myself to stay in dysfunctional relationships for far too long. I was attracting men who couldn’t give me what I wanted. I'd accept the crumbs of love and never ask for more. I never stood up for myself. I never said no when I felt like it. I'd ignore red flags and never challenge men who treated me poorly.
I needed to start to value and respect myself more. And I found the best way to do this was to strengthen my own boundaries.
This decision changed the dating experience for me, on so many levels. In truth, it changed the course of my love life.
I learned to say no in dating, and I said it to many, many men before I was able to say yes to my current partner.
I became much more selective and careful when choosing the men I dated.
I developed zero tolerance for mind games, commitment-phobes, guys who just wanted to have fun, inconsistency, indecisiveness, and disrespect.
And it served me very well.
I believe that I found the love of my life, after dating aimlessly for ten years, due to the fact that I defined my non-negotiables and I religiously stuck to them, no matter what.
To help you understand where you are with your boundaries, I will begin by explaining what boundaries are.
Simply put, boundaries are the limits you set for yourself in dating, in love, and in life. Things you are not willing to tolerate, put up with, accept, or compromise on. Your boundaries are your rules! I also interchangeably call them non-negotiables.
A few signs of weak boundaries are:
- Over giving and people pleasing
- Saying yes when you mean no
- Losing yourself in relationships
- Prioritizing others at the expense of your own well-being
- Compromising, accommodating, and justifying
- Settling for less than you deserve
- Feeling taken for granted or resentful
Your boundaries have a few important roles in dating. They protect your personal space, your values, and your sense of self. Weak boundaries leave you vulnerable and likely to be taken for granted, or even abused, by others.
Here are five reasons why you need to have strong boundaries in place.
1. They protect you.
Without healthy boundaries, you will be hurt way too often. You will allow people into your life who don't have genuine intentions and who are not looking for the same things that you are. Boundaries help you bring the right people into your life.
You need to identify what you want, what is good for you, and what kind of partner you want to attract. And you need to start rejecting anyone who doesn’t have the qualities you are looking for. Otherwise, you will be wasting lots of time in dating and random relationships. Not to mention the amount of heartache you are going to experience. You need strong boundaries to protect your own heart.
2. They communicate your value.
People who have strong boundaries radiate more confidence and self-respect; hence, they are more attractive. Boundaries show how much love you have for yourself and how much you value yourself. They help you attract the right people—people who value and respect what you do.
Lack of boundaries is often linked to feeling unworthy and unlovable. Boundaries tell people how you want to be treated based on what you believe you deserve. They also help others understand how you want to be valued and respected.
3. They save you time, energy, and sanity.
Your boundaries help others know where they stand with you and what your expectations are. For example, in dating, when you know what you will accept and what you won’t tolerate, and you openly express it with your potential date (at the right time and in a non-aggressive way), you give people an opportunity to decide whether they will respect your boundaries or not.
If they won’t, they will quickly disappear from your life and will save you time and energy. It will be either too much work for them or you’ll just thank them because they will be too much work for you. Rather than wasting time on the wrong people and relationships, you move on quickly and open yourself up to some more suitable dating opportunities.
4. They empower you.
Boundaries help you honor yourself. They help you honor your needs. They help you take responsibility for your own well-being. They help you become more assertive. They help you stand firmly in your own power.
When you start being more mindful about your boundaries and start saying no to things/situations that don’t serve you or drain you, you will start putting into place healthy limits around dating, work, and people. You will start to feel proud of yourself. You will feel a sense of empowerment. You will feel like you are more in control of your own life.
5. They help you love and respect yourself.
There is no bigger act of self-love than having healthy boundaries. Your boundaries reflect how much you love and value yourself.
When you communicate your boundaries, you let other people know that you know yourself. You let them know what is in your best interest and you are not willing to compromise on the important things in your life. Having boundaries is about loving and respecting yourself. And when you do, you get love and respect back from others.
How to Strengthen Your Boundaries
1. Start to say no when it feels like a no.
So often, we say yes to things we really don’t want to do, or don’t have time or energy for. We want to be polite and keep others happy. We do it so we don’t get rejected or lose people. But at the same time, we are being unkind to ourselves and making ourselves miserable.
Bring more awareness to your day-to-day life and start observing how often you say yes to things you want to say no to. After a while, start actually saying no when you truly mean it.
Saying no is an ultimate act of self-love. Saying no is empowering. When you start saying no, you’ll start feeling happier, your relationships will improve, and your self-esteem will get a boost, because you'll be honoring yourself!
A no doesn’t need to be blunt and rigid. You can find a loving way to say no. Here are a few examples:
- Let me think about it.
- I am not quite ready for this.
- Thanks, but it's not going to work out.
- I am not sure I really want it right now.
- I'd prefer not to.
- I feel this is not the right time for me.
- I’m okay for now.
- I’m not able to commit to that at the moment.
2. Start being more mindful of what you are saying yes to, and why.
Anything to please others, out of guilt or fear, or because you want to avoid confrontation, is out of alignment. Start saying yes only to things that serve you, bring you joy, pleasure, or happiness, or agree with you and your values in the first place. Often, when you say yes to something that doesn't feel like a complete yes, it’s really a no.
A few questions to explore to define whether your yes is aligned:
- When do you say yes when you really want to say no?
- What do you say yes to?
- How do you feel about it?
- What would you like to say no to?
One thing to remember: It's one thing to set your boundaries and know what they are. It's another thing to actually honor and stick to them. There is no point in having boundaries if you don't honor them. If you don’t honor them, nobody else will.
As hard as it can be initially, over time they will make you feel amazing. At the beginning, you will feel fear—fear of being rejected, of losing people, of being perceived as rude, of hurting others.
But you will need to learn that how people respond and feel about your boundaries is not your responsibility.
Your responsibility is to communicate your boundaries in the most loving way possible, without accusing, blaming, and criticizing. The best way to do it is to use “I feel…” statements. Just describe how you feel about the situation, or the person, so it's more about you, not the recipient.
Healthy boundaries help you take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally. They help you respect your needs, feelings, and desires. They help you eliminate drama and emotional pain from your dating. They help you create healthy relationships with others.
People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. You have the power to set the tone for the quality of your dating, and every relationship in your life, simply by putting some healthy boundaries into place.