Trying to build a relationship of any kind can feel impossible after experiencing a sexual assault. You may not even consider the idea of dating again for years after the assault, and even when you begin to think about it, you may feel your trauma coming back in full force.
But, there may come a time when you feel that you are ready to dip your toes back into the dating pool, and when that time comes, you may wonder how you can start dating again — after all, it has likely been some time since you last tried. Here, we’ll go over some tips on where to begin when you are starting to date again.
Take Your Time
Our first tip? Take it slow. There is no need to rush back into dating. Saying “no” can be a great way of protecting yourself from the pain of rushing into something when you are not ready. A lot of times, we may have family members or friends that try to get us “back on the horse,” and while they may mean well, if you are not ready, it can do more harm than good. So, trust yourself, and if you feel you need more time before getting back into the dating world, that is totally okay!
Also, if you do decide to go back to dating and do not like it, you don’t have to keep doing it. If you find that you are no longer comfortable with going out on dates or you are feeling more anxious, take a break for a while. Remember, dating is hard enough without carrying the extra weight of sexual trauma — so if you aren’t feeling it, don’t worry about it. Listen to your body. It knows what is right for you. When you feel comfortable, then try giving dating a shot again.
Coordinate a Safety Check
Alright, this next one is a great tip for anyone going out on a date.
Let a friend or family member know where you’re going and who you’re going out with before you go. Ask them to keep an eye on their phone and check in with you a little while into the date — or you can simply send them an emoji or pre-determined phrase that means that everything is good if the date is going well. If you’d like to make an early exit, on the other hand, your friend or family member can help you make a quick and graceful escape where you know you’ll be safe.
Plan the Date Yourself
We all know that we can’t control 100% of an experience when it comes to dating, but there are things that you can control that may help you feel less worried about going out on dates again. One of the easiest things to control is planning the date. Instead of letting your date pick the place or activity, try planning out the date yourself. This way, you can choose someplace familiar to you — which may help you to feel more comfortable during the date itself.
This can also help prevent you from being met with a request that makes you uncomfortable or brings up memories or trauma — such as walking alone with your date at night or going someplace that is very private. To help yourself feel more in control of the situation, try meeting in a public place and driving there yourself or getting an Uber so that you don’t feel dependent on your date to bring you home. Similarly, it can be a great idea to set a specific time frame for the date or curfew that you need to be home by so that you know exactly when you are going to leave. If your date asks you about the curfew or why you need to be home by a certain time, it is a good idea to have a reason handy — such as having an early meeting in the morning or a prior engagement with family or friends that you need to be at.
Identify Trustworthy Signs
What makes someone trustworthy? How can you tell trustworthy people from untrustworthy people? The unfortunate truth is that after a sexual assault, many of us dramatically change our expectations of other people. We may view everyone as a threat and become unable to trust anyone (which is very common and typically takes anywhere between a few months and decades to overcome).
Once you have reached the point where you feel you can trust again and you come across someone you believe is trustworthy, we encourage you to look for the following three qualities.
- The person respects your boundaries and does not take them personally.
- The person does not pressure you to change your mind or rush you into anything you are not ready for or comfortable with (like getting physically intimate).
- The person’s actions match their words. So, if they tell you they are going to do something, they actually do it.
Realize You Don’t Have to Talk About It Out of the Gate
If you’re going out on a first (or even a second date), you don’t need to come right out of the gate with your sexual trauma. There are plenty of things that you can talk about with your date that do not revolve around your past trauma, and focusing on these other things can be a good way to better get to know someone you are thinking about dating. Also, you can set boundaries about physical intimacy without talking about your trauma. You do not have to justify any boundaries that you are setting.
If you decide to date someone more seriously, then you may want to bring up the subject and how it affects you, but you are not obligated to share your story with someone you are dating simply because you are dating them. It is your story, and you get to choose when and who you share it with.
Speaking of boundaries, having clear boundaries about physical intimacy (and a very clear definition of consent) can be an excellent way to help avoid being reminded of the assault and panicking. While, as mentioned above, you can’t control everything, and something may happen to trigger memories and feelings of your trauma, setting boundaries can help you minimize these chances. A good partner will respect these boundaries without question and be understanding.
Get Comfortable with Yourself First
Our final tip is to reconnect with yourself before letting someone else in.
Sexual assault can leave lasting damage when it comes to wanting to be physically intimate with another person. To enjoy sex again (or at all), you may need to reconnect with yourself before introducing another person into the mix. So, before getting physically intimate with another person, get to know your own body (whether again or for the first time).
Find out what your own touch feels like as a re-introduction to sexual intimacy after your traumatic event. If you experience memories or flashbacks from the assault while touching yourself, stop and take a break. In this case, you need to take some more time before you allow someone else to touch you. If you are having trouble overcoming these memories or reconnecting with your sexual self, you may want to visit a trauma therapist or a specialized sex therapist. Talking with a trained therapist can help you address your trauma and revitalize that connection with yourself so that you can feel ready to open up to an intimate relationship with another person.
So, if you feel you are struggling with reconnecting with your own body or opening up to an intimate relationship with someone else, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow today.