unSEXpected x Respect Week: Emotional Safety in the World of Online Dating

I’m convinced dating apps are parallel worlds built into our phones with off-the-chart ratings of audacity. In person, no one would just randomly hand you a mirror selfie of themselves in tighty whities, unprompted (I hope), but online? It is tighty whitie galore (I regret writing this. But I refuse to edit it out. I’m sorry (I’m not)). 

Online dating can be fun, but it can also be scary. How do we stay safe?  

The immediate answers that come to mind are: 

Don’t disclose too much information on your profiles!  

Don’t give your address out to strangers!  

Don’t send nudes to strangers!  

Do go on dates in public spaces!  

Do acknowledge expectations and intentions!  

Do tell friends you trust with your life about your dates!  

Besides these classic words of wisdom (most often concerned about physical, bodily safety), other aspects of online dating safety are less often considered. 

Things like, when does casual flirting become sexual harassment? How can we distinguish love bombing from genuine enthusiastic connections? How do we slow things down if flirting has gotten a bit out of hand? 

These are all situations that can make us feel just as unsafe as a dodgy-looking bar or a match with no stalkable social media accounts.  

Online dating can be so dire, you often get used to things you wouldn’t usually allow in real life, and you can find yourself struggling to manage emotional discomfort that you can’t quite place. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion, and a third, and fourth. Take a minute to step back and think, am I actually okay with this? If I wouldn’t accept this behaviour in person, why am I tolerating it now?  

An embarrassingly short amount of time ago, I spent a whole weekend wondering if I was overreacting for feeling uncomfortable with someone’s sexual advances, even though I had expressed wanting to take things slow with them. Although they didn’t explicitly cross any lines, being in a position where I had to repeatedly reinstate my boundaries still made me feel overwhelmed and unsafe. It took me four conversations with friends and one phone call with my mum to finally listen to what my gut had been telling me all along.  

Online dating is strange and draining. Your mental and emotional safety matter just as much as your physical safety. Prioritize your comfort, always.  

Identifying and navigating emotional discomfort with online dating can be difficult, but you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Remember to put yourself first and reach out to those you trust. 

Have fun, and stay safe x. 

UnSEXpected is a Glass column dedicated to the things we learn about sex and intimacy through conversations with friends. If you have any unique, funny or interesting stories you’d like to share, please get in touch! It’s the team’s goal to make this column a fun, safe and diverse space.

Konstanz Muller Hering
Konstanz Muller Hering

Konstanz (she/ they) is a Meanjin/Brisbane-based writer and QUT Creative Writing graduate. Konstanz was a Glass editor, and now contributes as an alumni.

Articles: 22

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