By Emory Oakley
First dates are challenging for so many reasons, but safety can be a concern for many people – especially when meeting in person for the first time. Typically, when people talk about safety planning for a first date, they specifically direct the content toward women. While women are often at risk for violence during a first date, they are not the only group at risk. Transgender people also often need to consider their safety when dating.
Consider reading my article “Navigating Sex as a Trans Man” to learn more about the nuances of disclosing you're trans to someone you're potentially interested in dating or sleeping with.
Before we think about making a safety plan for a first date, let's consider what information you may need or want to feel more secure when meeting in person, especially if you originally made contact online. Generally, before meeting in person, it's accepted practice to connect outside of an app, either on a social media platform or through text message.
Social media can provide a lot of information about a person. I encourage people to look up their dates on social media before the first meeting. (If they don't want to share their social media, this could be a red flag.) It could also be advantageous to talk on the phone or video chat beforehand.
How to make a safety plan
Here are some steps to take and things to consider when making plans for a first date, or for the first time you’re being intimate with someone, to help keep you safe:
Go somewhere public
When meeting someone new for a first date, go somewhere public. Also, consider going somewhere you're familiar with, like a restaurant or bar you know.
There are a few local restaurants/bars/breweries that I frequent where I know I would be comfortable asking the staff for support if I had issues with a date.
Get yourself to the date on your own and plan your route home
If your date picks you up, they’ll automatically know where you live, which may not be ideal if things don't go as planned. It also leaves you without an easy means of getting home if you need to leave abruptly.
If you control your transportation to and from the date, you can leave whenever you want and don't have to rely on your date if you feel uncomfortable. So, it's best to find your own way – you can drive, rideshare, take transit, ride your bike, etc. (It’s a red flag if your date tries to convince you they have to pick you up.)
If you're planning to take transit, make sure you're aware of the routes available to you and have a backup plan to get home (such as Uber) if needed in an emergency. And if you're planning to drive or bike, be aware of alcohol consumption (which you should anyway, as we will discuss later).
Tell a friend your plan
Tell someone you trust that you're going on a date with someone new and provide them with all the date details, including where you will be and what time. Also, consider giving them the date's name and contact information.
Check-in with your person if you and your date change locations. You may also want to consider connecting to one another with a GPS tracking app.
It can also be incredibly valuable to set a time for your friend to check in with you while on the date. They can help ensure you're safe and provide an opportunity or excuse for you to leave.
If you're planning on getting intimate for the first time, consider having your friend check in after a predetermined time. Setting boundaries with someone can sometimes feel unsafe or even lead to violence. A phone ring can be a helpful interruption, giving you an excuse to leave. And an unanswered check-in can alert your safety person that something is wrong.
What happens if you miss the check-in? It's essential to plan what your friend should do if you don't answer at their check-in.
When thinking about this plan, consider a few things:
- How many times should they try to reach you before worrying?
- How long should they wait before trying again?
- What do they do if they cannot reach you after multiple attempts? (Maybe, call the restaurant or show up at the location)
- At what point do they call emergency services?
The answers to these questions may vary based on the context of the date. If it's a first date at a restaurant, it may make sense to wait 30 minutes before a response because you could easily lose track of time. And maybe a call to the restaurant makes more sense, before showing up.
If it's the first time you're getting intimate with someone you haven't known for long, it may warrant a more prompt response if a check-in is missed.
Have an excuse to leave prepared
If you're feeling uncomfortable and, as a result, stressed about leaving your date, it can be challenging to think of an excuse to leave – so have one prepared, just in case.
What excuse works for you will depend on several factors, such as whether or not it’s plausible that your workplace would call you to come in for a last-minute shift, or if you have a roommate that might need you for something, etc.
I used to have a job that would regularly have uncovered shifts (24 hours a day) or emergency situations, so it was my go-to excuse. It's challenging for a date to try to talk you out of going into work.
Now that I don't have that excuse, I have to be more creative. Here are some of my ideas:
- Your roommate got locked out and you have to go save them
- A friend is stranded somewhere and they need you to pick them up
- Tell them you're feeling sick, have an allergy or have period cramps (if you are someone with a uterus)
- If you have someone planning to call/text to check-in, have them fake an emergency if you use a particular word or answer the phone in a certain way
It can also help to have a predetermined end time for the date. For example, let your date know you have an early morning or have to meet someone afterward, so you have a built-in excuse to leave.
Don't be afraid to leave!
Remember, don't be afraid to leave if you feel uncomfortable for any reason. Trust your gut.
Be mindful of alcohol consumption
When consuming alcohol, don't leave your drink unattended and don't drink too much. If you drink too much, you put yourself in a vulnerable position, challenging your ability to leave.
What to bring with you
In terms of safety, there are a few things you should make sure you have with you:
- Your phone to communicate with your check-in person and to call for help should something arise
- Money to get you home. Also, if you're in the middle of a dinner, you can throw some cash down to make your date feel better about you leaving (not that you need to)
- A transit pass
- Other items that make you feel safe or can be used for self-defense. Be mindful of the fact that things like pepper spray can be considered a weapon. A small bottle of hairspray can do a similar amount of damage if sprayed in a person’s eyes
What about green flags?
At what point do you decide to drop your safety plan? I stop thinking about my safety with someone new when I start to build trust with them and see some green flags.
Setting boundaries is a great way to see how a person will respond to you and gauge whether or not you will feel safe with them. Try setting a boundary or simply saying ‘no’ to someone, and see how they respond. If they don't try to push your boundary and are willing to compromise, that's a definite green flag. This is something you can easily do before meeting someone.
Other green flags on a first date
- They're present and actively listening
- They ask questions and seem to genuinely care about your answer
- They make eye contact
- They respect your views and opinions (even if they disagree)
- They’re encouraging of your passions
Sometimes it just comes down to trusting your gut; if you're with someone new and they make you feel comfortable and safe, that's a great thing, and you may choose to drop the safety plan or go home with them.
For some, a personal limit may be to never go home with someone after a first date. Setting this boundary can be helpful in determining how safe you are with a person. It's a major red flag if they try to push this boundary, and a green flag if they accept it without question.
If you decide to get intimate with someone on the first date or are planning to go back to someone's place for the first time, hopefully it's because they've given you all the green flags you need to feel safe.
Of course, you should consider having condoms and lube with you for your health and safety. Also, make sure to discuss safe sex practices such as regular testing and personal boundaries.
When it comes to safety from violence after going home with someone, having a check-in person is likely the smartest thing you can do.
Dating is hard, and we can't always predict how people will treat us. Hopefully, making a safety plan can help you feel – and be – more secure.