Actions and events that advance intimacy in early dating
March 17, 2021 10:56 AM   Subscribe

To help me as I work on communicating my boundaries better, I want to think through the typical actions/events early in dating specifically (like within the first 3-6 months) that can advance emotional intimacy, beyond sex/physical contact alone. Can you help me develop my list of these actions/events?

I'm working with a therapist on recognizing and communicating my boundaries, especially in the initial stages of dating and as they pertain to intimacy. My goal with this list is to make more intentional and active decisions around when I would feel ready for them to happen, which is a necessary precondition for me to be able to communicate those boundaries clearly to partners.

Here's the list I have so far:

Acknowledgment of Feelings
Saying a date was fun
Compliments reflecting their behavior, not them as a person
Compliments reflecting them as a person/identifying specific things I like about them
Saying "I like you"
Defining the relationship/making a commitment
Saying "I love you"

Going on a date for longer than 3 hours
Texting about things other than scheduling between dates
Sleep over
More than 2-3 dates per week
Hanging out multiple days in a row
Making plans more than a week in advance
Sleep over more than one night in a row
Giving a gift

Telling friends about them
Meeting friends
Mentioning them around coworkers

Support Behaviors
Asking them to help me think through my feelings
Asking for advice
Asking for a favor
Calling in a crisis

Discussion of Specific Topics

Issues I'm struggling with
Scary life experiences
Anything that's going to make me cry
posted by deus ex machina to Human Relations (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Making plans more than a week in advance

I agree with this, and would add Making spontaneous plans. I remember feeling like we'd taken a step in our relationship when my current boyfriend first said, "I know we have plans for later this week but I'd love to see you tonight too if you're free."

Also, one thing that sparked our first conversations about being exclusive was planning a day trip together.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 11:03 AM on March 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

Shared hardship. This bonds people, not just romantically (but also romantically). Generally we don't think of shared hardship as something we enter into intentionally, but I think of the example of a friend who—as a first date—went on a camping trip 450 miles away on the back of an aging motorcycle with her new beau. They're still married.
posted by adamrice at 11:57 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Meeting friends" - would extend to "merging social groups", for example I go to a party hosted by my friend and my date asks if they can bring their friend from college who is visiting. Another example is throwing a party together and inviting people from each social group.
posted by plinth at 12:09 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Having an adventure or outside-the-box experience together. It may be not super easy to make this happen, but my now-husband and I saw a play that had unadvertised really traumatic themes in it a few dates in to our relationship. We both had strong reactions and he still brings it up from time to time. I think it allowed us to see each other in an extreme emotional state and to comfort each other through it. I learned something about his history he probably would not have shared otherwise and I also saw what a kind, empathetic person he is.
posted by *s at 12:11 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Doing activities together that might be embarrassing/make you feel vulnerable (e.g. playing a sport you're not good at, karaoke)
Crying in front of your partner
Discussing family of origin stuff
Providing/receiving (constructive) criticism (like, at some point you're going to feel comfortable saying "maybe not that shirt babe" - that doesn't happen right away)
Giving your partner a key to your home
posted by yawper at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Having an argument.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Going for a walk together. In my experience it's a great situation in which to have a long but un-forced conversation (because you can always stop talking for a while, or say "oh hey, look at those flowers" or whatever).

Doing your individual grocery shopping (or other errands) but together.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:40 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great. Quick point of clarification- my larger goal is to avoid front-loading things that lead to intimacy as a result of not making an active decision about whether I’m ready for those things. So I’m NOT looking for ideas of how I can facilitate intimacy- I’m looking for things that I would feel inclined to do, that I need to instead reflect on and think about whether I’m moving faster than I want to before making a choice to go forward.

For context, in the past, the closest I’ve gotten to making an active decision about whether I want to do these things is remembering stories from people who did some wild way-too-fast first date thing and had their relationship turn out okay (mostly from AskMe), and then used that to justify moving way faster than the relationship was ready for just because I was excited about someone. I get that it can turn out okay, but it has exclusively led me to heartache and is exactly what I’m trying to avoid here.
posted by deus ex machina at 1:02 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Visiting each others homes
Meeting relatives/parents/siblings
Doing something you are not looking forward to (going to a tax appointment, going for an oil change, whatever that might be)
Talking about your plans for the future and your goals
Talking about having children and your desire/lack of desire to do so
Talking about your religion/lack of religion and the impact that has on your life.
Going someplace out of your normal experience (new-for-both restaurant/museum/event)
Taking them somewhere that is special or important to you in some way (restaurant where you celebrated your 30th birthday or the park where you took your favorite dog)

Also just going to link this NY times article. I think a lot of the questions are important conversations to have with someone that you want to invite into your life.
posted by AnneShirley at 1:05 PM on March 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

My first thought was "you need some spontaneity" to keep the stuff fresh and exciting. Scheduling everything may be good time-wise, but you may want to use a lottery wheel or some sort and pick something different each time, no changes unless it was the same as the last thing you two did. (or make it no three-peats, your house, your rules)

My second thought is you need to gift each other "The 5 languages of Love" and figure out what each of you responds to.

My third thought is vow to communicate, don't hold the feelings in. Clear your "board" every night, and the other person have to listen, then switch and repeat, THEN discuss. You can agree, you can agree to disagree, but get it out EVERY NIGHT (slight postponement due to life is acceptable, but don't put it off).
posted by kschang at 1:09 PM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: -leaving things at each other's houses on purpose to make staying there easier
-cleaning/doing dishes, etc at the other person's house
-picking things up from the store for each other
-hanging out together or staying overnight and not necessarily having sex?
-declining an invitation for an activity or event that you actually don't really want to do
-using your non-normal mode of communication (if you usually text, phoning them for some reason)
-doing any kind of work-event thing, like a company christmas party.
-attending a wedding together
-asking them to pick you up somewhere like from the airport or a bar.
-taking a trip or vacation together
-discussing your finances

one i'm having trouble articulating - being more normal around each other, like - getting up in the morning and not putting on makeup or getting dressed right away, wearing your underwear that isn't your best? Actually removing all your makeup and wearing a giant tshirt to bed like you do at home? that kind of thing.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Travel is generally a great test because travel tests all of us - it forces us to reveal how we respond to delayed transport, flat tires, not getting a great night's sleep due to an unfamiliar mattress, the disappointment of something being unexpectedly closed, etc.
posted by coffeecat at 2:49 PM on March 17, 2021

In response to your clarification of what you’re looking to do - maybe you could check in with yourself as you feel the relationship escalating step by step. Maybe on a weekly basis or you could do so before more interpersonal dates. Take the time to think about how you feel about what you & the date are going to do or how you feel about that last interaction. (Is it what I want? What exactly am I feeling ?) In order to set boundaries, don’t you first need to define (for yourself) what it is that you want/need? By being more deliberate in your thoughts ahead of time, & all along and communicating your thoughts, perhaps you can feel yourself moving in the relationship at a pace that reflects those needs.
posted by Katsquery20 at 2:58 PM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: Giving each other house keys
Allowing them to be in your space without you there
Loaning each other things like books and clothing
WiFi passwords
Sharing Netflix/Hulu/etc. passwords
posted by momus_window at 3:33 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cooking them a (special) meal
Baking for them
Doing a favor for them
posted by travertina at 4:00 PM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: One thing I would add under Support Behavior is the converse of what you listed - offering advice, offering favors (or agreeing to provide favors), or helping the other person think through their feelings. Not to say that it is bad to do these things, but both receiving and providing them can add to that "fast forward" sense of a relationship; in my experience it can be really exciting to have the other person escalating the emotional intimacy by requesting that kind of support from you, but again it's a moment to take a step back and think, "Is this a situation where I'm ready to have this much involvement with this person's emotional life, or am I just really excited about them and going with the flow?"
posted by posadnitsa at 5:10 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here are some convos I think are important that can be challenging, so if I felt resistant to have one of these convos I would try to slow down:

Agreeing to pandemic-bubble and setting boundaries around what behaviours feel unsafe

Telling them / redirecting them about how I like to be touched or kissed (if I feel shy to do so, that’s a red flag to slow down)

Discussing sexual health

Other markers of intimacy for me include:

Giving them my key / letting them enter or stay at my place when I’m not there

Telling them a password

Meeting parents / siblings
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:42 PM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: Keeping a toothbrush at your place for them.

Casual but intimate touch such as a hand on their back as you're passing them.


Going for a walk or a hike

Specific topics - what your/their goals in life are, what you're looking for in a relationship, what your/their passions are, favourite movies/books/poems/travel destinations
posted by daysocks at 6:45 AM on March 18, 2021

Response by poster: Updated list below! I'm going through and noting how long or after how many dates I would feel comfortable with each of these things happening, as part of a broader set of exercises where I'm also thinking about my needs and how to articulate boundaries. Usually people I'm dating are pushing for many of these right away, so this is feeling really helpful in helping me decide in a general sense when I'd be ready for them, without getting caught up in the emotion of the situation. And obviously I can adjust as needed. Thanks everyone!

Acknowledgment of feelings/affiliation
Saying a date was fun
Compliments reflecting their behavior, not them as a person
Compliments reflecting them as a person/identifying specific things I like about them
Saying I was looking forward to a date
Saying "I like you"
Noting things we have in common
Saying "I like this" or "this is good"
Acknowledging that I've been thinking about them
Acknowledging that I've told friends about them
Noting that you think they'd like something/someone
Discussing where the relationship is going
Saying "I miss you"
Loaning each other things
Defining the relationship/making a commitment
Keeping a toothbrush at each others' houses
Allowing them to be in my space without me there
Saying "I love you"
Giving them a spare key
Giving them a password to an account

Going on a date that lasts less than 3 hours
Going on a date that lasts longer than 3 hours
Texting about things other than scheduling between dates
Going over to their house
Watching a movie together at home
Having them over at my house
Sleeping over at their house
Sleeping over without having sex
Having them sleep over at my house
More than 2-3 dates per week
Going on a date spontaneously
Hanging out more than one day in a row
Crying in front of them
Making plans more than a week in advance
Planning a day trip together
Doing errands together
Being around each other without being "dressed up"
Doing chores together
Sleeping over more than one night in a row
Doing something potentially embarrassing/vulnerable together
Planning an overnight trip together
Taking them to a place that's personally meaningful
Doing something unpleasant/avoided together
Doing something involving both of our social groups

Helping them think through their feelings
Cooking them a special meal
Offering small favors
Giving them a gift
Giving them advice
Providing constructive criticism
Telling friends about them

Meeting their friends
Introducing them to my friends
Telling family about them
Mentioning them to coworkers
Meeting family
Going to a work event together

Physical intimacy
Kissing goodbye
Making out w/o having sex
Having sex
Holding hands in public
Random affectionate touch

Asking them to help me think through my feelings
Asking for advice
Making them a playlist
Asking them for a small favor
Calling them in a crisis
Asking them to give me a ride home from the airport

Talking about low-stakes problems
Discussing finances
Discussing whether you individually want children
Talking about problems in past relationships
Telling them I'm going to therapy
Sharing specific issues I'm struggling with
Talking about negative life experiences
Talking about anything that's going to make me cry
Telling them an embarrassing story
Talking about insecurities
posted by deus ex machina at 10:08 AM on March 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

Cooking a meal together - it's similar to travel or a project, but it's being in each other's space with one being familiar and one not, and involves talking about preferences and processes, and occasional stress moments. Similarly them cooking something at your house and vice versa.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:08 PM on March 18, 2021

Calling each other boyfriend/girlfriend - like, having the conversation about "how would you describe our relationship to your friends/family?"

Maybe a little sillier, but posting them on your social media. There's a funny joke I saw on twitter about "the soft launch of your new relationship" - for men, it's a picture of them but they tag the girlfriend as the photographer, and for women, it's a picture of the boyfriend's elbow and side profile. (I confess I've done exactly the elbow and side profile picture post during a relationship "soft launch" and received many messages from my girl friends to the effect of "is that a MAN arm??" LOL.)
posted by airplant at 7:00 PM on March 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is helpful, but if you haven't been great with boundaries, then something to think about is if you keep your schedule open or flexible in case they reach out. Let's say you don't have firm plans but you hope to see them. Are you not making other plans just in case, or do you ever rearrange your schedule to accommodate them?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:19 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, this might be an odd one and aligns with a few things on the list but: watching a movie you know will make you cry. I'm thinking of this because I just read an essay about a film that made me ugly cry for a long time afterwards, and I still haven't rewatched it and I want to, it's brilliant, but deliberately creating a situation where I am so emotional and vulnerable would be a move into a kind of intimacy I'm not sure I'm ready for.

Also talking about medical things - neurodiversity, diagnoses, weird quirks, that sort of thing.

Buying clothes for them.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:12 PM on March 19, 2021

I would take the items on the "giving" and "receiving" lists and duplicate them to make sure they mirror each other. That is, if "receiving" includes "asking for help in a crisis," then "giving" should likely include "responding to a crisis." I've definitely seen (this year especially) people respond in big ways without thinking it through when a partner's parent is hospitalized or they get sick and need care. And that's a really intimate thing that, while you want to be kind and helpful to people as you're getting to know them, can also lead to accidentally taking on more than you meant to before having the chance to talk about what it means or think through how you feel about it.

(On the other hand, a good friend of mine many years ago mentioned to a guy she had been on two dates with that she had thrown her back out, and he asked if he could come over, and he brought food and read to her and took care of her until she could get off the couch, and now they're married and have a kid, so sometimes that works out. But I think it falls into the general question you're asking, about checking in with yourself to make sure you feel good about new levels and kinds of intimacy as they're happening.)
posted by decathecting at 9:46 AM on May 12, 2021

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