Good Fences: Setting Boundaries In Online Relationships

Published on Author GG RayLeave a comment


The communication boom that has emerged in the past decade has changed almost every facet of our lives, and perhaps the most significant revolution has been in how it has changed the way we get into and maintain relationships. When the only choices for communication were the telephone or face-to-face encounters, the rules of engagement seemed a lot clearer, the groundwork having been long established.

There is a natural sense of boundaries that exist in our face-to-face encounters with people. The further one physically gets away from the person they are communicating with, however, the murkier the waters. One can say things on the telephone that they would perhaps have a harder time saying while looking someone in the eye. When communication further eliminates a person’s voice as well as their physical presence, they are yet another degree removed and one can be even bolder in pushing what would normally be comfortable boundaries.

For these reasons, the pacing of dating has been greatly affected by the use of the internet in many facets of dating. We meet people online, email, chat on messenger services. Some people carry on long distance relationships entirely online. Some people’s entire sexual lives are carried out online. If you want to have a traditional relationship that starts out online, you need to keep in mind that just because you are online, your usual relationship boundaries should stay in place if you are going to successfully take the relationship into the physical world.


If you meet someone online, there are several reasons to keep your boundaries intact at the beginning of the relationship. One reason is that people who are seeking a relationship online may perhaps embellish who or what they are in their lives. Of course, someone could do the exact same thing if you were to meet them out on the town, but it is just easier to fudge the truth a bit when you are dealing with someone strictly online. You want to make sure that the person you are getting to know is indeed who they say they are.

Another reason is that your boundaries are in place for good reason. Your boundaries are the ground rules that you have established for yourself, either consciously or unconsciously, in order to protect yourself from feeling vulnerable too early in a relationship. Just because the means of communication has changed doesn’t mean that the ground rules should.

Finally, if you are looking for a lasting relationship, the things that make online communication thrilling—that anonymity, the instant sense of intimacy that is wrapped up in one’s propensity to say much more in writing than they would in person—often lend themselves to a whirlwind, but ultimately short-lived, relationship. This is because the instant intimacy that is seemingly created in online communication, when one says more than they would in person, is often a false intimacy in that it is not built on mutual trust, respect, and feelings of closeness, but rather on the freedom of anonymous confession.

What can happen when you finally meet face-to-face is that you have divulged too much too soon to someone you don’t know or trust, and that can leave you feeling vulnerable or defensive, and wanting to walk away.

How To Set, And Respect, Boundaries

When you are beginning a relationship online, it is tempting to keep the communication online for a little while. It is simply easier and less cumbersome. You can email when you want, you can choose to be online and available if you are using a messaging service, and you can carefully craft what it is you want to say and how you say it. The beauty of email is that, if you are a good writer, you can carefully control how you present yourself in ways that more intimate and personal communication eliminates. We cannot delete dumb comments that we make in conversation, but we can consider them and delete them from an unsent email.

After a couple of exchanged emails, call the person and have a telephone conversation before you arrange to get together. It will give you a better idea of the person’s personality than carefully crafted emails. In the realm of a new relationship, messaging and texting should be reserved for flirting and perhaps finding someone in a large crowd. You need to be careful with messaging and texting, however. They are such abbreviated forms of communication, that if someone doesn’t know you well, it is difficult to regulate how your message is perceived.

I have been disconcerted by even close friends when messaging because I have mistaken a playful tone for a sarcastic one. If you don’t know each other very well and you are flirting online, you may inadvertently overstep some of her boundaries when your cute flirty comments are misconstrued as creepy.

I would suggest that when you meet someone online, make personal contact as quickly as you can once you have established that you are both interested. Once you have met in person, you can get a better sense of who the person is and if there is chemistry between you. Once you have actually met in person, and have a sense of each other’s senses of humour and general demeanor, you will have a little more to go on with any online communication.

One thing that online communication certainly can add to a new relationship is a great and uncomplicated way to flirt. The downside of this is that it is much easier to push the envelope with your flirting. While this may not seem like a downside, once again, pushing someone past their personal boundaries too quickly can cause embarrassment and regret, which makes people throw up their defences in person. If you are not with someone to see their reaction, it is so much more difficult to sense if you are pushing them past their comfort level.


One of the benefits of keeping your normal dating boundaries intact in the online world of dating is that any relationship requires some time to build enough trust that the two of you knock down the boundaries between you at a pace that you are both comfortable. This will eliminate some of the chance that you are going to rush into something that one or neither of you is ready for.

The thing that builds true intimacy in a relationship—that thing that makes you feel safe and cared for—is that trust that you know another person well enough that they are not going to exploit your vulnerabilities. When you buy into the phony instant intimacy of the online world, you are setting yourself up for more disappointment than is necessary in an already perilous dating scene.

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