The Mighty Logo

3 Ways I’m Setting Boundaries When Dating With Borderline Personality Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

In my experience, dating when you have borderline personality disorder (BPD) poses a series of significant challenges. The debilitating fear of rejection and abandonment can cause you to feel compelled to hold onto people, regardless of whether they are making you happy. This can happen even if the other person’s behavior toward you is inconsiderate, cruel or even abusive.

When you have borderline personality disorder, you tend to form significant and intense attachments to what is often referred to amongst those living with BPD as your “favorite person” or FP. This person is the pinpoint of your emotional universe. Your sense of self becomes reliant on their approval and nothing matters more than your relationship with them. For me, there is usually, but not always, a romantic element to this attachment and my favorite person is often my partner.

One of the dangers with this type of intense attachment is that you become all too willing to tolerate behavior that you would not otherwise when it comes from your favorite person. I was once attached to someone who would criticize everything about me. She would belittle and mock my abilities, my clothes, my weight, my skin and my personality on an almost daily basis. I also lost a lot of friendships due to my friendship with her and found myself even more isolated and dependent on her approval because of this. However, I found myself unable to break off my attachment to her despite all the pain the relationship between us was causing me. Even now, when she occasionally tries to make contact with me, I still feel compelled to reply to her out of fear, even though the attachment to her is broken and I have no desire to see her or be close to her again.

Due to this, and other recent experiences I’ve had, I have decided to put firm boundaries in place when it comes to dating. I have realized in order to protect myself, I need to be more assertive in the early stages of interacting with potential partners or even just potential friends in order to avoid difficulties arising in the event that I become attached to them. All too often, having BPD has caused me to ignore red flags in the early stages of dating. My last relationship was an experience that left both me and my partner extremely unhappy and is something I am still recovering from. However, for nearly all of the problems that arose in the relationship, there had been warning signs early on. I could see he had an unhealthy relationship with drugs, alcohol and his own emotions from our first date. By the next day, I also knew that he was extremely jealous and insecure. It is frustrating to know that I could have easily avoided what was to come if I had trusted my gut instincts. However, in this instance and others, I have been quick to ignore potentially harmful behavior due to chronic feelings of emptiness and loneliness and my overwhelming desire to feel loved.

Recently, I turned a corner by firmly telling a potential partner that their behavior was making me uncomfortable and refusing to take things any further with them. This may sound like a small victory, but for me it can be extremely challenging to let things go once I start to feel a connection with someone, even in the very early stages of dating. The behaviors displayed by this person were things that I have frequently allowed in past interactions. However, I have realized it is important for me to establish what my personal boundaries are and to refuse to settle for anyone who ignores or attempts to push past them. I believe if I can hold true to these boundaries early on in interactions with people, I have a better chance to avoid forming yet another attachment to someone who is hugely detrimental to my mental well-being.

Here is a list of some of the behaviors I have decided I am no longer willing to accept from others. These were also my reasons for ending my interactions with the potential partner I was referring to earlier.

I am no longer willing to date people who…

1. Purposely and consistently try to create jealousy, insecurity or other negative emotions within me.

As someone with BPD, I feel every emotion intensely and can be triggered easily by the actions of others. Therefore, when it comes to dating, I find that direct communication about what I can and can’t put up with is important.

When I first start dating someone, I work under the assumption that if I am not exclusively dating them, they will likely be seeing other people or talking to other people romantically. I respect their freedom to do this and understand that I do not own them and that they can do as they please.

However, I do not wish to be constantly updated by the person I am dating on the other people they may be interacting with romantically or sexually, especially when this is done in a bid to play mind games and make me jealous. This is something I have experienced several times in the past and I have found that often when I try to explain that I don’t want to have these conversations with people, it either falls on deaf ears or becomes something they try to blame on me.

Therefore, I have an “out of sight, out of mind” rule when it comes to the very early stages of dating. I told the individual I had been speaking to that I was not interested in hearing about his interactions with others on a sexual or romantic level that occur while he is interacting with me. Despite this, he felt inclined to tell me if other girls were messaging him and with details of what they were saying to him and the compliments they were paying him. He would then openly admit this was in a bid to make me jealous so he knew I was interested in him. At first, I took this as a compliment — he liked me enough to make me jealous. How sweet. However, this was manipulation. He should not have purposely tried to instill feelings of insecurity or jealousy in me for reassurance that I was interested, especially when I had clearly stated on multiple occasions that I did not want to know about this subject.

2. Consistently attempting to push my sexual boundaries.

I am going through a period of feeling very insecure about my body and my looks. Therefore, the idea of sending photos of myself to someone, naked or otherwise, appeals even less to me now that it normally would. And believe me, the appeal has never been there to begin with.

Far too often, I have experienced people pestering me and harassing me with requests to send them photos of a sexual nature. This is sexual harassment. The rules of consent still apply when asking someone for sexual material. If I say no, it means no, not “ask me again later.” I had told this person that I was not comfortable with something. I should not have had to endure him repeatedly asking me for the same thing.

In the past I have found myself giving into requests I am uncomfortable with purely so I can stop being bombarded by the same requests over and over again. I have now realized that if my gut instinct about something of such a nature is that I don’t want to, then I shouldn’t be made to and I won’t. I have a right not to be pushed against if I assert that my body belongs to me and is not to be viewed by whoever pesters me enough to see it.

3. Using “jokes” as a thinly veiled means of consistently undermining or criticizing me.

I am happy for my friends or partners to tease me and make fun of me. This can be an enjoyable and healthy part of relationships when done with mutual respect and boundaries in place. The issue I have found is that, often, my partners have used jokes to say what they really think but to use the claim that it is a joke to avoid any consequences of their words. Often, I have experienced people making jokes about me out of insecurity and an attempt to gain the upper hand. This type of behavior is something I am no longer willing to tolerate.

I am someone who has had a complicated past and has dated a lot of people. This is something that partially comes from BPD. I find it very difficult to be single due to the complex emotional needs I have, which can feel difficult to navigate without a partner for support or validation from others. Therefore, dating and the validation that comes with it is something I usually seek out. I am also hugely impulsive and therefore I have done things in the past that I regret or am ashamed of. However, I have found that sometimes when I disclose these things to others, they use the guise of “joking” to actively criticize me for these things due to their own insecurity, jealousy or judgment about my past behavior.

Opening up about your past requires a huge amount of trust and vulnerability. When I alluded to past events in my life with the individual I was speaking to, as it was relevant to the conversation, he felt it was his place to consistently mock me for my past. He admitted that it was because he felt insecure and that I had had far more life experience than him, but in my opinion that does not excuse his behavior. This was something I also experienced from my ex-boyfriend. He would use “humor” as a way of criticizing me for the things I had done before I met him that he didn’t like. I find this hugely frustrating and hurtful. If someone has an issue with my past behavior, I would far rather them have a sensible and sensitive conversation with me about it or even look elsewhere if they can’t accept that part of me.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Originally published: September 11, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home