The beginning of a relationship is the best time to bring up your expectations. Is the situation flexible until someone says otherwise? Are you expecting everyone involved not to see anyone else straight from the first date until there is a clear end? Are you polyamorous or practicing ethical non-monogamy?

If you’re seeking casual hookups, but open to the possibility of romance, say so. If you’re only looking for something casual or something serious and don’t want any possibilities or gray areas, you can say that, too. Sharing early on helps prevent confusion and miscommunication.

1. COVID-19 Status

Given the current state of affairs, asking someone about their vaccination status and precautions is an excellent idea. People have very different opinions, as well as different risks and/or vulnerabilities, related to the various strains. Consent requires that everyone is aware and has a choice about the type of risk they are taking.

2. STIs & Safe Sex Practices

This is another area where explicit conversations are important. Some people assume they do not have any sexually transmitted infections and will say they do not have any without actually getting tested. Discuss when you were last tested, if you are all willing to be tested, and the types of barrier methods needed to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

Remember:

  • The most common STI symptom is NO symptom
  • Infections, viruses, etc. take time to incubate in the body, which means that if you had unprotected sex last month and got tested a couple of weeks later, you could still be a carrier, even if the tests came back negative
  • Condoms can be worn for oral sex on a penis and dental dams can be used for oral sex on vulvas and anuses

3. Communication

People communicate in a multitude of verbal and non-verbal ways and that’s OK. Sometimes though, our communication styles can be off-putting, confusing, or even harmful to others who have different ways of expressing themselves. Identify and share the following, which can help you adapt to your own communication style and challenges:

  • How you respond to conflict, fear, and sadness
  • How you express joy and gratitude
  • How you enjoy receiving care or love
  • How you demonstrate care or love
  • Whether you understand or use sarcasm or are more literal
  • Which methods of communication are best (texting, calling, in person)
  • What your attachment style is and how it affects your relationships

If you’re not sure where to start, try this quiz to help spark some thoughts about your own preferences.

4. Shared Interests

You don’t need to have a lot of overlapping shared interests, but it’s good to have a couple. You will be able to share your special interests with one another, but it’s OK if your passions don’t overlap. It’s possible to celebrate partners without having to actively participate in everything they do.

5. Boundaries

Practicing naming and respecting boundaries with everyone is a healthy practice. When done well, it increases our ability to be fully present and at ease with others. Within romantic relationships, it can be vital to avoid fear and discomfort in sexual encounters. You can also avoid being overwhelmed or distressed in general interactions. For example, discuss boundaries or acts that are off-limits when you are available to respond to calls or hang out.

6. Values

Difference of opinion is normal and healthy, but can be a dealbreaker when you do not share important values. These might include honesty, openness, kindness, assertiveness, human rights topics, political values, etc.

Tip: My most recent trick is to ask myself whether I’d want hypothetical children to share the values of the person I am dating or considering dating. Regardless of whether you want kids, you probably have opinions about values to instill in the next generation of humankind. Your reflection on that question may lead you to an answer about compatibility.

7. Sexual & Romantic Preferences

If there are things that matter greatly to you, it’s important to bring them up. This might include whether you engage in sexual activity or whether you are monogamous/non-monogamous. For example, I immediately let folks know I’m polyamorous and queer because I need to know that me being me doesn’t pose an issue for the relationship and that these identities can influence the relationship. But I can choose when to express that I am also kinky because I do not need every partner to share that with me, so it feels less relevant. This does not mean you owe disclosure about personal things to others – you are the one who decides when and what to share.

8. Trauma Triggers/Responses & Needs

For people who experience flashbacks or triggers to past traumas, it can be important to know how people might respond in those situations. Sometimes, you know what your triggers are and what helps bring you back to a less agitated state. In this case, sharing that information can support a person in responding appropriately. If you don’t know, share that there will be times when you’ll need additional support to avoid harmful responses. Asking the same of your partners can help support them, too.

This list is not comprehensive and you might find there are items you don’t need. However, I hope it has helped you think through what you’re looking for when it comes to compatibility!

Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez

Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez

Sex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael R Rosenstock Gonzalez is a sex educator, researcher, author, speaker, and curriculum developer. As a queer, polyamorous, white-presenting Nuyorican Jew, Yael has always been interested in understanding the multi-level experiences of individuals. This led her to found Kaleidoscope Vibrations, LLC, a company dedicated to supporting and creating spaces for individuals to explore and find community in their personal identities. Through her company, she facilitates workshops, develops curriculum, offers Identity Exploration Coaching, and publishes narratives often left out of mainstream publishing.

Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.