I typically cover this topic in a full, two-hour workshop but I'll try and hit the key points here.
Finding a new play partner is never easy, especially now when so many people are aware of kink and each has their own definition of what their kink means to them. Time and time again, people ask Me to help them navigate after a situation where they've jumped into the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually, it happens because of desperation and wanting to just get their kink on, then they ignore their own personal needs and safety. Take your time. Don't jump into something out of frustration.
If you ask anyone "in the know" they will tell you to just put yourself out there, go to events, and vet for safety. But what does that MEAN? Basically, it means that in order to meet people, you must be around people. But what it really means is, watch people playing at play parties. Observe their style of play and decide if it is in sync with your own. Take the chance to observe people in social situations and see if there's a "click" or an "ew". Ew factors happen, and that's ok. But remember that a click or an ew for you may be something totally different for someone else. It's all about YOU. Even a potential who had a negative experience with someone else doesn't mean it would be a negative experience for you (and this is why I don't recommend asking for community references).
While it is important to vet your potentials, it's also important to know what that means. If a potential tells you negative experiences about their past partners (or even current ones!) that can be a red flag. Vetting is often misconstrued as "permissible gossip". It is not. Whenever a company vets a new CEO, they don't chat around the water cooler. They make factual, insightful observations. Vetting is evaluating, observing, and deciding for yourself.
The only person you have the right to discuss your scenes with is the person you scened with. If anybody asks Me about a person I've played with, My response is simply to acknowledge that we had, in fact, played. Literally any other question is subjective and actually smacks on slander (libel if it's written). Even whether or not they respected consent. Unless you, personally, were involved in all aspects of a scene you simply cannot claim to know what happened. Essentially, negative feedback from one person does not necessarily preclude play. All it means is that someone had a bad experience, and that can be attributed to so many factors.
Knowing the types of play you are into is also essential. Do you know your hard limits? Hard limits are absolute no-go situations or kinks, like playing in public or scat play. Nobody has the right to shame for any kinks or limits. And this also means someone who says "oh, you just haven't had it done right yet". This is a very clear sign of a lack of respect for limits and an implied violation of consent. Red flag!
Another thing to watch for is if the person is trustworthy. When you talk to them, do they listen and respond appropriately? Are they trying to force their views onto you? Do you feel that they are someone you can trust with your life? And yes, it is your life you are trusting them with. Just because people believe that "the sub has all the power because they can call red any time" doesn't mean for a millisecond that a sleazy Top won't ignore that red. Furthermore, if you aren't honest with your past experience then many newer Tops might also not perform body reads (because they haven't learned them properly) and play can go from Woohoo to Woops real fast. Honest introspection and self-awareness go a very long way here.
Once you find a partner, always remember to be thorough in your negotiations. Negotiation should always include who, what, when, and where. As a Domme, I also ask the why for a first-time play with a new partner. And always remember to self-advocate. And now I'm thinking next week's topic is Negotiation! Be sure to check back and read all about it.
Once covid winds down, I am looking at once again organizing "Open Dungeon" parties, this time in Calgary! For those unfamiliar, Open Dungeon is a great place for a new partner pairing can have a safe, supervised play scene. Smaller parties, no hoops to jump, and drama-free. Just a furnished, supervised Dungeon for you to get your kink on! Stay tuned for more info!