Exclusivity: How and when to broach it

A DG reader wrote:

“I’d love to see a blog from you on how and when to decide to date just one person. I do struggle with this issue. I figure I’ll wait ’til they bring it up, but they haven’t, and I’m pretty sure they’ve assumed we’re an item and I’m not dating others. Although I prefer to keep my options open and date more than one until we have an agreement, I think I risk alienating really great guys who might be surprised and dismayed to find I’m open to dating others. And yet, I do like to keep a full social schedule. Such a predicament

“I seem to have a high capacity for socializing at this time in my life, and am looking for a guy who ultimately wants to be together maybe 4 or even 5 nights a week. Perhaps that’s higher than average? Just like I wanted, I’m finding wonderful, balanced men who have friends and outside activities. however, they don’t seem to have the same dating capacity I do. So although I want an exclusive relationship, I feel that rather than have unrealistic expectations of them or (worse!) compromise what I want, perhaps I should just continue the odd additional date here and there to keep my schedule as full as I like. Really, 2 men would be perfect, and I even have the 2 lined up, but would they go for that? And would dating 2 ‘exclusively’ jeopardize both? Should I just do it and not bring it up?”

I am facing this issue myself, so will share my thoughts, though am still sorting it out.

The “experts” say to let the guy bring up the exclusivity talk, otherwise you’ll sound needy. I’ve recommended this myself. But frankly, I’ve not brought it up even if I’ve dated a guy for a while because I knew we weren’t long-term material. So not bringing it up allowed me to still date around with impunity.

At this point, I’ve decided it depends on how interested I am with focusing on just the beau du jour. It there isn’t anyone that pulls your attention away from him, and you think you are pretty well suited, why not focus on just him and see how it plays out?

However, if you don’t think he can fill your social needs, why settle on just one? But maybe he doesn’t realize you’d like to have more together time, so I’m all for bringing it up. While these conversations are difficult to begin, they are so much better than assuming. Perhaps he is willing to see you 3-4 days a week, then you can tell him your other options are to see other guys or go out with gal pals. See what he says. If he says, “Go ahead and see other guys,” you know he’s not serious about you, and if that’s okay with you, great. You can still play together when it fits your calendars, but he may also be playing with other women.

poker chipsBut if you’ve dated him multiple times and don’t say anything about seeing others, I think you are setting yourself up for some drama. Best to put the cards on the table and if the chips fly, so be it (sorry for the poker metaphor!).

For me, I’m leaning toward having the exclusivity discussion as you get nearer having sex together. At that point, I think it appropriate to ask how the other feels about dating others and share your truthful opinion. I think he will get it if you couch it like, “I don’t think you’d like it if I was sleeping with other men, and so I don’t want you sleeping with other women while we’re being intimate. While I’m not asking for or expecting a long-term commitment, I am asking for and expecting we both won’t see others while we are seeing each other.” Then ask what he thinks about this.

You’ll find out very soon how he feels — assuming he is honest.

And no, girlfriend, you cannot date two men “exclusively!”

Let us know what you do and how it turns out!

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8 responses to “Exclusivity: How and when to broach it”

  1. EED Avatar

    First post here. I am a 44 yo single mom with an 8 year old daughter. Less than a year after my ex-husband and I separated, I became involved exclusively with a man for almost a year and a half. We broke up last June. I have not dated since. In September, at the urging of mutual friends, a 51 yo man from Austin and I began an email correspondence. We email once a week and talk by phone once a week. We met in November – surrounded by friends and kids – and had a really nice time together. In our conversations and emails we flirted, expressed interest and threw out the ocassional sexual innuendo. Then in December, after I asked if he was dating anyone, he said he had reconnected with a woman last summer – that they had “hooked up” maybe 4-5 times since then – most recently 2 weeks earlier – that it was passionate, sweet and friendly and that neither of them had interest in making it more of a relationship. Yet, it bothered me … a lot. I am a “one at a time” kind of girl. I like exploring the possibility of a relationship with someone – one person at a time. Granted I haven’t “dated” in decades and from the sounds of it – it is now the norm to be dating many people at once … ok, I get that … but if someone is sleeping with someone else – even if it is only an ocassional “hook-up” is that reason to stop engaging? FYI- the Austin guy is coming to the Northeast at the end of February and I know he will ask to get together. Do I ignore the fact that he sleeps with someone ocassionally? Do I ask if he is still hooking up with this other person and decline a date with him if he is? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? I just don’t get how you can give an attraction to someone a chance to unfold (or fold up and go home) if you have your oars in other ponds so to speak? Finally, my marriage ended because I discovered my husband of 13 years was having an affair … and so I am aware that I have a “slight” sensitivity to this issue. The Austin guys response was “we have known each other 8 hours … relax and let’s see where this goes.” I thought it was an appropriate response, but what about the “hook-ups”? Any advice or thoughts appreciated.

  2. Michele Avatar

    The exclusivity talk……….ugh……..my experience has been that two/three months (MAX) is about right, provided you are seeing each other and talking reguraly AND YOU want a long-term relationship with him…BUT……….I prefer to let him bring it up…….if you are intimate with him and you haven’t had the “talk” then you should be using condoms, most men hate them, so eventually they will ask when can we get rid of these and your response, if you want to be exclusive, “As soon as we are exclusive” of course. On the other hand if the condoms don’t bother him and he doesn’t ask about losing them, he may be telling you that he is intimate with others. I go back to the two/three month benchmark, at which point you start the talk IF you want long-term. My experience is you will either both be on the same page or discover issues that may or not be able to be resolved. Try to keep your attachment as neutral as possible until the talk, because in the event you need to move on, your rebound time will be less both in terms of time and heartache. “Dorthy we are not in Kansas anymore!”

  3. Dating Goddess Avatar


    «Do I ignore the fact that he sleeps with someone ocassionally? Do I ask if he is still hooking up with this other person and decline a date with him if he is? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?»

    I know you’ve heard of f-buddies and bootie calls. Perhaps that’s why your Austin guy is doing. Some people can have sex without an emotional attachment.

    My suggestion is just see what develops with him. You haven’t known him long. As things heat up, there will be plenty of opportunity for this discussion before you take the relationship to the next level.

    BTW, I’ve had 4 long-distance false starts. None of them worked out. Too hard to get a connection via phone and email that lasts when you’re together. I’ve had some great connections with them, but then it fizzled when we were together for very long.

  4. Aggressively Single Avatar
    Aggressively Single

    Good timing, as I had an issue last night with a 6 week old relationship where I had the feeling he thought we were pretty much exclusive, but it had not been discussed yet, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to bring it up. Sure enough, he let me know he was upset that I’d made Friday night plans with a guy friend (hey, I waited ’til Thursday!!), then invited him along. Turns out he didn’t AT ALL like being invited as the 2nd guy, even though the friend is truly a good friend and we’ve no interest in each other.

    I guess I made a tactical error, and I’m interested to hear if other guys would agree with him, or take it in stride. Hmmm? Up side was that it did force a conversation about expectations and help us learn more about eachother. Turns out he did assume that since we’ve had plans together the last 4 Friday evenings it was a given. I did not make that assumption. Guys, would you feel this way also, and not feel the need to make plans with the woman a few days in advance? And turns out, he had also been a little put off by me referring to him (to others) as my “date”, but what are you supposed to do, call him your boyfriend and risk that it is premature and will scare him off?

    Honestly, part of me was a little thrilled at this psuedo macho reaction, as we’re a great match and I do want a relationship and this was the first undeniable sign I’d seen that he feels the same way. We still need to finalize that discussion, but oddly I still feel awkward being the one to bring it up. People, how do we all make this easier?

  5. Gatti Avatar

    My ex (we split up in October, though things were up and down for at least two years before that) is moving in with a woman he met 6 weeks ago. Well, not exactly moving in with, she’s in another country for 6 months and he’s going to live rent free in her house, but be a couple when she visits home and eventually moves back. I don’t love him anymore and I certainly don’t want him back but I am simply gobsmacked. 6 weeks??? And I felt a bit premature dating again two months after we split up…

  6. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Ah, Gotti, I can relate to your feeling “gobsmacked” (great word. Is it British?). I was dumbfounded to receive a letter from my ex this Christmas informing me he had remarried. Wow! Part of why he left was he said he wanted to be alone so he could focus on his spiritual quest, and he couldn’t do that if he was in a relationship. So either he has made sufficient progress on his quest, was lying to me, or got horny! We’ve been divorced now 2 years, and apart 3.5. I can’t imagine being married so quickly, but then the data shows that men remarry faster than women.

    So maybe your ex got lonely.

  7. Gatti Avatar

    Well, DG, I shouldn’t be too surprised by this. When I moved out (he told me to leave, by the way) I told him he should register as single with the county because you pay less Council Tax. He told me, po faced, that he wouldn’t bother because he didn’t plan to be in the house by himself for that long.

    How prescient! Six weeks after that someone contacts him (on Match.com, but the way…), and six weeks later they are sharing their lives and her house.

    Yes, gobsmacked is British (I live in the UK), and I hope that she isn’t too terribly that when she finds out that he’s verbally abusive. He was to his last partner, he was to me, he was and often still is to his family.

    Somehow I don’t think a couple of months on his own has changed him all that much. Yes, lonely, surely…

  8. Aggressively Single Avatar
    Aggressively Single

    I feel for you Gatti. Although I feel 90% recovered I’m actually not even officially divorced yet, and I know the day my ex tells me he’s moved in with someone will bring it all flooding back. I only hope that this will facilitate the 10% of healing that remains to be done!

    On the exclusivity talk, I’m now reading “why men love bitches” – which is better than it sounds – and they recommend the woman NEVER is the one to bring this up, makes you sound too needy. I understand that take, but not sure I agree. Anyone else??