What does “I’m not ready to be exclusive” mean to you?

The other day I was helping a newly dating pal navigate dating waters. He’s been dating about 6 months after the breakup of a long-term relationship and was multidating. He’s gone out with one woman multiple times in the last 6 weeks — we’ll call her Amy — and continues to see other women including another woman he’s seen 5 times. Let’s call this woman Betty. Amy is head-over-heels for him and thinks he’s The One. They’ve slept together a few times.

He’s not specifically told Amy about Betty or any of the other woman, but feels he’s communicated by saying “I’m not ready to be exclusive.” When we talked, he was feeling he and Betty were going to get intimate on their next date in a few days.

He is a good guy, very thoughtful, conscientious and sensitive. He’s not a player, which I define as someone who is knowingly deceitful to get what he wants. He called because he wanted to ensure that he had done the right thing with Amy by telling her he wasn’t ready to be exclusive. I had to tell him the bad news.

“If a man told me he wasn’t ready to be exclusive, I wouldn’t necessarily think that meant he was actively seeing other women. And I certainly wouldn’t think that meant he was sleeping with someone else. I’d think he just needed more time with me to decide he was ready to feel committed.

“If a man says, ‘I’m not being exclusive’ or ‘I’m continuing to meet other women’ I’d know he was seeing others. But saying, ‘I’m not ready to be exclusive’ is a different message.”

A man once shared that a woman he’d been interested in had said she wasn’t willing to be exclusive. She wanted to date a variety of men. Isn’t it interesting how the phrasing can mean different things?

He was not happy that he had to be that explicit. But without doing so she could have a very different interpretation of what he thought was clear. He didn’t want to be duplicitous so he knew he had to have a more specific conversation with her as well as with Betty.

I told him for many (most?) midlife women, having concurrent multiple sexual partners was considered bad form, even assuming protected sex. We might have done this in college, but now we’re older and presumedly wiser. While some feel that as long as they haven’t promised exclusivity, they can sleep around, the women I know say that feels cheap and is not what they prefer if they are looking for a long-term relationship.

How would you interpret “I’m not ready to be exclusive” if you heard it from a man you were sexual with?

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12 responses to “What does “I’m not ready to be exclusive” mean to you?”

  1. Janet Avatar

    As I was reading this, I immediately assumed he meant he wants to date/sleep with others. If a woman said it, she could mean that she’s not ready to be a couple/see each other often. If a man says it, I take it to mean something different.

  2. Janet Avatar

    Another thought – he might not want to be explicit with her as he is trying to be a gentleman about it – he doesn’t want to hurt her and hope she gets the message. I’m not a guy, but that is how I read men and their communication style.

  3. Arlene Clear Avatar
    Arlene Clear

    He’s fooling no one but himself. What you describe is a player. He is feigning ignorance in order to hedge his bets and get as much as he can out of other people without regard for their feelings. He’s being deceptive. He’s letting one person involve her feelings while in some sort of a relationship with another woman. He’s not telling the truth. Add the unrevealed sexual relationship to his behavior and what you have is a player.

  4. Meari Avatar

    If anyone says they not ready to be exclusive, I take it to mean they’re seeing other people. With that said, he should have been VERY specific to both women that he was seeing others… especially before sleeping with any of them.

  5. Lisa Avatar

    If a man told me that, I would immediately suspect he was dating other women and would ask him about it, but then I would not think that any man who had just came out of a long term relationship was good dating material for someone looking to find “The One.” The man should be more honest and direct, but the women need to ask questions too before they sleep with someone–if they are indeed looking for an eclusive relationship. Never assume anything.

    Having fun is one thing, but looking for “the one” requires being more selective. Everyone wants love and affection, but women who are serious about finding a long term partner need to stop so easily offering themselves as the entree is some newly divored man’s smorgasboard of options. I can empathize with this man’s confusion, but he is being slimy and he should know better, but then too if the woman is really looking for something serious, she needs to take responsibility and ask the right questions before sleeping with someone. I may be wrong, but I don’t think anyone who is just out of a long term relationship is good dating material for someone looking for something long term.

  6. Almita Avatar

    If someone told me, “I am not ready to be exclusive,” I would understand this to mean that they don’t want to be exclusive WITH ME. In other words, they did not see me as relationship material and were just using me for company and sex. I would be pretty upset, especially if this pronouncement were made after we had already had sex.

  7. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Thanks Janet, Arlene, Meari, Lisa and Almita, for your perspectives.

    Arlene: He’s not at all what I would call a player. He thinks he was being transparent by telling Amy he wasn’t ready to be exclusive. He is not deceptive. I’ve known him a long time and he is one of the most ethical and considerate men I know.

  8. aniza Avatar

    As I see this, I immediately assumed he meant he wants to date/sleep with others. If a woman said it, she could mean that she’s not ready to be a couple/see each other often. If a man says it, I take it to mean something different. to them.

  9. Chris Avatar

    If a man I was very interested in (and whom I had sex with) told me that he wasn’t ready to be exclusive, I would be very hurt and no longer interested in continuing to date him. I would take it to mean he also wants to have sex with other women. In my world that’s a no no. If the man had not made a play for me sexually and only took me out on dates…that would be fine. He would have every right to see other women and expect those other women not to be upset. But, if a woman continued sleeping with a man that wasn’t ready to be exclusive…would he ever become exclusive with her? Why would he, when he can have his cake and eat it too. I’d like to see how fast a man would drop me if after he had spent money on nice dinners, flowers etc. I told him I wasn’t ready to be exclusive. So a guy would still date me knowing that I’m going out with a different guy the following night and possibly sleeping with him too?….no chance!

  10. Rosie Avatar

    This story once again shows that when dating, especially online dating (where you basically don’t know anything about the person – contrary to when it is someone you met via friends or work), you should not assume anything. You should ask, even if it means being blunt. And if you are looking for an exclusive relationship, as in being each boyfriend and girlfriend in a monogamous relationship, you should wait to sleep and be intimate with a guy unless you know that you are in such a monogamous serious “hoping that it becomes longterm” relationship. Make sure that there is also a relationship on the emotional, “soul” level.

    I am saying that because I have experienced first hand that a lot of men simply want women for some company and sex and have no problem to take that from them when they know very well that they will never want something serious with these women. They also seem to have no problem sleeping with one woman one day and with another one the other way; creating some database of women he can meet whenever he feels like sleeping with the petite blond or the tall brunette. And most probably this man will think of himself as not being a player but we all know he is.

    I have to say that for starters I find it very difficult to understand how one can like to sleep with different people at the same time because for me (but I am a woman) I can only sleep with a man when I have profound feelings for him and these profound feelings simply mean that I only want to sleep with him and with no one else. OK we can say that men are different than women but I think that there also big differences between men. And if you want a serious relationship a guy who has no problem with casual intimate relationships if not material for a serious relationship.

    So my position on this has become that I first want to get to know a man on a platonic level. If I find out he is sleeping with one or several women I stop the contact because in my book this means that he is not available for a relationship. Multidating is only OK for me as long as no actions take place which are the typical actions which take place in a monogamous relationship, so no kissing on the mouth, no holding hands, no sleeping together. If deeper feelings are there, we can take it to another level but only if both parties end all contact with the other people they were seeing.

    I know this might sound strict but I have had my heart broken a couple of times by not daring to rock the boat…

  11. Steve Avatar

    Being a guy all I can say is that perhaps some men would rather enjoy being with more than one woman at the same time. At least until he decides who he wants to spend all his time with. Sometimes for some people making this decision can be difficult and requires more time.

  12. lm Avatar

    I’m not sure why these guys, who continue to deceive women by withholding information from them that they KNOW would hurt them – emotionally, possibly physically – nonetheless still continue to be referred to in common parlance as “good” guys/men. These are NOT good guys. Good guys – good people – do not deliberately deceive people they are looking to be intimate with.