Dating Don’ts: How Not To Approach Exclusivity

You know that stupid saying, “assuming makes an ass of you and me”? I hate that saying, it’s annoying, but in the case of dating, it’s true. You may be having omigodtheverybesttimeofyourlife dating this new and wonderful creature. You may be spending every weekend at his place and making stupid shmoopy eyes at each other over dinner and playing tonsil hockey in the park like teenagers, but that DOES NOT make him your boo. At least not until you’ve discussed it and have both agreed upon the terms of service for your relationship.

How do I know this? Oh, because I’ve made this mistake before. Too many times. The first time I made it was when I was 18. I went away for the summer after my freshman year of college, assuming that the letters and packages and emails my dude sent me meant we were in a serious, committed relationship. It did to me — but not to him. When I came back to town in the fall — actually, before the fall because I missed him so much — he abruptly left me for the girl who lived across the hall. She wore striped knee socks and played the guitar. I would watch him come over to visit her through my peephole. It was awful. She later became a famous rock star and dumped him. Oh, KARMA.

I should have learned then, but I didn’t. I learned that girls who wear striped knee socks are trouble, yes, but I continued to make assumptions about exclusivity up until my 30s, and usually ended up the ass who got my feelings hurt. After my 30th birthday, I decided to take the opposite approach and go out of my way to leave my options wide open until the dude broached the subject of exclusivity.

In my last relationship, for example, I continued to date a number of guys up until the very day we had THE TALK, three months into dating. I thought somehow, this dating lots of people thing and not committing myself too soon was supposed to make me feel more powerful. It didn’t. It made me feel like even more of an ass, just in a different way. Juggling these guys, sorting through the different shades of caring for them, trying to build a connection with all of them at once, trying to schedule multiple dates per week, left me lying awake at night, exhausted, with my stomach in knots, worrying about hurting someone’s feelings. When we finally became exclusive, I thought all this anguish was worth it. But my exclusive guy ended up dumping me a few months later. My feelings were still hurt.

After all of this, I made a decision for myself: I can only date one person at once. That being said, I don’t assume I’m exclusive with that one person.

Recently, my stance on the matter was tested. I have been dating someone I really like for about a month now. Right after we went on our first date, I met another guy at a wedding I attended. We exchanged numbers, I heard from Wedding Guy a few days later and he informed me that he was having surgery and would be out of commission for a few weeks. In that time, I racked up six more dates with First Date Guy, making him Sixth Date Guy. Our connection was growing. When Wedding Guy was healthy and called me to make a date, I panicked.

It felt way too soon to have the exclusivity talk with Sixth Date Guy, but too far in for me to go out on a date with someone else. And was Sixth Date Guy going out with other girls? What if he was and I wasn’t? Did that mean I was more into him than he was into me? Was I going to ruin everything by making the wrong decision?

I am boring you with the details of my dating life/neurosis. I apologize. Let me jump right to the lesson. Here’s what I came up with: I was approaching this dating dilemma in the wrong way. It wasn’t about exclusivity, it was about subjectivity.

I realized I had always felt so anxious before — either assuming exclusivity or going out of my way to be non-exclusive– because I wasn’t exercising agency in my dating life. I was dating multiple people preemptively, to avoid getting hurt or I was assuming exclusivity until the guy confirmed otherwise. Point being: I was waiting for someone else to make a decision about what felt right for me. How dumb is that?

This time, I decided I was waiting for no one, I would make my decision based on what felt comfortable to me, regardless of what Sixth Date Guy was doing. I contacted Wedding Guy and told him the truth: That since we’d met, I’d been spending time with someone else, and it felt wrong for me to go on a date. And guess what? It was liberating.

Maybe Sixth Date Guy wouldn’t have made the same decision as me if he had been in a similar situation. Maybe he would have gone on the date. That’s OK. Sixth Date Guy is following what feels right for him. He can date other people if that’s what he needs to do. And I can NOT date other people if that’s what feels right to me.

The point of all this? There is no right decision you can make, in regards to dating other people, that will make you feel any less vulnerable when getting to know someone. That’s the truth. But this I can say for sure: Being honest about what feels right to you makes it way easier to sleep at night.