Are We Exclusive?
Let's say you've gone out several times with someone you like, but you haven't stopped talking to other potential dates. When is it OK to keep playing the field without discussing it, and when do you need to clarify whether you're exclusive or not?
Of course, like everything with dating, we all approach this kind of talk differently. Our course of action also depends on how attracted and attached we are to the other person. Here are a few common strategies and some possible consequences.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
When you've been dating for a few weeks and things look likely to continue, you both naturally start wondering if your partner is dating someone else too. If you're unsure of your feelings or want to protect your own ability to date around, you employ the "don't ask, don't tell" strategy. You try to keep your dates in different locations so that you won't run into each other, and you give vague answers to questions about what you did Friday night.
If you refer to your other dates as "friends," you may be misleading your dating partner. The danger is that he or she finds out by accident - worst case, by running into you with your arms around another sweetie - and dumps you. So this tactic is best used if you won't be heartbroken when your partner says "see ya!" because you're dating around.
If you want to continue playing the field until you're sure about how you feel, but don't want to confront the issue directly, you can drop hints to let your partner know there's some competition for your affection. For example, you mention that you don't want to go to a certain restaurant because you just ate there last week. If your partner asks who you were with, you can give a clue by saying, "someone who didn't have your taste in fine wine," or some other compliment. Just make sure you're sincere in noting your partner's attributes and then change the subject to what you two plan to do together on your next date.
If your date directly confronts you about seeing someone else, you can say something like, "I really like our time together. But I assume you're seeing other people too, since we haven't discussed any exclusive arrangement." That keeps you in a less-defensive stance and clarifies that his or her expectations may not be the same as yours. Again, the danger is that your partner finds this arrangement unacceptable and tells you to hit the road.
Another tactic comes into play when you don't really see a future together but you don't want to end it. Your goal is to continue dating this person and others for the medium term. Then a direct approach is best. Talk to your partner about how you enjoy your dates, but you'd like to keep things casual. Tell him or her that you understand that the freedom goes both ways and you hope this will be an acceptable arrangement.
As always, the danger is a lack of agreement that this is a good thing. Another danger is that you see your partner with someone else and realize that you feel more strongly than you thought and really would like exclusive access. If you proposed the open arrangement, you might not be likely to get your partner to renegotiate the terms so easily.
No matter how you look at it, your suggestion to have an open relationship is not the greatest compliment you can pay your partner. He or she will take this as a clear message that you don't see a strong and long-term potential for the relationship. So be tactful and make sure to mention what you find appealing and interesting about your partner.
Whatever route you choose, keep your partner's feelings in mind and don't lie. Dishonesty will guarantee that things end badly.
When you do choose to be honest about dating multiple people, the outcome will still vary. Sometimes these situations end with your partner finding another person who's The One. Then you get left behind. Sometimes you both drift apart and stop seeing each other. And occasionally you develop a stronger passion to be your partner's one and only. Then you'll need to have a different version of the talk, and hope that your lover agrees.
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