How to Ask Someone to Date Exclusively (Without Hyperventilating)
The issue of when and how to become become exclusive with someone you are dating is seen by many as a potential minefield. Ask the wrong question--or even ask the right question but phrase it in a wrong way--and BOOM! your chances for a steady, exclusive relationship go up in smoke. Right?
Not necessarily. While we admit that discussing exclusivity is not as easy or safe as deciding whether to go to dinner at 7:00 or 7:30, you can develop the right mindset and adopt behaviors that allow you to control the situation more than you think.
Q: Is "the exclusivity conversation" one that either men or women can bring up?
Lee: I'd love to say that it's completely gender-neutral. But even in this age where everyone is supposed to be enlightened, it is a convenient shorthand to say that women tend to want relationships, while men like to remain free agents. Of course there are women who like to screw around and not be tied down. If you spend time on OK Cupid or similar dating sites, you see more women looking for non-traditional relationships. But when you look at eHarmony or Match.com, which represent the huge majority of dating adults out there, women are looking for their next boyfriend or husband, not their next lay.
Sharon: I don't care how young the couple in question is, or if they met on Tinder, OkCupid, or through a mutual friend: there is still a place for traditional roles in the world of dating and relationships. And certainly, for older daters, both men and women are keenly aware of this. So, if a woman is considering asking a man to become exclusively her boyfriend, the key point here is indeed how to ask the guy to ask her to become exclusive, if that is something that is important to her, which is another whole topic itself.
Q: At what point in the relationship should you bring up the conversation about becoming exclusive? Are there any actual guidelines?
Sharon: Yes. If you've been dating for at least a month--let's say two or three months--it may be time to talk exclusivity. If you see each each other a couple of times a week, it may be time. If you find yourself assuming that you'll see him or her this weekend, it's time. If you've had some time since your last serious relationship. If you want to become sexually intimate but with that person alone.
Lee: The best guideline for exclusivity is the very word exclude. Notice that several of the guidelines she brought up imply or directly say that you have begun to exclude other people, other time slots, other experiences, other sexual partners, in favor of that one person you want to be with. It's a slow process, and exclusivity almost happens before you decide to legitimize it by putting a name to it.
Sharon: The "when" is going to differ slightly between people, but if you move too fast, you will almost certainly blow it. Take your time and date a few people simultaneously. Not only does this help build your confidence, and increases sexual market value, it affords you the opportunity to learn what feels like a good fit. Bring up exclusivity too quickly, and all you seem is needy.
Q: What are things that women, in particular, need to consider when they want to become exclusive?
Sharon: Women may tend to minimize the trepidation that that men have about feeling "boxed in". Most men are vocal about the experience of being in a long term relationship with a woman who was hot and heavy for them in the early stages of their relationship, only to become apathetic and even neglectful of their needs as time went by.
Q: How about from the male side?
Lee: A lot of guys who are resistant to the idea of exclusivity are really better off in a long-term relationship, though they don't know it. They imagine themselves as dragon-slayers and women-layers, but in the end they are one-woman men. But you can't say that to them. There is such a thing as male pride. Or maybe human pride in general? If you were a guy proposing exclusivity to a girl, would you say, "Hey, you're better off being exclusive to me, because, you know, your options are pretty limited." No. Even the most homely, inept guy likes to feel that he's not cutting off all of his options.
My recommendation for anyone bringing up this topic is to gently lay the groundwork of pointing out ways that you guys have already become exclusive, or almost exclusive, with each other. Like I said earlier, the exclusivity conversation comes after you have been heading in that direction for awhile already.