Are We an Item? The Decision to Go Exclusive
by Kat Richter

Lego couple on top of a hilltop, ecstatic about their decision to date exclusively.

Exclusivity is a touchy subject. I should know: I dated 31 men over the course of a single year as part of my Great Date Experiment, but upon finding myself in a hotel room with one of them, I realized that the relationship talk could no longer be avoided. The man in question had agreed to fly to Boston to accompany me to a friend's wedding, and although I wasn't quite ready to stop seeing other people, he was ready to move forward. The question was, was I?

Fortunately for us, the development of my experiment forced the issue. I was either willing to give it up or I wasn't and because I write a blog about my dating life, he knew exactly who I was and was not seeing. Admittedly, I stalled for time, but in the end I agreed to end the experiment and traded serial dating for a committed relationship.

But what if you don't know what your date is thinking? What if you don't know how to ask, or even what to ask in order to move your relationship forward? Well, you've come to the right place.

Are You Ready?

Before you broach the subject of exclusivity with your date, take some time to reflect on whether or not you're ready to make the commitment. Are you willing to meet his or her family? To be the designated "plus one" at Cousin Fred's upcoming nuptials? If family events and social obligations aren't your thing, you may want to re-think your desire to become an item. Because with the new title of "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" comes new responsibilities and you owe it to your date and yourself to be honest about the level of commitment you're willing to make.

And while we're on the subject, keep in mind that attending Cousin Fred's wedding as somebody's boyfriend or girlfriend means you can't spend the entire reception macking on the single bridesmaids. Once again: are you ready for this? Granted, going exclusive isn't getting married - it's not even getting engaged - but it is agreeing to stop seeing other people, so make sure you're ready to do so and say goodbye to those single bridesmaids.

Ask In Person

If you decide you're ready to take the plunge, do it in person. Talk to your date about how you're feeling over dinner or the next time you're alone together. Do not - we repeat - do not do it over Facebook. When it comes to faux pas, there are few things worse than sending an unexpected relationship request.   It's the grown up equivalent of passing notes in your fifth grade science class to elicit the feelings of the cutie in the second row. So man up, and talk to your date. Don't rely on Facebook to do the dirty work for you.

Suggest, Don't Surprise

We get it. Initiating the "status" talk can be awkward. Especially if you're not sure where your partner stands. You might be tempted to spring it on them - just drop the word "girlfriend" into the conversation the next time you're making introductions and hope your date doesn't take off running - but if she isn't expecting it, you could be in for a rude awakening.

Instead, use an upcoming event as an excuse to discuss your relationship status. If introductions are going to be involved, ask your partner how he or she would like to be introduced and suggest that they introduce you as their boyfriend or girlfriend if they're comfortable with it. Surprise is often the best tactic in an attack but you're not trying to conquer someone here, you're trying to build a future together.

Define the Boundaries

Exclusivity means different things to different people. For some, it means simply committing to seeing one another and only one another. For others, it means cutting off all communication with anyone of the opposite sex (especially exes and flirtatious co-workers) and expecting one's new partner to do the same. Still others define exclusivity differently for sex than they do for dating. In this case, it's okay to see other people, as long as you're not sleeping with them, or vise versa. As such, it's important to make sure that you and your partner have the same definition of exclusivity.

Terminology

Most couples prefer to use the terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." We're used to hearing them and they're easily understood, plus they're so prevalent in American culture that they leave little room for misinterpretation. That said, some couples (especially in Europe and in more progressive circles) prefer the term "partner," even when referring to heterosexual relationships. Talk to your date about what sort of terminology they're comfortable with and find something that makes you both happy.

The New You

If you and your partner decide that you would, in fact, like to stop seeing other people and start seeing each other exclusively, you're going to need to inform a few people of this decision. We're not suggesting you broadcast it to the entire world (again, you're just dating, not getting married) but how about the ex-boyfriend who keeps sending you text messages late at night? Or the co-worker who seems to spend the entire workday "liking" your Facebook photos?

You need to tell them. Keep it casual - you don't have to cut them out of your life - but let them know that you're going to need to keep your interactions friendly, as opposed to flirtatious, from here on out.

Homework

  • Make a list of the activities that you enjoy doing with your partner and those you enjoy doing without your partner (such as bar hopping with your single friends, or flirting with the waitresses at Hooters). Evaluate the importance of each activity to determine whether or not you're ready to commit.
  • Avoid overwhelming your date with questions like "Where is this relationship going?" or "Where do you see us in the future?" but discuss what exclusivity means to them.
  • Initiate a conversation about titles, such as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" or "partner." See how your date feels about traditional titles and brainstorm some humorous alternatives if you sense they need a little time to warm up (we suggest "bodyguard," "man-friend," "personal chef" or "partner in crime.")
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