Dating Exclusively: It Takes Two

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

Let’s say you’ve been dating someone for a while and you reach the point where you know you have to ask him the question. You know the question I’m talking about. It’s the one you ask when you need to know if — maybe, just maybe — the other person might be in agreement that they don’t want to date anyone other than you. But if you’ve reached the point where you want to ask that question and you’re not sure what the answer will be? Well, now the situation gets a little interesting.

If you’re going to ask the exclusivity-question, you have to be prepared for things to change. Things will either change in a positive way, and the person will agree that you’re fabulous and they don’t want to see anybody else…or, you know. It’ll be the answer you didn’t want. You may even hear nice responses like, “You’re awesome,” and “I think you’re great,” and “I don’t want to stop seeing you.” But in the end, the only answer that really matters is the other person isn’t ready. You might be great, but you’re not it.

I don’t think it would be an impossibility to continue seeing someone past this point — I’m sure plenty of people do — but it’s bound to be a little different. Some people find they need to cut things off completely, even if they enjoy spending time with that person. Maybe they like him so much they can’t stand the thought of sharing him with someone else. They’re most likely thinking he must not care enough, because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to let you walk away.

It’s like you’re offering your feelings on the palm of your hand and your wrist gets slapped. In response, you snap your hand back to the safety of your body and wonder what it will take before you offer it again.

There’s one guy I stopped seeing last year after he asked me if I’d like to stop seeing other people (I turned him down). I felt uncomfortable hanging out with him because I knew he liked me more than I liked him, and I didn’t want him to think I was leading him on. Another guy I went out with a few times and addressed “the question” with, we stopped dating after that but we’ve remained friends and continue to hang out on occasion. But really, before you know it, it seems like you’re referring to them as “that guy I used to date last September…or back in November ’08…or the first few months of ’09.”

I’m not going to lie; it sucks sometimes. But when I’m the one asking the question and I get turned down, I understand. It’s okay. As long as I can tell he’s being truthful with me, there’s never any hard feelings. You see, I get it. I get that there’s a hesitancy. I get that there’s always the possibility of someone else — someone better — out there and some people have a hard time giving up that possibility.

I’ve been on the other side, too. The side where the question is asked and the answer isn’t what you wanted to hear, but it just doesn’t seem like the right time to completely end things. That can be a hard spot to put yourself in, though. When you’ve received an answer you didn’t want to hear, sometimes it’s easier to put up the wall and enable your defense mechanism. It can be difficult to separate your feelings from “I want to see only you” to going back to “Okay, I guess I can be content with this. (But that means I’ll start answering all those dating inquiries from other people I’ve been ignoring.)”

It’s nice having just one person around to do things with, rather than checking your calendar to remind yourself who it is you’re supposed to be hanging out with that day. The thing is, you don’t want someone to say they’re ready for something when they’re not, and you certainly don’t want to do that yourself, either. Sometimes it’s hard; sometimes it sucks; sometimes you’ll feel bad about hurting someone’s feelings. But I guess that’s the way it’s going to be until the question-and-answers are mutually acceptable to both people.

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