What does it mean to be exclusive in a relationship, and how do you know you’re in one? As a dating coach, I work with many women who often tell me they assume they’re in an exclusive relationship with a guy, only to find out a few weeks or months later that he is still hooking up with other women.
If you find yourself constantly confused about where you stand when dating and in relationships, this article is for you. I’ll be breaking down what a mutually exclusive relationship is vs. a non-exclusive relationship, an exclusive relationship vs. committed relationship and how to end the confusion for good.
No more wondering if you’re just hanging out, having fun, or if this guy is actually your boyfriend. No more telling yourself (or other people) he’s your boyfriend until you know for sure that he is.
What does it mean to be exclusive?
Is it possible to be exclusively dating but not in a relationship?
Being exclusive with someone means that neither of you is romantically pursuing anyone else. It’s a discussion you have and a decision you make together, usually after a few months of dating many people (Little Love Step #4) and realizing that this guy is special. You don’t yet know if he’s your person, but there’s a strong possibility that he might be.
However, when you have this discussion, it does not mean you’re automatically in a relationship and are slapping the labels “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” on. Some couples may be ready to do that, but others won’t be, which is why you need to make sure you talk about this openly and honestly with one another. DO NOT walk away from that conversation feeling confused. Keep talking until you both understand where you stand. I don’t care if he has to pick up his laundry or get his labradoodle a haircut—he is not leaving that room until he gives you clear answers.
If you notice he keeps skirting around the conversation and being super sketchy, it’s probably because he’s not ready to be exclusive with you but doesn’t have the courage to say it to your face. You can do better than this guy. Don’t chase him.
Congratulations! You just avoided a love rat. Take two steps back to Little Love Step #4, and start dating more high-quality guys.
Exclusive dating vs. relationship
So, how does this whole exclusive dating thing work if you’re not actually in a relationship yet?
It means you’re enjoying spending time with each other, deepening your connection, and slowly building intimacy. You’re not swiping on dating apps or trying to juggle three dates with three different guys in one night anymore. Your long-term goal is probably to commit to each other in an exclusive relationship, but you’re not putting pressure on yourselves to label it as official just yet.
The great part about this step is there are no external distractions from other potential suitors. And this doesn’t feel like a restriction. You’ve lost interest in logging on to dating apps, and you don’t really notice that hot barista in your coffee house anymore. Well… not as much as you used to anyway…
Removing everyone else from the equation allows you to discover more about each other’s lifestyles, habits, and quirks. For example, are you okay with how loudly he snores at night? Is he alright with eating gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sugar everything when he comes to your place? Are you truly compatible? Is this thing gonna work? Can he survive without cheese?
Okay, so what is an exclusive relationship?
I’m so glad you asked.
An exclusive relationship is a step that comes after dating someone exclusively for a while. There’s no set timeline for this, but you’ll start to know when you want to make things more official. You’re ready to call this guy your boyfriend, introduce him to the fam and send out a holiday card of you wearing matching festive onesies.
So, what should your next move be?
Verbally solidify the relationship (have the talk) and consciously decide to commit solely to each other.
You’re finally official and planning your future together as a couple—this is what I call Little Love Step #6.
Are you ready to make your relationship exclusive?
Let’s say you’re dating someone, you like him a lot, he meets your love vision (Little Love Step #2), and you can see a potential future here.
How do you know when you’re ready to be in an exclusive relationship?
My advice is not to rush into this step. It will usually happen naturally after a few months of dating lots of different guys. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket too soon, and make sure you get to know each other properly and determine whether there’s real potential here (Little Love Step #5). He might be everything you’ve ever been searching for, but if he’s off to China in two months to work at a panda sanctuary for the next year, you’ll have to think seriously about if you can make it work.
Yes, pandas are cute. But a long-distance relationship? Not so cute.
Signs you’re ready for exclusivity
Here are some sure-fire signs that you’re ready to take things to the next level.
You spend a lot of time together
Are you talking to each other every day? Do you see each other multiple times each week? Do you spend a lot of your weekends together?
If you are already taking up a significant amount of space in each other’s lives, this is a sign you might be ready for an exclusive, committed relationship.
You’ve argued and resolved it
Every couple argues. I don’t care if someone tells you they don’t; I’m calling bullsh*t. Arguments are inevitable and a part of any healthy relationship. You’re not the same people, so of course, you’re going to, at times, clash, disagree, or have misunderstandings.
What’s important is how you handle those blowups when they happen. Are you able to communicate clearly and calmly with one another? Are you able to agree to disagree (instead of always needing to be right or to win) and move forward without any grudges or resentment?
“YOU ATE MY LAST POP TART?!”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“BUT IT WAS MY POP TART.”
“Is this about the pop tart or the rough week you’ve had at work?”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s never fight over toaster pastries again.”
When you argue and resolve it in a mature, respectful way, it will only strengthen your relationship.
You see this person in your future
Have you talked about the future? Are you being invited into his world, and have you invited him into yours? For example, have you planned an upcoming trip together? Is he coming to your brother’s 40th birthday party next month? Have you met any of his friends or family?
These are all examples of two people becoming more invested in one another, which will only happen if both of you see a real future here.
You don’t want to date other people
One of the clearest signs you’re ready for an exclusive relationship is when you have no interest in dating other people. If you are still dating other people, you constantly compare those guys to him.
What’s important here is that you are both at this stage. If you’re ready to delete Bumble, but he’s still going on multiple dates with other women each week, he’s probably not there yet.
What if he doesn’t get there within 2-4 months? Don’t wait around for him. Congratulations! You just recognized your value as a woman. Back to Little Love Step #4 again, DO get yourself back out there, and DO forget about this dope.
You’re ready for emotional intimacy
Are you slowly but surely opening up to each other more each day? Have you shared stories from your childhood, along with fears and dreams and secrets? Are you both ready to be truly seen?
If you want to know everything about him and are open to being vulnerable with him (and him with you), you might be ready for an exclusive relationship.
You’re sharing important parts of your life
Have you met each other’s best friends and families? When something great happens at work, do you instantly want to tell him? Does he know where the scar on your lower back came from? Have you taken him along with you to the kid’s hospital you volunteer at each month? Has he brought you to the cabin in the woods that he spent every summer in as a kid?
These are all examples of sharing important parts of your lives, and it means you’re ready for more than just dinner dates and morning after pop tarts.
You prioritize and make time for each other
The final sign you may just be ready for an exclusive relationship is that you are both actively prioritizing each other. You’re scheduling in regular dates, even if that means you leave the office an hour earlier than usual one night or he cuts back on guy time. This is essential because a relationship requires time and attention from both people to flourish.
Signs you’re not ready for exclusivity
Here are some signs that you are definitely not ready for an exclusive relationship.
You cannot see a future
If marriage and kids are things you see in your future, can you picture doing those things with this man? Are those things that he even wants? Because if not, you’re only wasting each other’s time.
If you can’t see this person in your life for the long haul, making a more serious commitment to each other is the wrong move.
You still want to meet new people
Another telltale sign that you’re not ready for exclusivity is if you still want to meet new people. You’re wondering who else is out there. You think there’s a strong possibility there may be a better match for you out there. And you’re keen to stay on dating apps and sites and explore new connections.
There’s nothing wrong with this. What’s important is that you recognize it and are honest about it instead of trying to force yourself to do something you’re not ready for yet.
You feel pressure to be exclusive
There’s a LOT of pressure on women to find a man, settle down, get married, and have kids. Pressure from your parents, pressure from your loved-up friends, pressure from movies, and pressure from society. And all of this external pressure may lead to you putting pressure on yourself to make a commitment to someone for the wrong reasons, i.e., you’re afraid of ending up alone, you want someone to snuggle with on Sunday mornings, and you want your parents to stop setting you up with weird family friends.
The only advice I can give you is to work on Little Love Step #1: Build your sexy confidence to the point where you are not afraid to be single.
How to transition to an exclusive relationship
Okay, so you think you’re ready to make things exclusive? Here’s how to have “the talk” so everyone knows where they stand and nobody feels like a fool.
Know what you want
Going into a conversation like this and saying something along the lines of, “what are we…?” is not helpful because it gives him all the power and leaves you in a position where you virtually have no say in it.
So, know what you want before you talk to him. And be clear about what that looks like.
Have the conversation in person
Do not try and have this chat via text messages or on the phone. There’s way too much room for miscommunication, you won’t be able to pick up on subtle cues in their body language, and it’s way too impersonal for this kind of topic.
Is it scarier to have this conversation face to face?
But if you’re not ready to even have the conversation, then you’re not ready for exclusivity.
Be honest and unapologetic
“We’ve been dating for X months now, and I’d like to continue getting to know you on a deeper level because I think we have a special connection. I think I’m ready to take the next step in our relationship. How do you feel about that?”
This is a powerful way to begin the conversation. You’re being honest about how you feel, where your head’s at, and why you’re ready for the next step. This puts the ball in his court and forces him to tell you how he feels.
One of the most loving things you can do for yourself is to speak your truth and be open about your desires.
What if we don’t want the same things?
There’s always a chance that he might not want the same things you do, and that’s okay. You’re better off knowing now and feeling a little hurt and deflated instead of investing another month in this relationship and feeling like you’re in dating limbo.
It’s then up to you whether you’re happy to continue seeing where things go or whether you want to cut the cord and move on.
FYI: if you’ve been dating for six months or more and he still isn’t ready to make things exclusive, he’s wasting your time.
Common signs you’re in a loving exclusive relationship (Little Love Step #7)
- You’ve had the “Define the Relationship” talk. Without this, you are not in an exclusive relationship.
- You make future plans together.
- You’ve met each other’s friends and family and made a conscious effort with them.
- You’re not worried about texting first or double texting.
- They are the first person you want to call when you have good news or bad news, or even just mediocre, not relevant news.
- People now just assume that you are each others’ plus one for any event, party, or gathering.
- You use the terms boyfriend and girlfriend or partner.
- You are social media official.
- You spend most of your nights together; maybe you even have a toothbrush at his place. He probably doesn’t have one at yours, though, because guys are GROSS.
- You’ve deleted all the dating apps.
- You had a big argument about something and managed to resolve it like adults.
- You take care of each other when you’re sick.
- You stop saying “me” and “I” and find yourself saying “we” and “us.”
So, there should be no confusion regarding your dating life in the future. If you haven’t told each other you’re exclusively dating, or in an exclusive relationship, then you are not.
Have you ever assumed you were in an exclusive relationship before you’d had “the talk”? What happened? Tell me all in the comments below.