I know that I'm not the only person who has tried to DTR and failed. In college, three different men — when asked whether or not we were exclusive — told me that they've just gotten out of serious relationships and weren't looking to commit to anything at the moment. One guy even answered the question of, "Are we officially dating?" with, "I'd prefer to be single for spring break, but maybe we can talk after that." I never knew how to talk about wanting a committed relationship, because it seemed as though the only response I ever got was rejection.
I reached out to Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, and Anita Chlipala, dating and relationships expert, to find out how to best initiate a conversation about being exclusive with someone you're dating. "I think most people want a committed relationship in the long run, but sometimes you want to see what else is out there," Safran says. "Conversation is key, and you need to discuss what your needs are in the relationship." Whether you want to call someone your SO or simply want to be with someone who isn't sleeping with other people, here are some ways to navigate this awkward (and potentially frustrating) conversation.
Explain Your Boundaries
Some people interpret the relationship conversation as a trap. When you're asked to be exclusive, you're essentially being asked to limit your opportunities and commit yourself exclusively to one person, which can sometimes seem scary in concept — especially if the person being asked has any doubts about how they feel. The best way to approach the conversation is to explain your own reasons for wanting an exclusive relationship. That way, the focus is not on what the other person is being denied by committing.
"If you want to be sexually exclusive, then you need to explain this boundary," explains Safran. It can be a matter of STDs or discomfort or jealousy, and any reason you have is perfectly valid. It doesn't even have to be about sex — if you want to date someone exclusively, you should talk to your partner about your reasoning and your needs.
Communicate In A Non-Defensive Way
You want to be careful to avoid making accusations when having this conversation as well. Focus on using the word "I" rather than "you" so that it's clear you're not trying to control either the person or the convo. For example, rather than saying, "You shouldn't be dating other people," you can instead say, "I prefer the idea of dating someone exclusively rather than being with someone who sees other people." You aren't trying to call out the person you're dating — you're trying to share why you believe the relationship is worth making a commitment.
"You need to be able to communicate in a non-defensive way, not when you are the heat of the moment physically or emotionally," Safran says. So if you were thinking about bringing up the relationship talk while the two of you are out at a bar or mid-coitus, I wouldn't recommend it.
Create Your Own Timeline
There's a big different between a timeline and a deadline. A deadline is usually something that's imposed on someone else, and if you tell someone, "You need to give me an answer by Wednesday or we're done," that person probably isn't going to be too eager to DTR. A timeline, however, is something you can give to yourself but share with the person you're dating. You can say, "If I spend three months dating someone, then I like the relationship to be exclusive by that point." That way, both of you know where you stand without anyone feeling obligated.
"You should come up with your own timeline of what you want to do in the long run," Safran suggests. "State your needs and your timeline." Making sure that it's known what you want also allows you to bring up the conversation later on without catching the person you're dating off guard.
"People have different timelines, so your date might not want to commit at the same time that you want to," Chlipala points out. If that's the case, you should find out sooner rather than later.
Choose The Right Time To Have The Conversation
Just as you shouldn't bring up dating exclusively when you two are drinking or fornicating, you should consider what else is going on in both your life and the other person's life before you initiate. For example, finals week is not ideal. Either of your birthdays is not great. Valentine's Day? Forget it.
"Make sure that you pick a time that isn't right after (or before) a wedding, big family event, holiday, or other very emotional period of time," says Safran. Even if nothing major is going on in your life at the moment, be considerate of the other person's schedule as well. If they have a big paper to finish, a stressful presentation to give, or even just a really bad cold, wait until things have calmed down. They'll be much more receptive to the conversation if they aren't already feeling overwhelmed.
Though it may not be something you're interested in, you might also consider suggesting to the other person that you spend a few months dating other people. "If they're dating other people, you should be, too," suggests Chlipala. "It can help prevent being hyper-focused on one person and analyzing what they're doing." After that point, you can discuss taking your relationship to the next level. The other person may just like the idea of dating other people rather than actually doing it, and by having that freedom, they may find that they don't actually want it.
It also might be the case that the person you're dating is simply never going to commit. "Listen to their language to determine if they ever will commit," Chlipala says. "If they say things like, 'Looking for the X factor,' or, 'I know there's a right person out there,' or, 'I am looking for a unicorn,' or, 'I'll know it when I feel it,' they might be emotionally unavailable." That's when you know that it's better to cut this one loose.
The most important thing is knowing what you want, and if you're dating a person who refuses to commit, don't feel obligated to compromise just to stay with them. "If the person is not interested in meeting you halfway, you need to reevaluate whether you want to stay in this situation any longer," Safran says. You are deserving of the type of relationship you desire. If someone doesn't want the same thing, then you need to remind yourself that compromising your needs isn't your only option.