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Exclusive Relationships: How To Figure Out If You’re Ready For The ‘Big Talk’

Couple in an exclusive relationship looking closely into each other's eyes while preparing to kiss.

Hanging out. Going out. Seeing where it goes. There are many ways to describe the various stages of dating, and everyone has different definitions for these terms. But there’s one stage that’s important to be on the same page about – the definition of an exclusive relationship.

The Traditional Meaning of ‘Exclusive Relationship’

What does exclusive mean in a relationship? Typically, an exclusive relationship means an agreement between two people to only date one another – that is, not to engage romantically or sexually with anybody else. Once two people have decided to be exclusive, they’re no longer two single people – they’re a committed couple. This means they both:

1. Acknowledge that they’re in an exclusive relationship together.

2. Commit to their partner.

3. Agree to respect any boundaries discussed.

It’s important to be on the same page no matter what stage your courtship is in, but mutually deciding to go from casually dating to exclusive is the most important of all.

The Right Time to Be Exclusive

If you’re ready to take the next step and go exclusive, how can you achieve this? It’s simple: by being honest and talking about it. Once you’re ready to be exclusive with your partner, don’t be ashamed to bring it up. This honesty forms the basis of any good relationship.

That being said, it’s probably not an appropriate conversation to have on the first date, and we’re not suggesting you should bring it up ASAP. But if you enjoy someone’s company and aren’t interested in seeing anyone else, it’s not a bad time to start thinking about having the conversation. Typically the exclusive relationship conversation happens after a few weeks or months of getting to know somebody, but every situation is unique.

How to Discuss Exclusivity in a Relationship

As scary as the idea can be, if you’ve decided it’s time to go exclusive, you need to have ‘the talk’ at some point. Depending on your partner’s love language, you may wish to make a big show of affection – a picnic, a sunset, a fancy dinner – or you may prefer a simple off-the-cuff conversation. Choose what suits your dynamic. 

The idea of asking someone to “define the relationship” has the unfortunate stigma of being pushy, but it’s just being honest. Share your feelings and remember, wanting to be on the same page as someone is brave, not pushy.

Unless your partner has specifically told you how they feel, you shouldn’t assume to know what they’re thinking or feeling. The best thing you can do is just ask. And if you do open up and the other person doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, try to see that as a blessing in disguise. If someone is wary of committing now, don’t try to force a future together. It’s better to learn how they feel early on, rather than years down the line!

Can a Casual Relationship Be Exclusive?

This is a tricky one. In theory, yes. Two people who like one another but don’t have an overwhelming urge to be a couple could embark on a casual relationship in which they don’t rely on one another/spend much time together, but do make a mutual promise not to date others. 

This may develop into something more serious as time goes by, or the pair in question might find one of them develops feelings faster than the other, leading to an unhealthy unbalance. Alternatively, it might all be airy and happily casual forever. Every couple is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Making Sure You Feel the Same Way

Once you’ve mutually decided to be in an exclusive relationship, congratulations! Now the rest is up to you. If you don’t like the word relationship, you can use a different term. If you shy away from the classic labels, use boyfriend nicknames and/or girlfriend nicknames to avoid them. And hey, if you want to modify the definition of exclusive, that’s also fair game. As long as you both define your situation the same way, that’s all that matters. 

Remember, the importance of that word, mutual, never goes away. If you ever change your mind about wanting to be exclusive and you want to break up, it’s important to be honest with your partner about that too.

Whether you’re looking to embark on casual dating or you’re ready to be in a committed, marriage-minded relationship, the best thing you can do is be open and honest about your intentions. You don’t want to get hurt or hurt someone else. After you confirm that your definition of an exclusive relationship matches your partner’s and that you’re both looking for the same thing, you’ll both be happy and excited to move forward together.

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