With Valentine’s Day coming up, you may be wondering if it’s finally time to broach the subject of whether you and the person you have been seeing are exclusive, or if you should start planning for a Galentine’s Day.
Those three words – “What are we?” – are bound to come up at the start of any new relationship, and often elicit conversations about how you and your partner are progressing as a couple. When dating someone new, it’s difficult to determine what their intentions are, but a healthy dose of communication can lead you two in the right direction.
Fortunately, letting your partner know that you’re ready to be exclusive doesn’t have to be a huge conversation. In fact, dating experts say to treat it just like any other interaction.
Susan Winter is a relationship expert and the bestselling author of Older Women/Younger Men. The New York City-based expert offers a cheat sheet to her thousands of YouTube subscribers, by breaking down complicated relationship situations and providing tips for direct communication. According to Winter, becoming exclusive with someone means focusing your time and energy on one person. The reason the exclusivity talk is met with so much relationship anxiety is because for the last 20 years, we’ve been putting “the cart before the horse” when it comes to dating.
“When you start with sleeping together and hanging out together in an undefined relationship, there’s already tension,” Winter tells The Independent. “Dating intentionally and being very direct from the beginning sets a precedent as to what you are looking for. It doesn’t mean you’re going to find it with that person, but at least you’re giving them a heads up as to the direction you’re going.”
Hannah Stella, a relationship and lifestyle content creator on TikTok, believes that the best way to communicate that you are ready to take your relationship to the next level is to do so casually.
“If you have been going on some dates with somebody and you think you want to be exclusive or in a relationship with them, I think it’s best to sort of say that casually just in conversation,” Stella tells The Independent. “While you’re hanging out, just when you’re sitting on the couch or whatever versus saying: ‘We need to talk.’”
According to Stella, the current dating culture is very focused on achieving certain milestones within a specific timeline. Unfortunately, that’s not how relationships work. “Sometimes that puts more pressure and more weight on a choice than it really should have,” she told us.
As for when a couple technically should start to think about becoming exclusive, a 2020 poll found that 39 per cent of Americans believe three months into dating is an acceptable time frame to discuss commitment. Podcast host Lindsey Metselaar agrees, as she said she thinks that if you’re in the talking stage for longer than three months, then it’s time to assess what it is you want from this person.
“I don’t think it should be any longer than three months,” the We Met At Acme host told us. “I think three months is like the absolute longest for a talking stage. And if it’s over three months, then you might want to look into what’s going on here.”
Oftentimes initiating the topic of exclusivity can cause a lot of anxiety or nervousness, but if you communicate early on that you’re not just here to have fun with no strings attached, it will feel less like a proposition and more like a basic fact about yourself. Winter suggests initiating the conversation with declarative statements, rather than the dreaded, “What are we?”
“You don’t need to go through the agony of asking a question and fearing a response,” Winter says. Instead, she recommends listing qualities that you enjoy about the person before stating your intention to become more serious: “I think you’re so interesting, I’m so proud of the work that you do, I’d really like us to be exclusively.”
These should be very frank and honest conversations that are approached without fear, and if you’re terrified to speak honestly to your partner, then a meaningful relationship might not be in the cards for you two. “If you feel that the distance between where you are with this person and where you want to be — which is a committed relationship — is so far that it’s terrifying to ask the question, then you’re not ready to ask the question,” Winter says.
What would dating be without opening yourself up to the possibility of rejection? Not everyone is going to have the same wants and expectations as you, and that’s okay. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no, but at least you were honest with yourself.
Catherine Emond, a relationship content creator on TikTok, believes that we shouldn’t hold back how we feel about a person just because it might scare them away. “You could say, ‘I want this to be exclusive. I don’t want to see anyone else,’ and it could scare someone away,” Emond told us. “I don’t think you would have ever been able to let them stay.” If you’re worried about scaring someone away by asking to become exclusive, then it’s probably a sign they weren’t right for you in the first place.
Dating can be confusing, especially when your situation has gone from midnight sneaky links once a week, to eating takeaway together every night and meeting their friends.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t spend the holiday analyzing cryptic texts from your crush and wondering if you two are exclusive. Instead, don’t be afraid to just ask them. “People are so terrified to ask because they’re so terrified of the answer,” Winter said. “But I think it’s really, really important to get a reading on where you are with a person just for your own sense of clarity and resolution.”