General Question

nikipedia's avatar

How does/should exclusivity come about in (monogamous) relationships?

Asked by nikipedia (27327 points ) April 12th, 2009

When entering into a new relationship, can you have implied exclusivity, or must it always be explicitly discussed? At what stage is it appropriate to initiate this conversation? In heterosexual relationships, do you think this responsibility falls to the man, the woman, both, or neither?

If an exclusivity agreement has not been made, and one party engages physically or emotionally with a third party, should this be discussed? Why or why not?

As always, anecdotes are encouraged!

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30 Answers

seekingwolf's avatar

I think the idea of “exclusivity” differs from person to person, what one person considers cheating, another may not have a problem with it. As the saying goes, “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”...don’t assume anything with exclusivity, there’s a lot to lose!

Just discuss the issue with your partner so you both know what’s okay and what’s not. Better safe than sorry.

Tangent_J's avatar

I think most people just expect it to be exclusive unless otherwise stated. So the conversation IMO would be to have an open relationship and its bounds rather than if the relationship is closed (monogamous).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think it is something to be discussed before almost anything else
and I always put it out there that if you’re only interested in exclusivity, it’ll be nearly impossible for you to be with me as I already have a partner

Facade's avatar

I’ve never felt the need to say “we are now in an exclusive and monogamous relationship.” It’s always been implied and understood.

nikipedia's avatar

@Facade: But when? After the first date? First kiss? First sex? First I love you? First hug? First handshake? First phone call? First text message? First gchat? Second date? Second kiss? etc…......

hug_of_war's avatar

I’ve never discussed it either. It’s always been implied and reinforced. For the various reasons past relationships have failed, it’s never been because of a misunderstanding about exclusivity.

Facade's avatar

@nikipedia If I thought enough of him to go on a second date, after that.

nikipedia's avatar

@Facade: And you just assume he knows that? You don’t talk about it?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I also put it upfront and discussed the non-exclusivity when I was single as well

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

If people are into multiple partners, it’s their responsibility to inform the interested party that they aren’t exclusive.

Likeradar's avatar

I never think anything is exclusive until it’s been discussed. It might be an awkward conversation, but it’s well worth having to avoid hurt feelings.

I dated a guy for a few months a while back. In my head we were casually dating, and I was casu;ally dating someone else, too. At dinner one night he referred to himself as my boyfriend… um… no. In retrospect, we probably should have both made ourselves clearer.

@Facade- If that’s working for you, great :). But for me (and my bf, I just asked him) a second date means a) First date was ok enough to continue exploring this, or b) maybe if I stick at it I’ll get laid. Definitely not exclusivity.

Likeradar's avatar

@compassionate heretic- can you elaborate? When should this be done? On a first date? Before then? After multiple dates? After sex? I’m just curious, not being argumentative.

Personally, I always assume I’m not the only lady in a guy’s life until I’ve been told otherwise.

VzzBzz's avatar

I’m one of those serious dating adults and so far, there’s never been a person interested in me to the point of asking me on a date that hasn’t probed, asked for and clearly understood my views on dating and exclusivity up front. Beyond that, it’s all about what’s agreed to and attempted.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Likeradar At the very least it should be discussed before having unprotected sex.

lrhar487's avatar

Usually when you enter a relationship and you become boyfriend and girlfriend it is just usually known that it will be exclusive. If your still in the dating stage before boyfriend and girlfriend but you still want to make sure he is with only you than you need to dicuss this show there aware. Show people are under the notion that unless you become boyfriend and girlfriend anything goes, and some think this even when there are together. So bottom line you should probably just talk it out.

cwilbur's avatar

I think it’s something you need to bring up when you start talking about whether you are a couple or not. Monogamy is a reasonable default assumption, but it is an assumption, and if both parties don’t share it then avoiding the conversation is just setting yourself up for drama.

In other words—if you discuss it, you’re both on the same page, and then you can legitimately get upset if your expectations are violated. If you don’t discuss it, you don’t know that you’re both on the same page. If you’re sure that your partner is interested in exclusivity, where’s the harm in bringing it up?

nikipedia's avatar

@cwilbur: I guess I meant more globally, when do you have the couple talk? How to bring it up? I am especially curious to hear stories about how/when people did this, the best and worst ways to broach the subject, etc. It seems like sort of a delicate matter to me. But maybe I just am terrible at relationships.

Likeradar's avatar

@nikipedia I always find “the talk” awkward. :) In my most recent relationship, we had been dating and spending all our free time together for a little under a month. Monogamy and exclusivity hadn’t been directly discussed, but I knew there was no way he’d have time to see someone else in a 24 hour day! After a lot of sake at our favorite sushi place, I brought it up kinda stupidly… I asked if he thought it was time to check the “in a relationship” box on our myspaces. He laughed and said yes, and I went home and kept refreshing his page like a freaking crazed stalker until it listed him as in a relationship. Almost 2 years later, we still say “happy myspaceaversary” on the 19th of every month. :)

A more confident person with less sake in their system might ask after a number of dates (5? I don’t know if there is an exact number) if the other person is happy with how things are going and if they are still interested in seeing other people. For some people, before 1st time sex might be appropriate as well. that would only freak me out though.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Likeradar
‘happy myspaceaversary’-barf, :)

Likeradar's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir totally. It’s completely and utterly stupid, especially for people our ages. But it makes us happy. :)

casheroo's avatar

It’s obviously different for every couple. Some move slower than others, and it can take up to a year for them to even discuss if they’re exclusive or not.
It’s varied with the men I’ve dated. In high school, of course it was like “will you be my girlfriend?” and it was implied exclusivity. Ah, things were so much more clear cut back then lol.
I shall now talk like I’m single, just to save myself from typing out “back when I was single” over and over, okay? lol
When I referred to someone like I was “dating” them, it meant I was just sleeping with them. It did not mean it was exclusive. I tended to date multiple men at the same time, but they would always know about the others. I never kept that hidden. If I felt I was developing feelings, I’d end my sexual friendship with the other men, and inform the one guy that I was developing feelings for him, and wanted to actually get to know him.
When it comes down to becoming exclusive, usually we’d be together for a couple months, going out on dates and sleeping together, talking all the time…I was immature and if I wanted to date the guy, I’d usually say that I might see another guy..to get them to ask me out haha. I was silly and wish I hadn’t been that way.
If I could change it, I would have just been more upfront with the guys, and let them know I wanted to be the only one they were seeing. That has to be a discussion, both parties need to know what’s going on..

cwilbur's avatar

@nikipedia: I don’t think you have one single The Talk. I think you touch base periodically.

A couple weeks ago was the sixth night out I had with a particular guy, and I thought things were going well. So as he was driving me home, I asked, “So, not to put any pressure on, but where do you see this thing going?” And we spent 20 minutes or so laying out where we thought we were and where we hoped it would go.

And if I thought things were changing significantly on his part or on mine, I’d bring it up again. It’s really hard to have The Talk if you put a lot of emphasis on it being The Talk. If you see it as checking in with the other person to see if you’re on the same page, and if you see it as something you need to do every couple weeks, it’s not nearly as terror-inducing.

lukiarobecheck's avatar

It’s funny. I read the question and thought that it was an easy one to answer. The more I thought about it, I remembered the trouble my girlfriend and I had when we decided to be just us. We had been dating for about two months, and she was the only person I wanted to be with. I remember putting “in a relationship” in Facebook, and she got kind of upset at the fact that I had not even talked to her about what we were. That weekend we finally talked about it, and realized that we wanted to be together, and a year and a half later we are still together. I came into this questions thinking I had nothing to say, and that the answer was simple. Funny how it really is a difficult thing to define.
I guess to answer the question for myself, it is after we have both talked about wanting to see only each other. I never really serial date anyway, but in order to know you are in a monogamous relationship it has to be agreed upon. To me at least.

Shuttle128's avatar

I assumed it was implied after several months of seemingly exclusive dating. She thought otherwise a few months later.

Most definitely talk about it before you get over your head.

I was not anticipating polyamory…..after all, I’m not like that, but we never talked about it. If I was the dating kind of guy I’d probably ask after several dates, but I’ve been in a relationship for so long I wouldn’t know exactly when or how to do it.

nikipedia's avatar

@cwilbur: So let’s pretend I am completely clueless and a moron at relationships. What does that talk look like? What do you say beyond, “Uh, I’m good with how things are. Let’s keep doing this..”?

cwilbur's avatar

Well, if things are good the way they are, that’s all you need to say.

If there’s something you want to change, you bring it up. “I think we should start sleeping over at each others’ place more.”

If there’s something you want to make sure of, bring it up. “Hey, just checking to be sure, we’re being exclusive, right?”

The basic idea is that you actually talk about where each of you is, so that you don’t have to assume. In theory, if you’re in a relationship with someone, and it’s physically intimate to the point that you’re actually having sex, it ought to be emotionally intimate enough that you can talk about your emotional needs, at least in specific, practical purposes.

In my case, the talk doesn’t have a big production. The last instance was during commercial breaks, last Thursday’s Red Sox game. “This thing still working for you?” “Yeah, it is.” “Planning on sleeping over next week?” “Yeah, a couple of nights.” And I made a joke about if he slept over more than three nights a week, he’d have to be an official boyfriend, and he was like, “We’re not quite there yet.”

And it was clear at the beginning that we were just dating, not monogamously. (The comment was, “we’re not boyfriends yet, of course we can see other guys.”) I do know, practically speaking, that neither one of us has been strictly monogamous, but because there was no expectation of monogamy, it’s not a problem for me that we weren’t.

For me it’s not critical that the relationship follow any set pattern, but it is critical that I know what he thinks the roadmap is and that he knows what I think the roadmap is.

Does that help?

nikipedia's avatar

@cwilbur: Very much. Thank you.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I believe it’s better to state up front how you want to approach a person. If a date goes well and the people want to keep seeing each other then they need to discuss safe sex practices. At first, I think people should be up front with no exclusivity because after all, they don’t know each well (assuming) and don’t know if they want to invest in each other so why enter with a sense of pressure that will only distract from learning each other? It’s kind of a natural progression at some point if the two prioritize each other that they start talking about about their changing feelings, choose each other, maybe choose to move into exclusivity.

Lorenita's avatar

When I started dating with my now boyfriend, we discussed many things, like you normally do when you are interested in someone, and want to know everything about .. and actually one of those things, was this monogamy issue, we both made it clear that we were monogamous, so we know we are in a exclusive relationship.

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