You Need Help: When Is the Right Time To Talk About Being Exclusive in a Relationship?

Q:

Hey homies,

I’m a lil lost gay reaching out for y’all’s words of wisdom.

As the story usually goes, I met a gal during a hoe phase when I was both getting slutty and opening myself up to dating again after mucho support from my therapist and chosen fam and mucho mucho self work. Didn’t think it would amount to anything, but then we totally hit it off in an off the charts kinda way.

We’re both interested in seriously dating, but are both recovering serial u haulers who are consciously trying to take it slooooooow. Oh, god, and we’re long distance. Which I am very okay with, I have no idea how she feels about this.

I have been seeing other humans until recently when on our last date she made some comments about how she’s ‘pretending not to know,’ about me seeing other women, when asking what some bruising was from by going ‘which girl did this to you?’ I honestly assumed she didn’t care about me seeing other people, as early in getting to know each other she encouraged me to date around to get a balanced scope, which I took and ran with.

My friends hilariously and unplannedly held a ‘fuck boy intervention’ for me the night previously, in which it was highlighted that while yes, in the first few weeks of getting to know someone it is real healthy to date around, going on many dates and getting increasingly serious with multiple, monogamous women was… not the vibe.

I’ve gently tapered down my other dating commitments, because if I’m being real and vulnerable I am super interested in this human. I think she’s awesome in so many ways, love spending time with her, and at least so far our values and visions align in a way that seems healthy.

BUT. When the fuck do you have ‘a conversation’ about these things!? I don’t specifically need her to be my girlfriend and put a label on it NOW, but I am seriously interested in being exclusive with this human. I was gonna wait until the next time I’m in her part of the country in six ish weeks to have that chat in person, but also I don’t super adore the idea of this human seeing other humans, and know that she feels similarly about me seeing other humans I’m like, does this mean I should declare my intentions sooner?

Taking it slow has been really good for me, especially as I’m trying to work through my anxious attachment style and work on self soothing when feeling anxious, but I just. Don’t. Know!

Any words of wisdom would be fucking stellar.

Xoxo

Recovering fuck boy who is TERRIFIED of intimacy

A:

Hello, hi! It sounds like taking things slow and working on yourself and your anxiety are definitely great steps to take, and I commend you for reevaluating the way you approach relationships. I do think your friends were perhaps a little extra for staging a “fuckboy intervention” just because you date around, as it sounds very much like you’ve never set an expectation of exclusivity for yourself or for any of these women you’ve been dating — including the one you’re interested in becoming exclusive with. But so long as your friends seemed to be acting in good faith and just sort of messing with you, I’ll allow! I think sometimes people are made to feel like “fuckboys” when really they’re just regular people with regular intimacy issues! I can’t identify any actual fuckboy behavior from what you’ve written in your letter. So I don’t think you need to be too worried about that in particular! It sounds like you’ve been honest, and yeah, taking things slow is actually a nice thing and doesn’t equate to emotional distance, which is what I associate with fuckboyery.

Also, for what it’s worth, meeting a gal during a hoe phase is common and delightful! I’d argue my fiancé and I met each other in respective hoe phases.

So now, it really seems like your central question here is: “When/how does one have the conversation about being exclusive with someone?” My answer is: Right now, my friend! I understand the impulse to want to have the conversation in person, but six weeks is a long time to wait. While I think ending things is necessary to do in person, I don’t think the exclusivity convo is something that requires it. I do think you could do this face-to-face over FaceTime or another form of video chat if that would feel better for you. But I worry that if you wait six weeks then feelings of jealousy or resentment could fester. If you’re already feeling negatively about the idea of her seeing other people, you shouldn’t just push that down. You want to be exclusive, so you should make that want known now instead of existing in this limbo space. If it helps put your mind at ease at all: My fiancé originally asked me to be her girlfriend via text message in a very funny way. We were also long distance, and it made sense for us to have this convo over text vs. in person, and I was glad she did it then instead of waiting. Also, you def don’t have to put a label on anything when you talk about exclusivity! That part can wait. You can just say something along the lines of “hey, how would you feel about being exclusive, because I don’t really want to see other people anymore.” That also allows her to talk about what she wants.

There are a few things in your letter that suggest a little work might need to be done on the communication front. You note that you are comfortable being long distance but have no idea how she feels about it. That seems like an important thing to talk about! Long distance is hard! I think you should ask her outright how she feels about long distance and how she envisions your relationship moving forward. I worry she is expressing a bit of jealousy when asking what your bruises are from and referencing other girls. It’s not a glaring red flag by any means, but it does seem like some check-ins might need to be done around boundaries, what you both want, and what long distance feels like for each of you. I think this can easily be done when you initiate the conversation about wanting to be exclusive. I understand your fear of intimacy is likely playing a large role here, and I support you taking things slow, but slow still means communicating. Slow still means making sure you’re on the same page.

When you talk to her about wanting to be exclusive, make sure you’re also asking what she wants. Keep an open mind. Be clear about the boundaries and rules of your relationship, as it seems like there may have inadvertently been some confusion or haziness up to this point. To be clear, I don’t think you have done anything wrong, and I again think your friends might be overreacting with their intervention. But I do think that it would be good to set some clear intentions and parameters for your relationship moving forward. And that should feel like a two-way street of you both expressing what you need and want and making sure that’s compatible.

Keep taking it slow! Asking for exclusivity isn’t moving too quickly if it’s what you really want, and it sounds like it’s what you really want. I would do it sooner rather than later — not because you need to speed things up but rather because I think it’s best to articulate your wants in a relationship as they arise. I also think it’ll be a good opportunity to check in with each other and talk about how you’re both feeling. Good luck!


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Also long distance w/my gf and we had a number of conversations leading up to being exclusive. All but a couple were via text or video call. And honestly if I could do it again, I would not have waited until we were in person to ask her to be my gf. These types of things should be done in person except in special circumstances. Significant distance is a special circumstance imo. And as long as y’all are open and honest with each other and yourselves, and being clear about what you want and your boundaries are, I feel like you can have those conversations effectively at a distance. I don’t rec text though. Video/phone calls all the way.

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