“Are You Dating Anyone Else?”

Thinking of asking your sweetie to see you...and only you? Boost your odds of hearing a “yes” with these pointers on when—and how—to broach the topic.

by Steve Friedman

Consider a typical single guy. Consider a man who, at his core, is fundamentally decent, kind and caring, who pays his taxes and tips 25 percent and brings you flowers every time he picks you up for dinner. Now, consider this: Mr. Wonderful probably possesses the moral rectitude of a garden lizard. Left to his own devices, he will bring flowers to as many women as he possibly can.

Let me put it more plainly. Consider me. Me and Rosie. We’d been dating for awhile and things were great-shared interests, good sex, lots of laughs (and a few tears). Things were going great. Then I started hearing rumblings along these lines:

Language is a useful and precise tool. Use it.
“I don’t think I could ever see another man,” she would say.
“Mmm-hmm,” I would reply.
“I told some of my friends that you were my boyfriend,” she said.
“That’s sweet,” I said.
“Maybe we could go somewhere over the holidays,” she said.
“Yeah, that sounds nice,” I said.
Finally, she got to the point. She had cooked roast pork and truffled mashed potatoes. She was wearing my favorite sundress. Her hair was up. We were kissing. I was pulling one of the sundress straps off her shoulder.
“Mmmm,” Rosie said.
“Mmmm,” I replied. Now this was dialogue I appreciated.
“Mmmm,” she said again. “I was thinking, I don’t think I can keep doing this unless I know we’re exclusive.”
“Exclusive?” I said. I continued with the strap.
“Yeah,” Rosie said. What had happened to the “mmms?” “Exclusive. As in, you’re the only one I’m dating and I’m the only one you’re dating.”

I had to give Rosie credit. She had picked her moment. The sundress. The roast pork. The hair up. I would do almost anything to bring her back to the subject at hand, to get her refocused on the kissing and the “mmms.” Almost anything, but not anything.

I told her I couldn’t promise exclusivity. (Why? That’s a long story. It involves timing and psychotherapy, as such stories often do.) Rosie understood. But Rosie had her own timing to consider.

So Rosie said goodbye.

Now, leave aside for the moment questions such as whether I made a huge mistake (probably), whether all men are garden lizards (yeah, for the most part)
Countless commitment-phobes cave into exclusive relationships every day.
or why I have a thing for sundresses (another long story). What’s important here is that the “exclusivity talk,” as some call it, is perhaps the most pivotal point in any budding relationship—one that transforms single people into committed couples who’ve made their first steps toward marriage, kids, and a lifetime of memories together. Oh, and one other small point: You may never, ever be able to sleep with anyone else ever again. This last part scares the living daylights out of most men (and some women). Nonetheless, countless commitment-phobes cave into exclusive relationships every day. Wondering how they arrived at that state? And how you can get your guy there, too? Here are some guidelines:

Don’t put it out there on a first date
I know women who make clear on the very first date that they aren’t interested in playing games, that unless the guy is looking for monogamy and a real, adult relationship, the guy should look elsewhere. Some men respect and are attracted to this kind of forthrightness. I just don’t happen to know any of those men—not when it’s the first date. You’re worried that he might be taking you for a ride? It’s okay to worry. But it’s a first date. This bears repeating, and italicizing: It’s a first date. You don’t even know the guy. So, for your own sake, hold the questions for later.

Know when you’re ready
If the first date is too soon, when’s too late? Based on a non-scientific survey of approximately every single woman I’ve ever known, most females start thinking about exclusivity at about the same time they start thinking about sex. I believe this has something to do with feelings of vulnerability and health concerns. That’s what women tell me, anyway. Or you may get the urge to settle down due to other signs. “There comes a time,” says a 32-year-old woman I know who’s planning her wedding, “when a woman starts talking with their date about bodily functions — bloating, heartburn, digestive stuff — that she wouldn’t have dreamed of talking about on the few dates. If she does, that’s a clear sign she’s getting comfortable—and won’t want other women threatening that. That’s the time to make sure it’s exclusive.”

Never, ever, assume you’re exclusive
Here are some important hints that the guy you’re dating doesn’t want to date anyone else: He says you’re the best kisser he’s ever met. He calls you every day. He tells you he’d like to introduce you to his college roommate and his wife. Now, here’s something to remember about those hints: They mean nothing. That’s also important enough to repeat and to put in italics: They mean nothing! When it comes to exclusivity, if you depend on hints to ascertain whether your partner is dating anyone else, you’re going to spend a lot of time being surprised. Language is a useful and precise tool. Use it.

Don’t try to fish for an answer
Phrases like “I couldn’t imagine dating anyone else” or “I really feel like we’re a great couple” will get you nowhere. The best way to convey that you’d rather he date only you is to say so. Simple declarative sentences work best. “I can’t keep seeing you unless I know I’m the only one you’re seeing,” is fine. “I really like you and want to be exclusive with you. I hope you feel the same way” also does nicely.

Don’t try to figure out why he can’t commit… maybe he’s terrified of commitment. Maybe he needs some time or some psychotherapy. Maybe he just doesn’t like you that much, and is biding his time until something better comes along. Whatever the reason, here’s an overarching bit of wisdom to keep it mind when considering the deep and fascinating reasons for his reluctance to promise exclusivity: The reasons don’t matter. They really don’t. What counts is your next move, which follows.

...Just bid him sayonara
So did your request for exclusivity not get the response you’d been hoping for? Well, then, as your mother might tell you, he’s not worth it. (And any lizard you don’t happen to be sleeping with will agree.) Figure out what you want. If the guy you’re dating won’t deliver, look elsewhere.

Steve Friedman is the author of seven books, including Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City. More information at
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