At one time, in our culture, “going steady” was the term for a commitment to an exclusive relationship without the finality of a marriage contract. Whether you “wore his pin” or “gave her your ring” – usually high school – going steady was a statement. We may not call it that any more, but deciding to become exclusive in a relationship is serious. It usually happens after you’ve been dating awhile – maybe around 6 months, though there is no rule. You need to figure out: are you ready? Is your partner ready?
In this day and age, as an adult in a dating relationship, you need to know what being exclusive means to you. To some it means dating and being physically intimate with only one person. To others there are more expectations and boundaries.
To know what it means for you and your partner, figure out if you have a clear relationship vision? In other words, do you know what you want and need in a relationship? Does your partner fulfill it?
To help you decide if you are ready to be exclusive, consider this checklist:
- Why do you want to be exclusive? Does it come from a desire to grow your connection or is it a result of possessiveness? The desire for genuine growth and closeness has the potential to lead to marriage. Possessiveness is more likely to lead to jealousy and is based on a desire to control. It offers little of promise to a relationship that is unlikely to last.
- How do you feel when you are together? Do you feel comfortable, happy, and secure in what is a trusting relationship? Look inward to figure this out. When you think of time spent with your date, do you feel safe and warm? You may feel excited and stimulated… but not by fear, insecurity, or jealousy. Do you have an inner sense that this person has your back and likes you for YOU? Or is your connection intense, unstable, and insecure? If you lie awake at night with a churning anxiety connected with this person—consider that a red flag.
- Are you ready to “go public?” Think about it. “Going public” means announcing to your family and friends that you are in a serious relationship. For you it may mean posting “in a relationship” on Facebook, or returning to dating sites to change your current status. Public acknowledgment is not a lifetime commitment like engagement, but it does state that you are exclusive. If you are not ready for that… it means something.
- Are you and your partner at the same place in the relationship? If it seems as if you both ebb and flow naturally together, with similar expectations, you probably are. If you constantly feel out of sync with one another, or if one of you seems to push or pull too hard to get the other to agree to a “relationship agenda”—you are not on the same page, and it’s probably not time to decide on exclusivity. There is no reason to think that time may not come, it just isn’t here yet.
- Do you enjoy spending quality time together? This may sound obvious, but give it some thought. Do you make time for one another or do you end up simply working around what’s convenient? When you are together, do you connect in lots of ways – not just sexually or because you are in the same profession. For instance, do you laugh together, love listening to what one another says, the mundane and the profound, and can you spend time together in companionable silence? If those silences are awkward, or you are always looking for distractions, like going out with friends or watching a movie, I wonder why?
- Have you and your partner talked about it? A discussion about taking the relationship to the next level is the only way to know how your partner feels about it, and whether you are on the same page. You cannot guess or assume to know.
If you are ready for exclusivity, and, for whatever reason, your partner is not, what is your next move? Painful as it may be to admit to yourself: staying in a relationship that is not going the direction you desire is a complete waste of your time and energy.
When you and the person you’ve been seeing both feel the same way, and want to commit to an exclusive relationship—what a great feeling! When a relationship is lopsided in terms of commitment expectations, no matter how compatible you are in other ways, it is time to move on to find someone who will value you the way you want to be valued and appreciate the wonderful things that make you YOU.