What Is Exclusive Dating

Women's Dating

What Is Exclusive Dating? Definition, Benefits & Challenges

Lexi Inks

Written by: Lexi Inks

Lexi Inks

Lexi joined the DatingAdvice team with years of lifestyle journalism experience. She grew her writing prowess through reporting on the topic of sex and relationships, and she loves continuing to cover this niche content while working toward becoming an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. You can find Lexi's writing in Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Well + Good, and Women's Health, among other publications.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com.

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In the past, marriage was the ultimate form of commitment. Nowadays, romantic relationships look a bit different.

While plenty of modern connections still follow the “relationship escalator,” aka the standard progression from dating to engagement to marriage, the dating phase often lasts longer and has sub-phases.

If you’re in the dating pool, it’s likely you’ve encountered the phrase “exclusive dating.” 

Rather than committing to a relationship as soon as possible, many folks are taking weeks or months of courtship to decide if their date could be a potential partner. 

Exclusivity — the agreement that two people who are dating won’t date anyone else going forward — is a common step on the new relationship escalator. It involves taking time to date exclusively before making a commitment and labeling each other as an official partner. 

Definition | Signs of Exclusive Dating | Benefits | Challenges       

Understanding Exclusive Dating

While it’s not necessary for everyone, a period of exclusive dating can be helpful for a number of reasons. The most important aspect of dating exclusively is communication, especially pertaining to the agreement itself. 

If you and your potential significant other are clear about your desire to be exclusive, it could benefit your connection.

How Is Being Exclusive Different From Casual Dating?

Everyone has different goals in their romantic life. Some people would like one long-term partnership, some people prefer non-monogamy, and others may fall somewhere in between. 

Casual dating has become an increasingly popular option for many modern singles who aren’t ready or willing to settle down into a serious partnership quite yet. A 2022 Pew Research survey found that 40% of adults in the U.S. were using dating apps to find casual dating partners.

exclusive dating

People who prefer to date casually will often see more than one person at a time, have sexual partners outside of their romantic ones, or date one person but agree to a no-strings attached approach.

This is where exclusive dating can be distinguished from other forms of dating because it is usually characterized by some form of promise or commitment. 

Two people who agree to date exclusively will follow the rules of monogamous relationships. This decision is most often made so that a more serious partnership can form over time. Casual dating is intended for those who don’t want to date seriously. 

When Do You Start Being Exclusive?

Although some people in your life may give opinions about when a person should date, get married, or have children, the truth is there are no set timelines when it comes to your love life. 

Society tends to place certain expectations on us — a la the relationship escalator — but ultimately, it’s up to each individual or couple to decide when to become exclusive. It all depends on your vision for the future and how your desires align.

Personally, I have agreed to exclusivity within three weeks and after three months. You should consider carefully when feeling out this decision. 

timeline for going exclusive

Where do you see the relationship going? Do you share some core values and desires for what a relationship should look like? How would you feel if they started dating or hooking up with someone else? 

Once you’ve identified your thoughts about questions like these and you know that your partner shares similar answers, it could be time to become exclusive

Common Mistakes & Misconceptions

Becoming exclusive with someone new can be an exciting process, but it can also be a nerve-wracking one. After all, someone has to be the one to start the conversation. 

If that person is you, then you’ll want to make sure that you feel prepared and confident as you bring it up to your significant other. 

Make sure that your desire to be exclusive doesn’t stem from fear, anxiety, or jealousy. 

If your potential partner is currently dating someone else and it’s making you feel insecure or anxiously attached, then asking to be exclusive may not be the best route to take. Instead, you’ll want to take some time to heal those issues through therapy or other support before you make that decision. 

exclusivity

Another common mistake is confusing exclusive dating for long-term commitment. While, sure, most couples who agree to become exclusive do end up labeling themselves as romantic partners over time, not everyone dates exclusively with the intention of forming a long-term partnership. 

Some people choose to date exclusively simply because they don’t have the time or energy to date multiple people at one time, but they aren’t ready for a serious relationship. 

When you feel ready to have the exclusivity conversation with the person you’re seeing, it’s important to keep this in mind and clarify where their head is at. 

Signs of Exclusive Dating

If you’re not sure you’re ready for exclusive dating, look at the signs. Maybe you already have all the hallmarks in your dating life, and all you need now is the label.

Clear Communication

It’s pretty easy to assume we’ve all heard the phrase “communication is key” when referring to romantic relationships. 

clear communication

As part of a happy and healthy love life, you and your S.O. should engage in open and honest conversations about your feelings, concerns, and needs.

When you can both express yourselves openly, listen intentionally, and understand each other clearly, this is a really good sign of effective communication. 

As a foundation for long-term partnership, communicating well with your S.O. can be a great stepping stone to an exclusive dating situation. 

Commitment

Does the person you’re dating regularly plan dates for you? Do they text or call you on a consistent basis? Have they started to meet important people in your life? 

committment

If so, you can feel assured that they are likely ready to form a serious commitment. 

Although the concept of commitment looks different from couple to couple, receiving consistent attention and affection and having a partner show up for you are major signs that they are committed to you. 

Monogamy

Monogamy is one of the more obvious tenets of exclusive dating. When you and a potential partner agree to be exclusive, a large part of that agreement is the idea that you won’t be dating or engaging sexually with other people. 

This allows you to really establish an intimate connection and see how your relationship can develop. 

monogamy

Monogamy isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely an important aspect of dating exclusively. 

Exclusive dating can play a role within ethical non-monogamy as well. If you and a new partner are interested in polyamory or an open relationship, starting as an exclusive and monogamous couple could help you set a secure foundation. 

Especially if you are inexperienced with non-monogamy, ensure your connection is rock-solid. You need to have established plenty of trust and communication through a period of monogamy. That will help set you both up for success.

Benefits of Exclusive Dating

Being exclusive with a person has its pros and cons, but it can ultimately lead to a strong foundation of communication and lasting affection. 

Emotional Security & Stability

If you’ve been seeing someone for a while and you’ve found yourself developing strong feelings for them, it can be crushing to find out that they are interested in someone else. 

While all’s fair in love and casual dating, watching your crush flirt with other people can be difficult or even destabilizing. Especially if you’re a person who deals with an anxious attachment style.

honest conversations

Not having an agreement or boundaries established with your S.O. can cause a world of issues. 

Feeling unsure about your future or wondering if they will fall for another person can cause plenty of emotional distress when you’re dating someone new. This is where exclusive dating can help. 

You need to sit down and have an honest conversation with your potential partner about how you’re feeling. Explain that you would like to see them exclusively. You’ll have the chance to lay it all out and finally get clear on how they’re feeling. 

If you both decide to be exclusive, you can feel more assured and secure in the emotional safety of your relationship — and have a better idea of where it’s heading.   

Deeper Intimacy

A major perk to exclusive dating is the idea that you and your S.O. can create an in-depth connection. Because you aren’t dealing with the distraction or temptation of other people, you are able to build trust and intimacy

emotional intimacy

Contrary to popular belief, intimacy doesn’t always imply a sexual situation. Having tough conversations and weathering difficult times can also be signs of building intimacy. 

That said, intimacy in the bedroom can definitely be a positive benefit to dating exclusively. You and your partner can feel safe and free to explore sexually and nurture a passionate physical connection. 

Clarity

Have you ever dated someone you were really into, but you couldn’t get a read on them? Did they often seem distant or aloof? But maybe you were so attracted that you just couldn’t stay away? 

Have you ever stuck around in a toxic relationship where you knew your partner wasn’t as committed as you were, but you liked them too much to move on? These situations don’t have to be the norm. 

casual dating

Even in the age of hookup culture and online dating, having a strong and secure relationship is still possible — and beneficial. If you and your date agree to be exclusive, you can feel much more informed about the nature of your relationship. 

Engaging in that conversation with intentionality means you will have a better understanding of what each of you wants, needs, and expects from the relationship. 

Be sure to establish boundaries and comfort levels in terms of interacting with other people and the ways you expect your connection to be respected. 

Challenges and Considerations

Relationships aren’t for the faint of heart. If you’re someone who isn’t quite ready to be cuffed up with a serious partner, especially due to time or energy constraints, then exclusive dating may not be the way to go.

Time Investment

When dating exclusively, couples often have an underlying expectation that they will spend time together on a consistent basis. 

Whether you work a demanding job or have familial commitments that keep your attention, you’ll want to take your lifestyle and priorities into account when deciding whether you should date someone exclusively. 

Honesty & Trust

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become exclusive with partners in the past, even though I knew I shouldn’t have.

honesty and trust

Sometimes we had clashing lifestyles or not enough in common. Other times I pursued exclusivity with someone just to feel a sense of trust and intimacy. 

Let me tell you: that is not a healthy route to take. 

Instead, you should feel motivated to become exclusive with a partner because you trust them, feel emotionally secure with them, and (ideally) already have an open and honest rapport with them.

Managing Expectations

Becoming exclusive can be exciting and make you hopeful for a potential future with someone new. 

Now that you’ve removed the possibility of dating or sleeping with other people, you’re bound to be together for the long haul, right? Well, not always. 

managing expectations

Exclusive dating doesn’t necessarily always imply a long-term commitment. Instead, it really ensures that you and your S.O. will remain solely focused on your connection for as long as it lasts. 

As previously mentioned, some people choose to date exclusively not because they want to get married and start a family, but simply because they only have the mental or emotional capacity to get to know one person at a time. 

Good partners should communicate specifically about why they want to be exclusive and what that means for the future. 

It’s important to make sure you aren’t jumping years ahead and setting expectations for your relationship that don’t match up with theirs. 

A Healthy Relationship Starts With Open Communication

Many of us have pined after someone we shouldn’t have in the past or accepted less than what we deserved just because we liked someone so much. While it’s human to make these mistakes, holding higher standards for ourselves can prevent that pain from happening in the future. 

If you establish that exclusive dating is something you require in your dating life, no matter when or with whom, you’re much more likely to feel a sense of clarity and security within that connection. 

Having consistent and vulnerable conversations about how you feel and what you need from each other is a great way to promote intimacy and trust. 

Once you remove the confusion or distraction of seeing other people and wondering where your relationship might be headed, you and your partner can start to build a love that lasts.