Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m back to dating after a multiple-year relationship. Years ago, I think I believed it was wrong for people to “date around” without being explicitly clear that’s what they were doing. Now that I’m closer to 30 than 21, things feel oddly less clear, not more. I am not sleeping with anyone, but there are a few guys I see fairly regularly, and my feelings are pleasant and likey, not passionately lovey, about all of them. I am hoping that eventually those feelings of passion set in, about one of these guys or someone else, and ideally my next serious relationship will lead to marriage.
In the meantime, I am a fun and respectful date, I split costs fairly with each guy, and I am living in the moment while keeping an eye on both their feelings and my instincts about their long-term potential.
Is this wrong? Does it become wrong if I know (or at least strongly suspect) that a guy is dating only me?
I feel like it’s not till we have a conversation about exclusivity that I have to address this, and I don’t want to bring it up unless I have to. But I also know these guys will want to sleep with me because that’s just how things work, and I really don’t want to go down that road with multiple people at once, and I’d need more serious feelings before I felt interested anyway.
My thoughts are kind of scattered here. What’s your take?
You seem self-aware, not scattered — wanting to date a lot of people, not sleep with them, and see whether anything more serious develops — so it’s really just a matter of how much you say to whom, and when.
Since you’re not physically involved, I don’t think you owe anyone an explanation yet, but your conscience has to make that call. Even there, though, you seem clear: “I don’t want to bring it up … till we have a conversation about exclusivity.” OK. Nothing wrong with that.
When one of them makes a clear push for more, then you say something to him. And if that results in your getting serious with someone, then you drop the round-robin altogether.
I don’t think you’re giving yourself credit. You seem quite clear, you’ve merely stopped being so absolute. A nice benefit to getting older, I think.
Re: More: In today’s dating world, though, sex doesn’t count as “more” in most cases. Exclusivity is “more,” but sex is “expected.”
Since they’re dating and not having sex, then sex does count as “more.”
Re: More: Can I say the notion that sex is expected is kind of grossing me out? This just makes me feel like I’d be going into every dating situation trying to defend my borders.
We can go back and forth on whether expectations have changed about sex, but something more important hasn’t changed: that the right person for you will either agree with you or respect your right to disagree.
So if you’re on a date and you’re stuck defending borders, then this wouldn’t have been the person for you even if old expectations were in effect.
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