DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I need help on how best to navigate the period between when I meet someone I am interested in dating and when we actually decide to date exclusively.
Here’s my situation. I’m a guy, and about a month ago I met a guy (T) that lives in a different city that is a 4-hour drive away. We met while we were both on vacation in a beach resort and we hit it off immediately. He is a good quality guy that seems awesome for me except for one item – I am not 100% sexually attracted to him… I’m at about 60%. He is a great kisser (a huge sexual factor for me), and the over-all connection is there so I’m still trying to figure out if the level of sexual attraction is a deal breaker or not.
Since meeting T, I have driven twice to his city and we have spent 4-5 amazing days together on each trip. We’ve had a great time together each time. When we are apart, we text each other daily. He is planning to spend next weekend with me in my city.
A few days after I met T, but before my first trip to his city, I met another guy (M). M lives in the same city I do, plays the same sport (which is how we met), and on a scale of 1 to 10 in sexual attraction, M is a 12!
Initially, I thought M was just going to be a short-term sexual fling. There is a big age gap between us, so I didn’t have any expectations for it being anything other than a one or two-time sexual thing. However, to my surprise, we’ve been seeing each other almost every day, having meals together, going to the movies, museums… pretty much – dating. We seem more compatible than I initially expected.
Neither guy knows that I am dating two people. Hell, it’s possible they are also dating other people. Right? However, my conscience is starting to pressure me to make a decision. Yet I am not quite ready to choose one person to date exclusively… My brain right now chooses T, while my junk chooses M.
My question to you is – what is the best ethical way to navigate this initial period? This is the first time I’ve dated two people at the same time. Do I continue the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule? Explicitly telling them I’m dating other people seems like a sure way to shoot my own foot and lose both.
Thanks for your help!
Exploring Before Choosing
DEAR EXPLORING BEFORE CHOOSING: Not going to lie, EBC, my knee-jerk response would be to say “nobody says you have to be exclusive.” And while I’m only half-serious, an ethically non-monogamous relationship is an option for folks these days. But it’s not for everyone, nor is that an answer that’s especially helpful for you in this circumstance.
The problem is that you’re in a weird gray area when it comes to dating – one that tends to come up because we as a culture don’t like talking about dating – especially with the people we’re dating. There’s an almost palpable fear that a person’s attraction to us is as fragile and ephemeral as a soap bubble and as timid as a deer. There’s a sense that if you try to bring up the topic – or even acknowledge its presence – too early and you’ll cause the whole thing to disappear with a sudden pop. As a result, we get people who want to surf this quantum state of ambiguity where they’re both dating and not, both exclusive and not at the same time. As long as nobody brings up the topic, then it’s anything goes.
But this is also how people end up getting hurt. When nobody says anything, you end up with the very good chance that you and and the other person are on entirely different pages. I’ve seen plenty of folks who’ve been hurt and upset because they found out that the person they’d been on a handful of dates with was also seeing other people, even though nobody had said a single word about their being an item. Hell, look at your situation. You see yourself as being non-exclusive, especially this early into the relationship. But T or M (or both) may have an expectation of exclusivity. If either (or both) of them find out that they’re not your one and only, then you run the risk of hurt feelings and the end of a burgeoning relationship.
The problem though, is that someone having these expectations (assuming they do) isn’t fair to you if they’re being imposed unilaterally or without your consent. It’s unreasonable for someone to insist that you’re bound by someone’s expectations that you didn’t know exist or that you didn’t agree to in the first place. This is why I’m a believer that if you haven’t had the Defining The Relationship talk – or at the very least, a discussion about exclusivity, you should both work under the assumption that you aren’texclusive. Relationships can’t work if everyone involved isn’t on the same page, and that includes how everyone feels about issues like exclusivity and monogamy. There are too many times when couples (and triads and poly pods and…) run headlong into conflict because they never actually sat down and discussed just what the rules of their relationship actually were. As a result, something that one party thought was perfectly above board ends up hurting someone else, who had an entirely different understanding.
This doesn’t mean that one person may not want exclusivity, may not hope for exclusivity, may not be hurt if they find out you’re dating other people.
Now, I know a lot of people will say that for them, their potential partner dating others would be a definite deal-breaker. This is fine… but this is something that they need to be up front about. If it’s going to be important to someone, it’s far better to state it up front and weed out the folks who aren’t suitable for them. Trying to surf the ambiguity of the situation in order to not have to talk about it isn’t any more productive and causes unnecessary pain. Doubly so if they’re going to get upset at you for not living up to an arrangement you didn’t agree to. This is why I’m a believer in that if you have needs, especially needs from someone you’re only just starting to get to know, you need to state those up front and early.
You (general you) have to be willing to take responsibility and ask for the information you’re going to want adn/or need.
My belief is that exclusivity and monogamy should be opt-in, especially in the early days of dating, when you’re still trying to determine whether this is a relationship worth pursuing. But in general, it’s much easier to say “I want this to be about just us” than it is to say “yeah, we’ve been exclusive but now I want to see other people as well as you.”
With that out of the way, let’s talk about your situation, EBC. And the truth is that it’s really goddamn early in both of these relationships. You’ve only known T for a month and you’ve only been on a handful of dates. You’ve known M for less time and while you may be seeing each other on the regular… a month is still really goddamn early. Even with a month of near-constant dates and banging, you barely know somebody. You’re both still very much in that initial “on my best behavior” stage, where you’re still presenting this carefully polished and curated version of one another. There’s still a lot that runs on a “need to know” and “ready to know” basis and frankly if it doesn’t directly affect them, then I’m of the opinion that they don’t need to know. This includes the fact that you’re seeing other people, especially if you’re not serious about either of them.
However if they ask, then yes, you need to tell them. No trying to hem and haw or parse their words so that they didn’t ask specifically enough. If you can tell that they’re asking if you’re seeing other people, then you tell them, openly and honestly. Similarly, if your conscience is really bugging you about this, then it may make you feel better to talk to them and say “Hey, I know we never talked about exclusivity and I don’t know how you feel about things but I want to let you know that I’m seeing other folks.”
Until then, though? I think not saying anything at this stage is fine.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have started seeing a guy that I like a lot. We seem to have great sexual chemistry as well as good intellectual discussions and a lot in common.
However, he doesn’t seem that aligned with my interests. I love personal development – going to seminars, listening to podcasts, reading books, hiring life coaches – all of the above.
When I started talking about it he told me it reminded him of a date he went on where all the girl could talk about what how she wrote to Jesus in her spare time.
I was pretty offended at this point, and sort of shut down. The date was awkward after that point. What would have been a better way to handle this?
I really like this guy and I’m SICK of online dating, and he seems like a good option to become serious with. But, what do I do if he shames me for my love of personal development?
Dating is Hard
DEAR DATING IS HARD: I’m not gonna lie, DIH, it sounds like you’re putting a LOT of time and effort into personal development. I mean, if you’re regularly going to seminars and hiring life coaches, that sounds like it’s something that takes up a significant amount of time for you.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s cool if that’s your thing. You do you. But to someone who isn’t as interested as you are, this may seem a little intense and overwhelming.
So I think my question would be: when you were talking about this with him, how did you roll it out? Was it a case of “these are a couple of the things I’m into,” or was it a lengthy explanation of what you’re doing, how, why and the results you’ve had, all in one go?
One of the effects of being really passionate about something is that you really want to talk about the things you’re passionate about. The problem is that sometimes there’s so much to it that you love that it’s hard to explain it to someone who isn’t already familiar with the topic. You can see this all the time when somebody who loves, say, Star Wars or comics or anime or a particular game series tries to explain it to somebody who’s not into it themselves. This can sometimes lead to… less of a discussion and more of a lecture series, often with sub-lectures that branch off from the main topic.
This can be a combination of overwhelming, mystifying and intimidating all at once.
(Here’s a fun exercise: ask a diehard fan to explain the story and lore of Kingdom Hearts… in less than 30 minutes).
So it’s possible that he may not have been your personal development so much as the amount and delivery. Or he may have just heard all of this as your being into something he considers to be a lot of woo-woo and made a comparison that you (reasonably) found insulting.
It’s one thing for couples not to share every interest; in fact it’s quite healthy for the relationship if everyone has their own life and interests outside of being a couple. But even if they don’t share your interests, they have to at least respect them… or that you have them.
If he isn’t into your thing for personal development or thinks it’s wacky or silly, that’s not ideal, but it’s also not necessarily a deal-breaker as long as he can respect that you love it. If he’s going to neg you for what you’re into though? That’s a sign that he’s not that great of an option to settled down with.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)