A couple of months ago I got out of a "casual relationship", and honestly my feelings about it are mixed but mostly...WTF. You're basically agreeing to see each other until one of you finds someone else they'd rather be with, all to fill some physical and/or emotional needs. And as for exclusivity? Personally, I'd prefer my partners don't sleep with other people while we're sleeping together because like STI's are real and I'd rather not end up with cancer (those HPV commercials really freak me out, not gonna lie).
Anyway back to my point. From my experience, these relationships end up feeling like a real relationship but without the damn labels. We are in this Tinder culture that for some reason has made exclusive dating out to be this big commitment that leads to marriage and that scares people into not wanting to limit our options to just one person.
I had been dating this guy for awhile (like 7 months off and on) and we had decided to be “exclusive”, but we never discussed it outside of that. This left so many things open ended. Like ok we are exclusive but:
-Does exclusivity mean we still date other people but only sleep with each other? Or are we only dating & sleeping with each other?
-Does exclusivity also mean consistency? Like we will see each other regularly or just whenever we can make time?
-Is this just a netflix and chill relationship, or are we sharing pieces of our lives with each other? Can I call you and tell you about my shitty day at work and vice versa, or is that too relationship-y?
I think the biggest problem here was that I had way different expectations for what being exclusive meant and voicing my discomfort with something felt like I was trying to make it a real relationship and it wasn't, it was "casual". I just ended up feeling crazy and paranoid and it honestly wasn't even worth the anxiety. The real truth of it all was one of us wanted a relationship and the other wanted someone they could call when they were feeling kinda lonely and wanted some companionship.
So here are my thoughts. If you've agreed to date each other exclusively, just call it what it is: it's a relationship and they are your boyfriend/girlfriend. Ok, now breathe. You're happy with this person, you want to keep getting to know this person and you like spending time with this person. It's OK to date them until you realize maybe they aren't the person for you. And it's ok to do this exclusively with a label.
Setting boundaries and expectations is important in any relationship, but it's especially important in your romantic relationships. But in order to set healthy boundaries, you need to be able to look at yourself and know your own limits. You can't just agree to some else's boundaries if you know eventually those boundaries will be too much for you to keep. Once you know this, you can have an open and honest conversation about each of your boundaries. And if you can't find a middle ground, then it's probably not meant to be and it's time to let that person go. The truth of it all is that you cannot force someone into something they don't want to be a part of. It won't be anything close to what you're looking for and you'll end up feeling like you wasted your time when you could have been looking for someone who wants the same things you do.
This is the hard and messy part of dating. I know it sucks sometimes but in each of these experiences we are learning more about ourselves and what we want from our future partners and relationships. And someday, the hopeless romantic inside of me believes, the right person will find you at the right time.