Scaling back exclusivity – is this a recipe for disaster?
October 26, 2020 12:23 AM   Subscribe

Type A dating a Type B kind of guy. I want to see other people but keep seeing him.

After I posted my last question, I met someone through friends and we have been getting along great. We've been seeing each other for slightly more than a month now, and I think he's a fantastic guy, but we have vastly different communication styles and it's starting to bother me.

We do communicate well when we are physically together, but when we are apart I hear from him maybe only once a day and hardly on weekends. This is not ideal, at least for me; I have very busy days as well but I still take time to check in periodically throughout the day, and I'd prefer it the person I date does the same. If I don't check in with him, 80% of the time I won't hear from him.

He's also passive, which I've never experienced before. When we are planning for our dates I ask him what he has in mind and his answer is always "I don't know, haven't really thought about it", and it grinds my gears. He'll accept my suggestions, though. So it's not a case of him being indecisive; I think I'm more of a type A type of person and he's a laid-back 'see where things go' guy. I don't know if this makes us a good match.

About three weeks after we first met he said that he wasn't seeing anyone else and I mentioned that I wasn't as well. Mostly because I wasn't because I was so busy with work and friends and hobbies.

But currently I find myself feeling tired of always making the first move re: planning dates, initiating contact. It's making me feel like I'm putting in more effort than he is, and I don't want to bind myself to him just yet since he hasn't actually shown me that he is as interested as I am. As a matter of fact, he mentioned that he has had trouble committing in past relationships, but he feels like we are "getting there", whatever that means. So as of now we are "exclusive but not officially in a relationship".

This is a bit ridiculous to me. If we are not in a relationship, then why would being exclusive even be on the table? If he had asserted that we wants to be with me, then I'd be all up for being monogamous sexually and romantically.

I'm thinking of telling him that I'd like to start seeing other people (and of course he is free to do so as well), but keep seeing him, as I'd prefer not to give him an ultimatum. Please tell me if I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too. Would this be a total disaster?
posted by antihistameme to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you commit to a mutually desired and respected nonmonogamous relationship with lots of trust and communication, broadly speaking, for most monogamous people most of the time, you cannot step back from exclusivity and it be fine and happy. But that doesn't especially matter here, because that's not the biggest issue. This guy was a dick in your last question, and he's a dick now. He's controlling and yet passive-aggressive, and he shows no sign of wanting to change those things. Even if he did, he would still not be a nice guy or good for you. You're attached to him, perhaps love him, but he isn't treating you like you're cool and smart and special, and anyone you're dating should do that. Would you treat a friend like he treats you? I wouldn't; it's too disrespectful for a friend, let alone a romantic partner. It seems like getting over him could be hard for you, but you deserve better.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:29 AM on October 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

We do communicate well when we are physically together

Awesome! If you can, I'd suggest using this nice commonality you have to check in with each other about how you both feel your not-in-person communication is going. It would give you an opportunity to ask for him to take more initiative when you're apart (or at least try to be more than occasionally responsive), and to ask him how he feels about how often you both message/call each other. Yeah, it sucks that you may have to be the one to approach this subject. If you don't want to, you have this internet stranger's permission to fade away (not that you need it).

About three weeks after we first met he said that he wasn't seeing anyone else and I mentioned that I wasn't as well.

Ohhh ok! If this is the only occasion and manner in which you both have discussed exclusivity, I can imagine that he might not feel the relationship is as exclusive as you appear to feel. I really like being clear about exclusivity when I'm dating (especially with COVID), so I'd recommend either broaching the subject of exclusivity again in a more clear way, or just going ahead and trying to connect with other people unless he makes his feelings more clear.
posted by el gran combo at 1:37 AM on October 26, 2020

I’m not sure how this conversation would go, but if I wanted to have it I’d probably open it with something like “I thought about it and I feel like we became exclusive more quickly than I wanted to—I think I need for us to officially be in a relationship to feel good about that. How would you feel about walking that exclusivity back until and unless we decide to take that step but continuing to see each other and feel things out?”

From the details made explicit in your Ask though it doesn’t sound like you’ve made that commitment? Just said that you both weren’t seeing anyone else currently.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:39 AM on October 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Just to answer to mostlymartha, the man in this question is a different person than the one in the last question. :) We only met about two months ago.
posted by antihistameme at 1:46 AM on October 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

So, you want your fellow to do some of the emotional labor in the relationship, like taking the initiative to connect with you when you are apart, and planning activities and dates. And you don't want to be exclusive with an emotionally lazy person who has commitment issues. ... I totally get where you are coming from.

If you want to keep your options, tell him. "Hey person. I don't want to have to do all the planning between us. I want you to step up and do some. But if you can't, then I'm going to be keeping my options open and dating other people. How do you feel about that?"

Be upfront. Tell him your perspective. He may be acting a certain way by habit, but might be totally willing to step up to keep you. But you won't know until you put it to him. He ain't going to put it to himself.
posted by Thella at 2:12 AM on October 26, 2020 [21 favorites]

When we are planning for our dates I ask him what he has in mind and his answer is always "I don't know, haven't really thought about it", and it grinds my gears. He'll accept my suggestions, though.

NO. You are not the cruise director for your relationship. "OK cool, give me a call when you've had a chance to give it some thought and suggest a plan!"

The natural consequence of not bothering to make plans is not that you do all the work; it's that he doesn't get to see you.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:11 AM on October 26, 2020 [38 favorites]

If you think of a relationship as beating a path through trackless jungle together, and you're the one who's usually wielding the machete and dude is mostly just following you in the cleared path, and you're complaining about your callused hands and sore arms and all the sticker seeds and thorn scratches and he's just la-la-la it sure is nice here in the jungle!

Well, maybe that provides a little clarity.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:35 AM on October 26, 2020 [15 favorites]

It sounds like you’re already irritated by this guy, which isn’t a great sign. You’ve only been dating a month and you’re tired, frustrated and feeling under appreciated. If your goal is a monogamous relationship, I would cut your losses and free yourself up to find someone who plans dates, initiates contact, and is obviously a good match.

I was going to say that it doesn’t really sound like you’ve committed to exclusivity (if your only discussion about it has been one where you both casually mentioned not seeing anyone else in the first couple of weeks of knowing each other), and given that you’ve had a discussion about your relationship status and he’s told you he’s not there yet, I was going to suggest you just go ahead and start seeing other people, with no need for discussion.

But then I reread your question, and it seems to me that what you actually want is to get your needs met without asking or telling him what they are. Are you hoping that telling him you don’t want to be exclusive will jolt him into action and commitment?

You’ve said in your question you want an exclusive relationship with him, but have you told him? You’ve said you’d like to hear from him more between dates, and take the lead on planning dates, but have you told him?

These things don’t always have to be a big discussion. What would happen if, the next time you were talking about seeing each other, you said “I’ve planned our last (however many) dates, I’d love you to make the arrangements this time”, and see what happens. Hopefully he’ll take the reigns, but if he can’t come up with anything, you can say “it seems we’re both a bit burnt out on the planning front. Let’s take a rain check and we’ll do something when you can come up with something fun”. This is a very low bar. A functioning human should be able to cobble together a plan to see someone he likes and has been seeing for a month. If he doesn’t quickly come back to you with a plan, you know he’s either not a functioning human or isn’t that interested. Either way, you’ve got your answer.

Same with communication. Next time you see him (hopefully on a date he’s thoughtfully planned) you can say something like “I notice I don’t hear from you much in between our dates. What’s up with that?” And maybe he’ll say he hates messaging, or maybe he’ll say he’s been unsure of how much you want to hear from him, or something else. And you can say “I’d really like to hear from you a bit more- is that doable for you?” And he’ll say yes or no, and he’ll either do it or not, and you get to decide if the level of communication he’s able to give is acceptable to you.

I actually feel like exclusivity/relationship status is a bit of a red herring- not committing/defining the relationship after one month isn’t unreasonable. From your history, it looks like you got out of a very toxic relationship about two months ago, met this guy not long after, and say you want a committed relationship with him, even though you’re already doubting you’re a match, have vastly different communication styles, he grinds your gears, you feel tired, you think he’s passive, and you don’t know if he’s into you. Ask yourself why it is you feel so keen to be in a relationship with this guy.

Your ex was abusive and called you high maintenance (ugh, what a dick) when you expressed your needs and feelings, so perhaps you’re scared of asking directly for what you need, or of having needs at all. This is completely understandable. Most people (me included) who’ve been in rotten relationships pick up bad habits/hang ups/worse that need to be unpicked.

But what you want (someone who seems really excited about being with you and expresses that in how he communicates and spends time with you) is TOTALLY normal and fair. What isn’t great is trying to get your needs met indirectly, by games or manipulation.

You mentioned in your last question that you weren’t planning to rush into a relationship, and you were taking care of your mental health. I hope you’re still doing that, and it hasn’t taken a back seat to this relationship. You did really well to extricate yourself from your ex, and dating and love can be so helpful and healing. But give yourself time to recover, and build your self esteem on your own feelings, not how someone else feels about you.
posted by Dwardles at 4:44 AM on October 26, 2020 [18 favorites]

I don’t think that being in a exclusive, committed relationship with ‘‘tis man will solve any of the problems you are talking about, so I would not think about being in a relationship with him. I would step back and stop calling and doing any planning. If he calls, not texts, and he asks you to go out and do something he has planned himself, go out and have fun. Don’t mention how you feel about him, have a good time. If you don’t hear from him or he doesn’t make plans himself in the next week or two, forget about him, he’s not the one for you, now or ever. Today tell him you want to not be exclusive and you don’t have to explain in detail.
posted by waving at 4:45 AM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hi all, thank you for your constructive advice. I've gone ahead and ended things with this person, as I feel that we want vastly different things. He mentioned that he is not able to give me what I need, so I told him that we are not compatible after all, and we should stop seeing each other.

He basically wants everything in a relationship except the title, which to me is unacceptable and reeks of immaturity/inability to handle anything long term, so I'm out!

Also an update re: working on myself: I am still going to ballet every weekend, spending time with friends, gotten back on the meds, will be signing up for krav maga next month, and am starting a new job that pays double(!!!) what I'm making now.

Go me!
posted by antihistameme at 5:06 AM on October 26, 2020 [66 favorites]

YES antihistameme!!! Thank you for this update. Cheering for you!!!
posted by nathaole at 6:11 AM on October 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

YES! You did the hard thing and I am so happy for you!
posted by kimberussell at 7:38 AM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Waving said everything there is to say. That's all you need to hear from us. He either puts in the effort and then you talk about having a relationship or he doesn't, and you don't have a relationship. Don't try to make a relationship from the inside out, that never works.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:41 AM on October 26, 2020

Oops, sorry you updated as I was typing my comment. Good for you!!! You've saved yourself weeks, possibly months of agonizing over someone who was never right to begin with. I wish that in the past I was as open to good advice as you are, I would have saved so much energy!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:44 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

exclusive but not officially in a relationship

all that means is that he happens not to have sexual access to anyone else right now. Wow what an honor.

love your update. A+ go you, congratulations on the new job!!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:01 AM on October 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Woohoo! So glad you ended it.

From one type a to another, it's really just better to date someone who is more naturally a fit out the gate. It's one thing to negotiate small things, and another to have entirely different communication styles. Be on the lookout for a person who is already proactive, responsible and communicative and you'll be in HEAVEN!
posted by amycup at 9:19 AM on October 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is the happy ending I hoped for. Way to go!! This internet rando is applauding you!!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was going to start my response with "So, why do you want to keep seeing him?" but you already beat me to it. I love it.

Also, you are KILLING it. I'd love to see you with someone who helps you kill it even more ( at awkward wording...) and that you bring the same to them.

Anyway, this:

his answer is always "I don't know, haven't really thought about it

reminds me of this from Captain Awkward's old OKC profile:

You’re comfortable taking the lead sometimes in making the plans. It’s not your fault (we all have baggage from old relationships, right?) but right now the least sexy words in the English language are “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” and “I don’t care. Whatever.”

She has such a great way of putting things. It's definitely a thing, this kind of passivity, and I'd bail on it immediately upon encountering it, save for something really exceptional.
posted by foxjacket at 2:10 PM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

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