Exclusive Dating: Meaning, Readiness And Rules

July 29, 2022 |
Exclusive dating
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Dating – Just getting to know each other but you know you have other options as well
Exclusively Dating – You’ve agreed that you’re only talking to each other but you’re still in the getting to know each other phase
Boyfriend/Girlfriend – You’ve made your relationship official and you’re off the market

The above conversation came from Reddit and I found it simple and easy to understand. Yes, the new dating jargon that Gen-Zers use is tricky, but then their relationships are also far more nuanced than the previous generations’. It’s easy to get confused between casual dating, dating exclusively, and a committed relationship, especially since different people can interpret and define these terms differently. The deal with labels is they are not universally understood and may change depending on where you are and what your dynamic is like.

The issue is not with labels per se but with clearly communicating what they mean. That’s what can make things confusing when you go from dating to a relationship with a pitstop of exclusive dating thrown in the mix. This confusion can give rise to an array of questions: Are exclusive dating and being committed closely connected? Can you be in a casual but exclusive relationship? What are the rules of exclusive dating? We’re here to answer all of these questions for you and more so that you can navigate exclusive dating like a pro.

What Is The Meaning Of Exclusive Dating?

The idea of dating exclusively is to stop dating other people and to be romantically involved with just one. It is when you have been dating for a while and feel a deep emotional connection that you consider being exclusive with them. In the dating game, once you start seeing someone, it is always casual at first.

“Let’s see where this goes” is the common consensus. You also keep a watch for other possible romantic interests but once you have gone out with the person long enough to feel there’s something here, the idea of exclusive dating will cross your mind. Simply put, it’s when the people involved stop looking out for others and start dating exclusively. They date each other to the exclusion of everyone else. That’s when it is called exclusive dating.

Exclusive dating is a modern dating norm and is used by people who still have doubts about commitment, but wouldn’t want to miss out on something worthwhile. So yes, if you are dating someone exclusively, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re both in a committed relationship. Exclusive dating does not make you a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Many people mistake exclusive dating for a committed relationship, but it is not the same thing. Dating exclusively implies not dating anyone else, and it is more like an experiment than a full commitment. If you are talking about dating exclusively versus a relationship, then in the former, one is still testing the waters, and in the latter, they have committed after having tested the waters. 

Couples who are dating exclusively still screen each other and not every other prospect that’s coming their way. Dating exclusively is the step right before entering a serious committed relationship, which means you envisage a future together (unless something goes wrong). However, even if you are in the exclusive dating stage, you may still have backup people who can be called to the forefront if your equation does not develop into a full-fledged relationship.

Hopefully, the meaning of exclusive dating is now clear to you. Maybe the only thing that isn’t clear is how you’re going to introduce this person if you bump into an old friend. Partner? No, that’s too official. Friend? No, too casual. Date? Bingo!

Related Reading: Fishing Dating – The New Dating Trend

How do you characterize dating exclusively?

If all that information of what seeing someone exclusively means has got you confused, here’s a takeaway for exclusively dating meaning summed up in the key characteristics of such an equation:

  • It involves not dating/meeting new people during the time you are together
  • It is more serious than casual flings but is not yet a committed relationship
  • It is possible to have a casual but exclusive relationship
  • It is considered a precursor to a committed relationship – which may or may not happen
  • Exclusive dating often begins when partners feel like knowing more about each other before actually committing
  • You are not seeing other people right now but you may have someone in mind in case things do not work out

When it comes down to it, it isn’t rocket science. Some people might reach the stage of dating exclusively without even thinking about it. Which begs the question, how do you know when you’ve reached this stage? Now that you’re well versed with exclusively dating meaning, let’s try to understand the steps that take place before you actually reach this juncture.

How do you reach the “exclusively dating but not in a relationship” stage?

What is exclusive dating exactly, what is expected of partners during this phase, and what the future holds, you’ve hopefully understood these nuances by now, but how exactly do you reach this phase? Do you just wake up one day and decide you’re now both exclusive but not official? Do you just assume exclusivity and hope for the best? Or do rules of exclusive dating entail having a detailed conversation and laying down some ground rules?

Well, ideally, the last scenario is best for everyone involved. A conversation can take the ambiguity out of the equation and doesn’t leave you wondering, “So what are we?” As we all know, being in the dating stage, in itself, a tricky undertaking. Questions like, “How much do I text him/her?” and “Am I allowed to call him/her cute names by now?” might go through your mind, and then of course, there’s the question of physical intimacy.

Does physical intimacy happen before or after you’ve decided you’re going to be dating exclusively? Or should you wait till you’re in a committed relationship? What’s normal? What’s expected? Why can’t anything ever be straightforward?!

While all these questions may have got you worked up, the solution is a very simple one: honest and open communication. Assuming exclusivity will most definitely end up in a messy situation, one that could’ve been easily avoidable by a simple conversation. Overanalyzing physical intimacy? Make your mind up and share your expectations with your partner.

Consider the example of Adam, 24, a software engineer who’d been out with Stacey on 6-7 dates. “It was too soon to ask for a committed relationship since I wasn’t even sure I wanted one. But I really liked her and didn’t want her to think I was just wasting her time. For the longest time, I was hoping she’d get the hint,” says Adam.

“Immediately realizing that hints aren’t going to cut it, I ended up gathering all the courage I could and had a conversation with Stacey about dating exclusively. Thankfully, she was on board,” he adds.

Related Reading: How The Future Of Relationships And Dating Is Expected To Change In The Next 10 Years

Casual dating vs exclusive dating

Just in case you’re still confused about the dynamics of casual dating vs exclusive dating, let’s quickly breeze over them before we move on. Casual dating, as the name suggests, means a no-strings-attached, no-commitment relationship between two people. People who like spending time with each other, who may go out on dates but do not want a committed relationship might term their dynamic casual dating. There may or may not be sex involved (although there usually is) and they may or may not be exclusive (although they usually aren’t).

The main difference between casual dating vs exclusive dating is the absence of the prospect of a committed relationship in the future. In casual dating, the people involved are strictly against the idea of ever being committed to each other, while as you know by now, an exclusively dating scenario counts on it.

casual but exclusive relationship
Navigating an exclusive dating relationship isn’t too hard, it’s just made out to be difficult

When we talk about being in a relationship, we are essentially seeing someone as our future spouse or as a partner. Relationships function with the future as their base. And exclusive dating serves as the foundation for such a relationship. Before you get comfortable in the assumption that you have enough clarity on the matter to compartmentalize romantic equations as casual or exclusive, we want to go over another scenario: casual but exclusive relationship.

Well, it may sound complicated but it’s really not. A casual but exclusive relationship means that while you are no longer seeing other people you have kept things casual within your relationship and the topic of future and commitment hasn’t been broached.

How Is Exclusive Dating Different From A Relationship?

As similar as it sounds, exclusive dating is very different from a relationship. It is, therefore, necessary to understand what you are getting into before going in with other expectations. Exclusive dating has its own rules, and meaning and often results in a different experience than a committed relationship. Here is how exclusive dating is different from an actual relationship:

Exclusive DatingRelationship
You’re not yet ready to commit, but you’re getting thereYou are in love and there is no commitment issue
Conversations lack emotional bonding. You want to enjoy the present without worrying about your future together You have many late-night conversations about your emotions, your feelings, and your future
Low expectations to prevent the pain of heartbreak in the future are among the rules of exclusive datingYou go all in and there are expectations of meeting the family, knowing all about each other, moving in together, and so much more
You may or may make the relationship official or tell other people you’re dating; this may cause insecurity to creep inA relationship is official. Your partner is always your plus-one, without any conditions
You don’t leave things are each other’s house and may be wary of spending two consecutive nights at your partner’s place and vice versaYou don’t mind leaving your stuff at each other’s places if you are in a relationship. You feel at home at their place and they yours

Related Reading: Situationship – Meaning And 10 Signs You Are In One

How To Know If You’re Ready For An Exclusive Relationship

So you have that special someone in your life who you enjoy spending time with, like the way things are and wouldn’t mind cranking up the intimacy just a notch. Does that mean that you’re ready for an exclusive relationship with them? Now that you know what seeing someone exclusively means, do you see yourself in a similar equation with this person? How do you know when you’re truly ready and not moving too fast in the relationship?

Before your broach the topic of exclusive dating with the other person, you need clarity on these questions as well as your feelings. The following signs that you’re ready for an exclusive relationship will help you inch closer to that clarity:

  • You have lost interest in dating other people
  • You haven’t logged onto dating apps since you began dating this person
  • Advances from others feels obnoxious and off-putting instead of charming
  • You look forward to spending time with them
  • They make you feel attractive
  • You can’t wait to show them off to your friends
  • You call each other and can talk for hours
  • You catch yourself thinking about them several times during the day
  • You don’t feel the need to play mind games to keep them hooked
  • Making plans with them is easy
  • Sex feels more intimate and you no longer share deets of the deed with your friends
  • You share inside jokes and there is at least a small part of your life that you share only with them

Related Reading: 13 Examples Of Mixed Signals From Guys

How To Know If Your Partner Is Ready To Be Exclusive

Did you go through that list saying check, check, and check? Well, good for you, you’re certainly ready to be exclusive with the person you’re dating. However, in the realm of exclusive dating, it does take two to tango. The question is, how do you figure out what your partner wants? Do you think she or he wants to be exclusive but not in a relationship? Are they looking for a casual but exclusive relationship? Is their idea of exclusive dating the same as yours?

The easiest way to find answers to these questions is to have a conversation with the other half of the equation. Having that conversation becomes so much easier when you’re fairly certain that the other person is on the same page as you. It takes the inhibition and fear of rejection out of the equation, and allows you to have an honest and open discussion with your partner. To get a sense of your partner’s readiness to be exclusive, pay attention to the following signs:

  • They are curious about you and make an effort to get to know you better
  • They make time for you
  • They are consistent in the effort they put into your current dynamic
  • They don’t play hot-and-cold or leave you wondering about your place in their life
  • They tell you that they’re no longer interested in seeing other people
  • Their dating profiles have been dormant for a while
  • They make plans to spend time with you and show initiative
  • They make a genuine effort to get to know you better
  • They have asked about your relationship history
  • They want to know if you’re still seeing other people
  • There is some emotional intimacy and your connection is no longer superficial

With that, you have a clear lay of the land to navigate the exclusive dating stage skillfully. You know what seeing someone exclusively means, how it is different from a casual and a committed relationship, what are the signs that you and the person you’re with are ready to make things exclusive. It’s like you’re a pro, well almost.

While you know all there is to know about exclusive dating, to go from dating to relationship, you must adhere to the simple yet critical rules. When you end up following the rules of exclusive dating, the entire process is smooth and you move from being together to being in a relationship.

12 Rules To Follow When You Are Dating Exclusively

Exclusive dating is a tricky affair. You know that you are not dating anyone else, so there is a certain shift in your dating life, but as far as your dynamics with your partner go, you might not feel different. It is exclusive but not official or you’re in a casual but exclusive relationship and that can eventually lead to a lot of conflicted feelings.

rules of exclusive dating
Exclusive dating could be the beginning of something more meaningful

Mixed emotions, doubts, and all kinds of insecurities begin to creep in, only to ruin what you have. However, if you clearly define the rules of exclusive dating and make sure you’re on the same page about what to expect from this stage of a relationship progression, a lot of this niggling unpleasantness can be weeded out, allowing you to focus on improving the quality of your connection. Follow these 12 golden, exclusive dating rules to keep it going. In other words, follow our exclusive dating advice.

1. When you’re exclusive but not official, establish ground rules first

It is important to talk about what you are getting into. Ground rules need to be set to ensure that both of you are on the same page. What does exclusive dating mean to both of you? Are you ready to be exclusive? Are they? What if she or he wants to be exclusive but not in a relationship? Do you want a casual but exclusive relationship?

Communication is the key to healthy exclusive dating. Maya found out the hard way that not communicating the ground rules can often end up jeopardizing the whole dynamic. “I went on a couple of dates with this guy and I really liked him, but I decided it’d be too soon to discuss anything with him. A day after our 5th date, I saw him posting a story with another woman, out on a date with her. Needless to say, my heart sank.” While it’s not the end of the world, it’s still a situation Maya could’ve avoided had she talked to the guy she was dating.

Related Reading: 10 Must-Follow Healthy Relationship Boundaries

2. Give your partner some space

One of the most important rules of exclusive dating is to respect your partner’s personal space. They’ve just let you into their life, don’t push them away by asking too many questions. Give them the space they need and they will eventually let you in when they are comfortable enough to share a larger part of their life with you. Don’t become clingy and needy.

Stop prying into their equation with their friends and family or their relationship history if they’re not ready to open up about it just yet. That territory comes with its baggage and it’s possible that you may touch a raw nerve in the process of getting to know your partner better and push them away. Space is how exclusive dating demarcates itself from a committed relationship.

3. Stop exploring dating sites

Now that you are dating exclusively, you should go inactive on online dating sites, since you’d expect your partner to do the same. These apps and sites will only tempt you into exploring more options. Even if you check out the sites for fun, it could make your partner insecure because your relationship hasn’t been defined yet and you don’t want an app to break you up.

Also, a friend of your partner may see your profile and that could spell disaster for something that could have been something big. Think about it, what if he had done the same to you? What if someone you knew told you he still had a profile on dating apps? Yes, it would make you doubt the entire relationship, right? To go from dating to relationship, it’s important that you handle the stage of being exclusive with utmost care, honesty and transparency.

4. Keep your insecurities in check

There is no reason to be insecure about someone you’re dating exclusively. There could be trust issues and the fear of him/her going behind your back and dating other people but you have to go with your gut and trust them. If there is no sense of trust, then your relationship is doomed anyway. Being insecure does more harm than good, especially if you are dating.

Even if she or he wants to be exclusive but not in a relationship while you are ready to go all in, don’t let this difference in your individual paces send you into an overthinking spiral and trigger relationship insecurity. Instead, take each day as it comes, and focus on enjoying the experience of getting to know each other better.

5. Don’t bring up their past just yet

Avoid bringing up their past relationships and exes in conversations. There is no need to do that. The past has nothing to do with your present. Everyone has past baggage and processes it in their own way. Live in the present and make the most of it. Unless your partner opens up to you about their past, peeking behind that curtain prematurely can drive a wedge between you two.

Even though you’d want to know all about your partner’s dating history to try and grasp them better, now isn’t really the time to do so. If you do manage to get more comfortable with them, however, you can possibly think about bringing up the topic, if they’re willing to talk about it.

Related Reading:  Is Caspering Less Brutal Than Ghosting?

6. While you’re at it, don’t bring up the future either

You have known your partner for a while now and think that there could be a future with them. It’s possible you may be yearning for a conclusive answer as well. But you must keep those feelings to yourself. Perhaps you want him to introduce you to his/her parents, you mustn’t make too big a deal out of this.

Try not to pressure your partner into anything, without really having a conversation with them about what your expectations are. If you’re pressuring your partner to introduce his/her friends to you, you might just end up pushing them away instead of establishing something more solid.

7. Lower your expectations

Expecting your partner to fall in love with you just like in romantic comedies will most definitely end badly. If you’re daydreaming about a vacation with this person and you’re secretly expecting them to surprise you with one, the only surprise you’re going to get is them slowly pushing themselves away from you, noticing just how clingy you’re being. You could try to manage your expectations in the following ways:

  • Do not compare him/her to your exes (you will only compare what was good about your ex and probably not what your current partner is good at)
  • Do not expect him/her to make plans every time; you should do it as well.
  • Expect him/her to make time for you, but do not expect to be the center of his/her world

Keeping expectations low and realistic will help be content with what you have and let time work its wonders.

8. Spend more time together

Now that you have both gotten comfortable with each other, spend more time together. Go out more frequently and have more casual meet-ups. Share your day’s activities. Get to know how the person is when you both are not on a date. Spending more time together will help you understand your partner better.

Carving out quality time for each other during the exclusive dating phase will help you ascertain your compatibility as partners and whether it’s a good idea for you to go from dating to relationship and commit to one another. In a way, your future as a couple rests on how well you navigate your days of dating exclusively, so make sure you savor every moment and make the most of it.

9. Don’t go all in

If you’re the hopeless romantic kind, you may be tempted to tell this person how much you “love” them just after a couple of dates. Try to calm yourself down, take a cold shower and consider the possibility that you just might be infatuated, not in love. Or that you may be falling in love too fast and setting yourself up for an inevitable heartbreak.

Going in all the way and opening yourself up to him/her is not something your partner could be ready for. Don’t mistake exclusive dating for a relationship. Keep the deep and intense parts of your life under wraps. Bringing such things up will only hurt you in the end if things get ugly.

10. Focus on the fun

Avoid establishing an emotional relationship with them just yet. Emotions and feelings do not do very well in exclusive dating. The idea of dating exclusively is to establish a healthy relationship with a person which involves a more friendly and fun relationship than an emotional one.

It is so because even if things end, you feel that you had a good run and there are no ill feelings or heartbreaks. But what if you feel like you’ve fallen head over heels for this person and are bursting at the seams with all those emotions bubbling inside of you? Well, maybe, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve just yet. Sit with your emotions for a while to see if they’re real or transient, meanwhile focus on enjoying the good thing you’ve got going.

Related Reading: Fun Weeknight Date Ideas – Creative Ideas Better Than A Dinner Date

11. You don’t need to go public with it

You and your partner can befriend each other on social media and tag each other in memes. A friendly chat on social media is harmless, but uploading a story AND a post with this person within the first few weeks might just scare them away. Don’t forget that at the end of the day, you’re exclusively dating but not in a relationship. 

Of course, you might be itching to tell your friends about this new person you found who you just can’t seem to get enough of, but try to avoid talking about them too much. If in the unfortunate event when your exclusive dating relationship falls through, you don’t want your friends constantly reminding you about this person by asking you for updates every now and then, since you spoke so highly of them. 

12. Reminder: Exclusive dating is not a relationship

As annoying as it sounds, you need to keep reminding yourself that you are not in a relationship. This will keep you from doing any cutesy relationship stuff and expecting to be treated like you’re in the most adorable relationship already. Dating exclusively is just a step towards commitment. It may not even turn out to be committed and you need to be prepared for that.

Key Pointers

  • Being exclusive is an important pitstop in the journey from dating casually to being in a relationship
  • It helps two people get to know each other better and assess their compatibility as romantic partners
  • Exclusive dating can prove to be confusing if you don’t have a clear conversation about it and set the ground rules
  • Giving each other space, managing expectations realistically and taking things forward one step at a time are the secrets to navigating this phase like a pro

So it is up to you to see whether what you want is a fun exclusive dating thing or a committed relationship. Think about whether you want a no-drama, great, fun scenario that is a ticking bomb, or an ongoing relationship that gives you some peace of mind. The choice is yours; you need to decide whether you want to play by the rules or end the game. Exclusive relationship vs a committed relationship – the choice is yours.


1. How long should you date exclusively before a relationship?

There’s no real set amount of time you should date before a relationship, it all depends on what the partners find comfortable and what seems to be a good amount of time for them. Even so, most people can generally agree that exclusively dating for three to four months is usually a good idea before a relationship.

2. How do I know if we are exclusively dating?

The best way to find out if you are exclusively dating is to talk to your partner about it and have a conversation with them about it. Do they expect exclusivity? Are they not ready for a committed relationship yet? Questions like these will help you figure out what you need to know.

3. Is it cheating if you’re not exclusive?

If you’ve both discussed that you won’t be exclusive to each other, sexual relations with someone else can not be considered cheating. If you’ve assumed that you’re both now exclusive, it still does not count as cheating. Cheating can be defined as such only after you and your partner have discussed exclusivity and decided to be exclusive.

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