The Exclusivity Talk: Why Are We All So Afraid to Ask ‘Are We Together’?

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date_report_CYBRyan O’Connell is a New York-based writer. He likes shoegaze, the Olsen Twins, and figuring out why people do the things they do. Oh, and he tweets. Check back each Thursday for his latest Call Your Boyfriend column.  

Hey boyfriend,

So here’s the deal. I haven’t gone on a date in two years. I’ve basically thrown myself into a career and abandoned any hopes of finding a man in the process. Nowadays when I think about meeting someone new for a drink, I get totally exhausted and decide to just stay home. How do you recommend I venture out into the dating pool when I really, really don’t want to?

-Hate dating

Hello Hate Dating,

I think we might be soul sisters because I was also semi-retired from dating for a little bit! In fact, when HowAboutWe first reached out to me, they suggested I write a dating diary instead of an advice column, to which I replied, “Great! There’s only one problem: I don’t date.”

I was half-kidding. The truth is that I’ve never been that big of a dater. If something comes up and it feels right, I’ll do it. But the thought of putting myself out there with a stranger leaves me feeling very anxious. I’m working to get out of that funk and start dating again, so let me give you the same pep talk I recently gave myself.

It’s important to date. It really is. If I could, I would tell you to go on as many dates as possible because it’s good practice. When you date, it’s like you’re flexing a huge muscle, but instead of your body getting ripped, it’s your interpersonal skills that are getting stronger. Simply put, it’s always useful for you to meet a wide array of people. The experience might not always be amazing, but at least you’re being brave and doing something that scares you. As we get older, I think people get brattier about leaving their comfort zones. They only want to do things that don’t force them to change their routine. They become tethered to this idea of being comfortable. But guess what? If you’re someone who won’t ever deviate from this little small cocoon you’ve created for yourself, your life is bound to get pretty UNCOMFORTABLE.

The point is that, no matter the outcome, the main thing to remember is that you’re out there actually LIVING YOUR LIFE rather than letting it rot.

Every time I have a bad date, my heart gets crushed a little bit and then I go to my dark place that says, “See Ryan? This is what you get when you actually try to date. You should’ve just stayed home!” But then I realize that this part of my brain is a big crybaby nightmare and if I listened to it every time I needed to make a life decision, nothing would ever change and my penis would have cobwebs all over it! I think everybody has that dark old friend that creeps up on them and says, “Don’t leave your apartment. It’s comfortable here. You can’t get hurt!” You just have to work on ignoring that motherfucker! Good things happen in your life only when you take risks. Remember that. Instead of dwelling on the negatives of a lackluster date, I just try to think, “Well, that’s a good story to tell my friends!” and “Wow, it’s so interesting that people like this actually exist.” See? Bad dates can be terrible but they can also be enlightening!

The point is that, no matter the outcome, the main thing to remember is that you’re out there actually LIVING YOUR LIFE rather than letting it rot. There’s nothing shameful about that. You only let yourself down when you push away opportunities. I know it can be difficult dusting off your date outfit and preparing yourself for what could be a bad evening, but you know what I think is scarier? DYING ALONE! Whenever I get freaked out by the prospect of dating, I just think about my dead corpse being eaten by my 10,000 cats. If that doesn’t light a fire under your ass, I don’t know what will.

Also, coming from someone who has experienced a long stretch of unintentional celibacy before, I cannot stress enough how imperative it is for you to dip your toes into the dating pool again. Going without sex and affection for that long can be DEVASTATING to your psyche and self-esteem. We need physical contact. It invigorates us. It reminds us that we’re sexual. It’s dangerously easy to go from a “dry spell” to “Holy shit, I haven’t had sex in a year.” If this is your situation, I advise you to please start dating immediately. If for no other reason than to just make out with someone and feel like a sexual being again. You have a penis or vagina. Use it quick, for god’s sake!


When is it too soon to have the “are you my boyfriend or what?” talk? I’ve been going out with this guy for a little over two months, we see each other at least twice a week, and text constantly, have sleep overs, he’s met my friends, the whole shebang. But we still both have up our OkCupid accounts, which is what I’d most like to see change, although I’m 99% sure neither of us are seeing other people. All my New York friends say it’s too soon and I shouldn’t rush things, while my friends from elsewhere seem to think we should be engaged by now! Is this a regional thing? It’s what I want, but I don’t want to scare him off. When is the right time? Is there a right time? Should I wait until we’re married? ;)


Insert Cute Anonymous Letter Signature

Yo Insert Cute Anonymous Letter Signature,

Don’t you wish we could just take a time machine back to the ‘60s when the love was free and the fear of commitment wasn’t at 1000%? Dating in the modern age means jumping through countless virtual hoops before you can ever call yourself BF/GF — and that’s if you even make it there at all! Unfortunately, nowadays people are so hesitant to attach a label to ANYTHING that we often end up stuck in a grey area. You date someone for a few months, do everything a regular couple would do, and then bam! The whole thing is over before you know it. And oftentimes you don’t even get an explanation as to why things soured. Since there was no official title, people think they can just end things without any explanation.

All of this is to say that I understand your predicament. So many people have found themselves in this very spot: “What are we? We act like we’re together but we haven’t talked about it yet. Am I even allowed to bring it up?” It’s so sad that this is what we’ve become! People have become so afraid to articulate their true feelings because we’ve been taught that being honest will frighten the person (and make us vulnerable). Well, screw that. No one’s got time for that shit. This is the reason why so many people never graduate from the grey area. Everyone’s so scared of that conversation you need to have in order to move things forward. It’s just a conversation! Why so scary? No one ever died from having a conversation!

So here’s the 411. You are right, to an extent, that this fear of attaching a label to things is more common in New York (and other big cities). People who live here want to get into a relationship but they also suffer from severe ADD. They’re always convinced that something better is just around the corner and that by committing to one person, they could potentially miss out something great. New Yorkers LOVE options. That’s why we pay so much freaking money to live here. Besides, if we wanted to be married and pregnant by 25, we would’ve stayed in our sleepy hometowns.

Screw anyone who says they don’t believe in labels. Not having a label basically means they have no responsibility for the relationship and can duck out at any moment. NOPE. Not falling for that trick!

That being said, everybody wants to have love. And if you and this guy seem to really be into each other, it’s not crazy for you to initiate the exclusivity talk. This comes before the “BF/GF” conversation. It’s basically a way to quell your partner’s anxiety by being like, “Hey babe. I’m not saying we’re in a relationship on Facebook but how do you feel about having sex with only me?” From that, you are basically only 20 orgasms and a romantic weekend away from being officially together. (Also, screw anyone who says they don’t believe in labels. Not having a label basically means they have no responsibility for the relationship and can duck out at any moment. NOPE. Not falling for that trick! )

You’ve been dating for two months, right? I’d say give it one more month before you start with the conversations about what you two are doing. In college, I found myself in TWO romantic relationship thing-y’s that lasted for four months each. That seemed to be the magic time where we had to decide if we were going to shit or get off the pot. After all, you can only casually date someone for so long!  There needs to be a moment where you both take a step back and say to each other, “What the hell are you doing here?” In my experience, it’s better to do this sooner rather than later. After three months, tell this guy that you’re into him and no longer want to see other people. If he seems standoffish about progressing to the next step, I would strongly consider detonating the bomb and getting the hell out of there. I’ve seen too many people get trapped in these “non-relationship” relationships.

Does that all sound good? I love being an advice columnist in 2013 because it means fielding questions like, “If I tell this guy I’ve been seriously seeing that I like him, does that make me a freak?!” Sigh. We’re all doomed! (JK, keep the faith.)

You KNOW you have a question. Send it to Ryan.