Written by Nichi Hodgson, Dating Consultant at www.theinnercircle.co
Time was when simply holding hands with someone at the school disco meant you were a couple. Oh, for those halcyon days - when there was no anxiety about whether the female avatar you saw pop up on your maybe-baby’s smartphone was also being intimate with him, or whether it was time to banish your stand-in sleep-over pals.
Fact is, you can hedge your bets or play detective all you like. But the only way you’ll figure out whether you’re to be each other’s one and only is with An Honest Conversation. Here’s how to make sure that conversation doesn’t get the better of you.
Clarify their intentions
You may have hung with their friends, shared a drink with their work colleagues or even been taken to meet the family, but do you know if the person you’re seeing is even open to a committed relationship?
We take it as a given that every single person dating is secretly looking for love. But some are just looking for fun or distraction. Sure, feelings change, but if they started this encounter by saying they were only looking for something casual, believe them - and be prepared to accept that unless they are making the overtones towards you, that’s probably still where their head is at.
If that’s not the case and you know that when you met they were certainly open to a proper relationship, you want to get them into a fresher conversation about what their intentions are now. Not everyone talks freely about their plans for marriage and kids. But they give other clues up according to their general availability. Do they have extensive travel plans or an overseas job swap mapped out in the months or years ahead which means you won’t see them? Do you have any joint plans that stretch out in the months ahead - a trip or festival, for example? And are they able to make a plan for the weekend with you before a Thursday night and do you merely hang out when you both ‘feel like it’?
You need to see some evidence of them making space and time for you in their lives before you’re ready to move the conversation on. Got this? Great - then move on...
Mindfully plan the conversation
The ‘can we be exclusive?’ conversation takes planning. You don’t want to start having it when others can interrupt, nor when you’re on your way to an event, and definitely not in a situation where it’s hard to leave if one of you has an adverse reaction. After sex can seem like a more ‘open’ time but it’s a poor choice if you catch someone off guard and they feel obliged to exit immediately after, leaving the other person feeling abandoned.
Similarly, a neutral setting is better than one person’s house or flat. A quiet bar or beer garden, a walk if you’ve taken two cars - and opt for soberly rather than drunk or on drugs - it’s too easy for people to say things they don’t mean or remember otherwise.
Be assertive, not needy
There can be a feeling in the dating dance that whoever brings up feelings first (usually the woman) ‘loses’. Forget this. Because let’s face it, if your mind is awash with a ‘will he/won’t he’ narrative, you’re definitely not in control of the situation anyway.
Instead, the trick to letting someone know you’d like to be exclusive with them while retaining your power and dignity is not to try and get them to admit they want you, but by owning your own emotions - and expressing them.
So instead of ‘where do you see this going?’ which sounds pressure-free but is actually too open-ended and puts them on the spot, try something like, ‘Up until now, I’ve been open to seeing other people, but I’d really like to just see you. How do you feel about that?’. Direct, yes, vulnerable, definitely but weak, absolutely not. Practice saying it aloud before you try it on them - preferably in the mirror, so you can level with yourself and allay any game-face nerves.
Decide what you want - and don’t compromise
In an ideal world, you’ve judged the situation accordingly, feelings have developed on both sides, and the answer you get to your question is direct and life-affirming - yes, they would like to see you and you alone.
But the reality is, even when people are open and emotionally honest, feelings develop at different paces. Just because they’ve said they don’t want to move on to the next step doesn’t necessarily mean what you have is over. Sometimes putting your cards on the table can help a reticent person open up so give someone time to process what you’ve said. How much time you give them is of course up to you as you’re going to have nerves of steel in the meantime to allow them to catch up - and, for your own sake, while they do this, put your energies elsewhere, whether that’s work, friends, or dating other people - but do put a timeframe on it. If they still aren’t sure three or four months later, then it’s probably time to cut your losses and move on.Cutting ties is easier said than done when you’re fully into someone, but you need to be true to your own longer-term needs, and the sooner you move on, the sooner you’re likely to find someone else who will be able to meet them.