Dating Exclusively vs a Relationship

Dating Exclusively vs a Relationship blog cover

If you’ve dated at any point over the past decade, you’ll have probably come across the terms dating exclusively vs a relationship. These phrases are thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean?

Is there a difference between dating exclusively and being in a relationship? Absolutely, although the differences are nuanced. While both involve two people, the terms are different and indicate various stages of commitment. In this post, we’ll take a look at the subtle differences between these two phrases.

Defining dating exclusively vs a relationship

In terms of similarities, dating exclusively and being in a relationship mean that two people are committed to one another. It also tends to mean that they have decided to only date each other.

The exception to this is if both parties have decided to be in an ethical non-monogamous relationship. If this is the case, they will have mutually agreed to see other people, either sexually or emotionally, or both. They can still be dating exclusively or be in a relationship because the commitment is still valid.


The main difference between being exclusive and being in a relationship is that while being exclusive means both people are not dating anyone else, they have yet to determine if they want to be in a relationship. However, being exclusive is certainly a sign that the couple is headed in that direction.

Being in a relationship involves a higher level of commitment and intimacy than being exclusive. For example, when you’re in a relationship, you might expect to see each other regularly, communicate throughout the day, and integrate your lives.

On the other hand, being exclusive could mean that you see each other less often, communicate less frequently, and generally keep your lives more separate. These are just examples, and every couple’s needs vary.

Examples of dating exclusively vs. a relationship

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of being exclusive and being in a relationship.

One example is that a couple at the exclusive stage of their relationship might not have met each other’s families. This tends to happen at the relationship stage.

Another example is that when you are exclusive, you might plan a date a couple of weeks in advance, but you probably wouldn’t book a two-week holiday together. However, couples who are in a relationship tend to book holidays together. They often organize things together months ahead and mindfully plan around each other’s schedules.

Ultimately, labels help us define things in life. But the most important thing is that you and your partner know where you stand. You should also both feel happy about the situation.

Why do some people prefer to be exclusive before being in a relationship?

Some people prefer to take a slower approach and prefer to be exclusive before being in a relationship. As discussed, this would still mean that you’re only dating each other unless otherwise agreed. Here are the main reasons why.

1. They want to make sure you’re compatible.

Exclusivity allows people to get to know each other on a deeper level and figure out if they’re truly compatible before deciding to be in a relationship. Some people can sense instantly if they are compatible with someone and may be ready to jump straight into a relationship. But, for others, exclusivity can give them the time they need to see if your level of compatibility is enough to form a strong and lasting relationship.

2. They don’t want to get hurt.

Some people have been hurt in past relationships and don’t want to put themselves in a position to get hurt again. It can take them longer to trust someone and truly open up. This is especially the case when the person was cheated on, dealt with abusive behavior, or the relationship ended abruptly. By being exclusive first, it means that they can take things slow and make sure that they truly trust someone before getting too emotionally attached.

3. They’re scared of commitment.

Some people are afraid of commitment and would rather not make it official with someone they are seeing. Suggesting exclusivity can be a way of slowing things down and allowing that person to assess their feelings before committing to a relationship. This way, they can take time and decide if they are truly ready for something more. They may see the jump from being single to a relationship as a big step and can worry about the responsibility that comes with it.

4. They want to avoid drama.

Dating can be complicated, and some people just want to avoid all the drama that comes with it. By being exclusive, they can focus on getting to know one person. They don’t have to worry about the additional commitments and expectations that come with being in a relationship. For example, as meeting each other’s families and friends. They may think that dating exclusively first will enable you to build a connection in a more relaxed way.

5. They want to understand the potential relationship dynamic.

Sometimes, people might want to test the waters of a relationship before fully committing. In addition, they may want to understand how the dynamic between you might look. Exclusivity can give them this opportunity and allow them to assess the relationship’s potential. This can also be a way of making sure that both parties are on the same page in terms of expectations. In particular, expectations around the amount of effort and commitment that should be dedicated to their relationship.

6. They’re picky.

Some people are picky when it comes to relationships and prefer to be exclusive, so they can take their time finding someone who fits what they are looking for. In this situation, they can be a way of avoiding getting involved with someone who they think might not end up being the right fit for them in the long run. Not only that, but they might not feel like they know someone well enough in the early stages of dating to know whether this person could be the one.

7. They want something serious.

It might seem counterintuitive, but in some rarer cases, someone might want to be exclusive before they are in a relationship because they are looking for something serious and long-term. They want to take it slow but also make sure that they do things right. It might be that they had a past experience where they got in a relationship too quickly and this backfired on them, so they might be taking a more cautious approach this time.

8. They’re not ready for a relationship.

Sometimes, people just aren’t ready for a relationship and need time to focus on themselves before getting involved with someone else. Being exclusive allows them to take things at their own pace. It can mean that they won’t rush into something before they’re truly ready for it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are scared of commitment. It could be that they’re going through a busy period in their life or are working through some issues. Whatever it is, they may just need some time and space to get to a place where they’re ready for a relationship.

9. They’re worried about losing their freedom.

One of the most common reasons why people want to be exclusive before being in a relationship is that they fear losing their independence. They’re afraid that once they enter a relationship, their lives will be consumed by it. Some people worry that they’ll no longer have time for themselves. In their mind, exclusivity gives them a chance to maintain some of their autonomy. They may think they won’t have to answer to someone in the same way they might in a relationship. In addition, they can worry that they might have to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices. Ultimately, they aren’t yet convinced whether the compromises would be worth it.

In conclusion, there are many reasons why someone might want to date exclusively before being in a relationship. The only way you can know their reasoning for sure is through open and honest communication. Ultimately, wanting to be exclusive before being in a relationship is a way of setting the speed of how fast things are moving.

How do you bring up the ‘what are we’ question?

Regarding the ‘what are we’ conversation, it’s important to remember that every relationship is different. It’s not a good idea to look to other couples for expected timelines. Some couples talk about defining their relationship in a matter of weeks, while others don’t label it for much longer.

Either way, it’s best to be direct when discussing whether you are dating exclusively vs in a relationship. You should explain that you don’t want to date other people anymore. Then, ask the person you are dating how they feel about the situation. Try to view the conversation as a two-way discussion; it’s a chance for both of you to openly share how you feel about each other.

You can’t plan for every scenario, but you should think in advance about how you might respond to different outcomes. If you are on the same page, it’s fairly simple. But you can still take the opportunity to talk about the dynamics of your relationship. If you’re not on the same page, you need to decide if you are happy to continue seeing this person or if it’s a dealbreaker for you.

How long should you date exclusively before being in a relationship?

So, how long should the exclusive-but-not-in-a-relationship period last? There’s no right or wrong when it comes to this. Everyone has their own timeline and there are too many variables to say.

However, before getting into a relationship, you should wait until you know the person well and feel confident that they are someone you see a potential future with. When you enter into a relationship, you are essentially saying that you want to be with that person and you are committed to making your relationship work.

Ultimately, the length of time you need to spend exclusively dating someone before defining it as a relationship will depend on many factors, such as how compatible you are, how well you know each other, and if you are aligned in terms of values and lifestyle.

The most important thing is that you are both comfortable with the boundaries you set in place.

An important point to note is that some people jump straight into a relationship. This is actually fairly common, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people simply don’t feel the need for that in-between phase.

Final thoughts on dating exclusively vs. a relationship

When it comes to dating exclusively vs. a relationship, it’s ultimately up to you and the person you are dating about how fast or slow you want to proceed. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong here; it’s just something you need to figure out together.

The key is to communicate openly and honestly so that you can both make sure you understand each other’s intentions. It can be scary and intimidating to have the ‘what are we’ conversation, but it doesn’t need to be. While it’s important to think about the directions the conversation might go in, you don’t need to have all the answers figured out before you start. Just be ready to listen and reflect on how the other person is feeling.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy our posts about the talking stage and how to deal with rejection.

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