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Why Aren’t We Exclusive?


Dear Dr. Warren,

I’ve gotten to know a very nice man through eHarmony, but after a few dates he informed me that we were not exclusive to each other. He’s not so much into e-mail or phone calls, but our dates are absolutely wonderful—four dates, in fact. During the date he is 100 percent there, but when the date is over he’s only 10 percent there. If anything, when he does reply to my e-mail they seem a bit impersonal. I am looking for a commitment. When should a relationship become exclusive? I’m ready to meet the love of my life!


Sarah in New York


Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for your question. I want you to know that I can understand how frustrated you might be in your situation, but also want to shed some light on what may be going on. To answer your question directly, a relationship should become exclusive when both parties are ready to make that kind of commitment to one another.

So while you seem to be ready for that level of commitment in a relationship, he is not. But let’s look deeper into your situation. Your question seems to bring into question the idea that eHarmony matches should only date exclusively right from the start. eHarmony members are looking for lasting love, but there are different ways of finding it. Some like to date only on person at a time, while others like to date multiple people casually. The early stages of dating (and for some that can span as long as 2-3 months) is a time to get to know your match to explore not only shared chemistry but interests as well. During these early stages it is not uncommon for people to communicate with as well as casually date multiple matches. In fact, I encourage eHarmony members to get to know as many of their matches as possible in as many different types of settings and environments as possible. With as something as serious as finding a long-term relationship, there is no rush.

I commend you for being honest enough with your own feelings and the man you’ve been dating to inquire about exclusivity, and I also commend him for his honesty in expressing to you what his true interests are. There is only one version of the truth and you have to be prepared for it, especially in matters of the heart when it may not be what you would like to hear: He enjoys your company, but is not interested in an exclusive relationship with you. Since he is aware of your desire to be exclusive and has expressed to you that he does not share the same interest, and has no problem continuing to see you, it is now up to you to decide whether that arrangement is something you would like to continue participating in. This man you are dating can only give you as much as he is willing to give and he has made himself clear what that is. His feelings may change over time, but given other information you’ve included in your question, I see clues that would seem to indicate that it is not likely.

You mentioned that you have been sending e-mails to him, and sometimes he does not reply to them at all, and when he does there is a delay, and the content of his e-mails seems to be very impersonal, belying your interpretation of your face-to-face experiences with him. From that information alone, there is confirmation that his feelings for you differ than those you feel for him. He is okay with continuing the type of casual relationship you have without a commitment. For him the level of communication he’s providing you is acceptable, but to you it’s not enough. Sarah, the right man for you will never have to be chased for attention, and he will reply to you in warm and personal ways.

I understand that losing your heart so quickly to someone can sometimes hurt more than some longer relationships since everything happens so suddenly, but you want to look honestly at where this relationship could go. Since you know in your heart that you’re looking for an exclusive relationship and also know that this particular man you are dating is unable to give that to you, I suggest getting to know your other matches while letting this relationship fall to the back burner. Should he come back to you at a later time and is able to give you what you are looking for, then I wish you both all of the happiness in the world. In my experience, however, when men express that they are dating multiple people and have no interest in a commitment, they mean it.

Sarah, I believe that if you reach out and communicate with as many matches as possible you will enjoy a fresh perspective on your current situation. Four dates may seem like a lot to you right now, but there will be countless more of those—and with reciprocated affection and less doubts about where you stand—when you are dating the right person for you.

Dr. Neil Clark Warren

Note: Reader-submitted questions may be edited to ensure that responses are applicable to a wide audience, and names may have been changed for anonymity.