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State of the Relationship Union

How soon is too soon to have a candid conversation with a person you're seeing about becoming an exclusive item? Our panel of relationship gurus weighs in.
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Dear 4-Way,
I’ve been dating a man for about four months now. I really like him and I don’t want to go out with anyone else. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way, but because we’ve never had the “How do you feel?” or “exclusivity” conversation, I’m not 100 percent sure. I really feel that these are things that should be said out loud; I don’t want to talk about our feelings all the time, but one clarifying conversation would help. My question: does it seem strange that I want to have this convo? My guy friends say this type of chat is really for girls, that guys just instinctively know these things and don’t need to have it. What do you guys think? —KH, Los Angeles, California

The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
It doesn’t seem strange at all, KH; it’s natural to want to know where you stand in all aspects of your life. You have a bank account and you check your balance. You have a job and you get a review to let you know how you’re doing. It makes sense that you would want to know where you stand in a relationship. It’s how you approach it that will make the difference.

Your guy friends could be right—I do believe it’s more of a woman thing to want to have “the chat.” So here’s what I suggest: the next time you’re joking around or in a light-hearted mood together, throw it out there. Just say something like, “You know, this works. And I’m having a blast with you.” He’ll hopefully respond with something like, “Me too,” then you can say something like, “You know I’m only seeing you.” And then he’ll say something similar or let you know that he’s still seeing others. There. Simple. Out in the open and you know where you stand.

My point is, keep it light. Don’t make him feel backed in a corner; just tell him how you feel. He’s going to respond.

The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way, KH: squelch your need to have a formal conversation about the state of your relationship. Right now. Suffocate it mercilessly with a decorative pillow and never look back. I appreciate your need to get a read on whether your great new guy is dating only you, but from experience I know that men do not like the formal, sit-down, State-of-Our-Relationship convo. Did you ever watch Friends? You need to try a more breezy approach, like the one Monica used when she called Richard. (And yes, I’m well aware that I’ve used the Friends “be breezy” analogy in previous 4-Way columns. What can I say? Those Friends writers were very wise.)

One day, when you’re eating hot dogs and french fries (and as a single woman, I don’t know why this is what I envision happy couples doing together, but it is. Laughing lightheartedly as they dab the ketchup off each other’s chins … weird, huh?), and his mouth is full of all-beef dog topped with relish, and you’re giddy as school children over all the damn fun you’re having, just say something like, “I love hanging out with you. And I’m only eating hot dogs with you. Are you eating hot dogs with other people or just with me?” You haven’t made him feel like it’s the Spanish Inquisition, but you’ve also been direct by asking the question you want answered. Maybe the other 4-Wayers will disagree with me on this tactic, but I think breezy-direct is the way to go. Good luck. Oh, and avoid onions on your hot dog. That’s all I’ve got for ya, KH: be breezy and no onions. I’m a genius. (You’re welcome.)

The Lesbian Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Try not to be so caught up in what a guy thinks versus what a girl thinks. The fact of the matter is that you want to be exclusive with this man; shared understandings in a relationship are necessary if you want it to work. It’s not a girl thing or a guy thing; it’s just about having a conversation that will help you be surer of everything.  If you need to get some clarity here, ask for it. If you’re too wrapped up in how it will make your guy feel, what will happen when big things come up that you absolutely need to process? Have you two ever talked about your feelings? I sure hope so.

Feelings are a part of any relationship, and couples need to work out how often to check in. So no, it doesn’t seem strange that you want some clarity in the relationship. It seems spot-on to me. And if it doesn’t seem that way to him, maybe he’s not the guy you need him to be.  Talk with him. If he can’t express what he feels, that will tell you a lot about your next move in the relationship.

The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
You’re never 100 percent sure what any other person feels—and if they feel a certain way today, it doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind tomorrow.

What is certainty in relationships worth? Does a wedding ring mean certainty? Does “I love you” mean certainty? Your search for certainty in life will cause many problems. The sooner you can reduce your need for that, the better off you’ll be.  You should enjoy what you have. You both like each other, and the relationship is progressing nicely for you.

Your desire to have the state of the union talk is understandable. You’re a female. Just because you feel compelled to have “the talk” doesn’t mean it’s a must-do. I doubt this guy cares as much as you do about labeling it, which is probably why he hasn’t brought it up yet. (As I’m sure your guy friends have told you.) Four months is a good enough point to get a read on the potential of things. It doesn’t hurt to bring it up, but you don’t have to force it.  I suggest that one day, when you’re casually sitting on the couch, you say something like, “I really like you. It’s been fun getting to know you. Just so you know, you’re the only one I’m seeing.”

If this is also true for him, as you think it is, he’ll feel comfortable enough to tell you the same. It’s a non-pressure situation, and he has the option to respond without feeling forced to. Either way, it will make him feel good and likely endear you to him. If he happens to answer differently than you imagined or says he doesn’t want to be exclusive, you can reevaluate whether you want to continue seeing him.  Let satisfaction replace certainty in your life, and you’ll be on to something good.

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