Online Dating and Getting to an Exclusive Relationship

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I get quite a few emails from people struggling to handle the situation where the person they’re dating is still active online. I hear from more women on this topic and some of those women don’t always understand my position: that if they’re not in an “exclusive” relationship, I don’t think the man is doing anything wrong.

I’ve talked about getting to exclusive already in my article on His Profile is Still Active: Is He Interested or Not? However, I wanted to take some time to just talk about getting to “exclusive” based on the number of emails I’ve been getting about this lately.

Online Dating and Being Exclusive

Why I Say Dating Others Isn’t Wrong

I understand why people I talk to look at me cross-eyed when I say that it’s not wrong for the person their dating to continue to be active online. You might have an amazing date only to see the person is “Online Now” when you get home. What gives?! How can I possibly think that’s OK?

While it may not seem kind, dating multiple people is one of the key benefits of online dating in my mind. Because of that, my opinion is that until you agree to enter an exclusive relationship with one another, you should BOTH be looking to meet other people. You might then say something like this:

But we’ve been on 10 dates and spend time talking to each other every day and I don’t WANT to meet other people!

Well, in that case it’s time to move the relationship to an exclusive relationship or, failing that, to a place where you know what you can expect from the relationship.

Getting to Exclusive

If you’re in the place where you want to be exclusive with this person, I’ll talk about how I would approach it. Let me emphasize this before we begin: Being aggressive is generally a really bad idea!

I get contacted by a lot of women who contact me after they’ve verbally attacked the person they were dating over the issue of activity online. You can recover from this, but it’s is hard to do…so try to avoid putting yourself in a position where you need to recover!

Tension in being exclusive

Approach from a Position of Wanting to Understand

The truth is, most of the people I hear from should approach the person they’re dating the way they approach me. I get some great emails from people that lay out their feelings, what they hope for, and describe how confusing things are for them. They’re not angry or aggressive. Instead they’re open, honest and they just want to understand. A lot of times I want to say to these people, “You just need to forward this email to the guy you’re dating!”

My point is that often you need to approach the situation with no assumptions and no attacks. Just a desire to understand. It’s always sad when someone contacts me with one of these great emails after they jumped all over the person they were dating and drove them away.

The Keys for Success: Understanding Where You Stand
The approach is simple. Your goal isn’t to get them into an exclusive relationship. Your goal is to understand why that goofball is still going online when you two have something great (although we’re not going to put it in those words to them).

Here’s the approach: Be honest, caring, understanding and patient (with some limitations).

  • Honest because you need to let them know where you’re coming from.
  • Caring because you need to keep negative emotions out of this for now.
  • Understanding because even though what they say might sound like crazy-talk, chances are they believe what they’re saying.
  • And patient because it takes some people longer than others to recognize when they have something good.

So what does that look like? Well, here’s one suggestion I shared with a reader:

Hi So-and-so: I really enjoy spending time together and I’m wondering where you see our relationship going? I ask because I saw that your profile was visible on Match again. I realize we’re not in a committed relationship and I’m not trying to create an issue where there potentially isn’t one but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I understood where you saw us going

I tried to use all of my “keys” in this email. Let me say this though: the point isn’t to be able to write an email like this. The point is to recognize that you’ll apply those four areas (honesty, caring, understanding and patience) to your approach. Want to have the talk in person instead of an email? Go for it. Text messaging? That’s fine as well. The point isn’t that you’d write an email like mine. The point is that you’ll be intentional about how you approach them.

And remember: the goal at this point isn’t to win some kind of fight where at the end you’re in a committed relationship. The only goals are to get them to understand where you’re coming from and for you to understand where they see things going. Having something this simple as a goal can take a lot of the pressure off you.

Happy Couple

Know When it’s Time to Move On
Some people will take this approach and will find it works great: they’re in an exclusive relationship now and his/her profile came down off the dating site. However, many others will get some kind of story or pushback. Sometimes you might even be told that you are “exclusive” and that they just don’t know how to remove their profile off the dating site (generally not true: removing a profile is a lot easier than creating one so…)

Whatever the specifics are to their response, in this case I’d recommend the following:

  1. First, make it clear that you want an exclusive relationship and that you understand where they’re at right now but that they need to understand you’ll not wait forever. This should be framed in the nicest way you can but you should be clear on where you stand. No ultimatums either! Just honesty.
  2. Second, you should be open to dating others. I know that this is painful and I’m sure some people get a stabbing feeling in their gut just thinking about it. The truth is, you now understand better where you stand and it may or may not be a committed relationship in the future. So keep your options open.
  3. After a month, if nothing has changed but you’ve still spent a lot of time together, I’d bring this back up again. If they’re still making excuses, I think it’s time to seriously consider moving on. I feel that four weeks is more than enough time to know if you want to be with someone and I’m afraid waiting longer is a waste of time. You need not end it entirely with them, but I do think you should make it clear you’re going to aggressively explore your other options. Also at this point, barring some really good reason from them to continue to wait, ultimatums and a bit of anger are fine!

Final Thoughts on Exclusivity and Online Dating

Hopefully my thoughts here were helpful. I think the key take-aways should be that online dating can be different than traditional dating and that “wanting to understand” is sometimes the best approach to take.

If there are others out there who have experience or thoughts they could share that would help others get to “being exclusive”, I’d love to hear them!



About the Author:

Brad initially struggled with online dating but over time became quite successful using it. He met his wife using online dating and has been giving advice and helping people improve their results since 2007. He has written a Free Online Dating Guide to help others find success with online dating. You can learn more about his personal experience using online dating and running this website here.


  1. melani  September 20, 2012

    Yeah, I agree that ultimatums are bad, but I dont get why they still dont take down their profile. I am currently dating a guy for 2 months, in which his profile is still up. He checks every week or so but is doing so now less and less. Yet it is still up. And his profile still says he is single.

    I do not say anything! Of course I am not going to act needy or desperate or act too interested in his personal to bring it up, but also knowing that his profile is up is slowly killing my attraction to him. I fear that if I keep giving myself to him, I will end up hurt if he decides to meet someone else online and leave me.

    I read on a different site that women should NEVER bring up exclusivity, and that it should be something the guy brings up or wants. Therefore, Ive been passive in everything. I dont talk about our future or even plan dates as I dont want to rush the relationship or make it seem like Im more invested than he is. This also backfires as he may think I am not that interested.

    It is all very confusing. I love this article, but I also dont think women should even bring up exclusivity unless you both are intimate. In that regard, yes you should bring it up because being intimate= emotional attachment (for women especially). But then again, it always works out best when the guy choses you and not he other way around. But if he takes too long to commit and his profile is still up and he ACTIVE on it daily, I say leave before you get hurt. We women need to protect ourselves, no is going to do that for us.

    Thanks for article though Brad.

    • Exagerado  October 5, 2016

      “I read on a different site that women should NEVER bring up exclusivity, ”

      In another random site you will read that men should never bring it up. 😉

      Whatever. I’m tired of these rules-of-silence that take us apart more than bringing us together.

      Personally, I choose to follow my gut feeling and pursuing peace of mind — no anxiety for me 🙂 If I was seeing someone for two months and her profile was still active, I would talk to her, and for starters, I would try to understand where she was standing at.

      At a first glance, it would seem to me she was keeping her options open, which would mean I was not good enough. (Fair enough, but time for me to move on.) But there could be some other explanation? At any rate I would talk to her and would decide upon our conversation.

      I think some people, gurus included, mistake neediness for peace of mind (or the other way around). Acting needy is when you are demanding too fast too soon. Now, when you are trying to clear things up, trying to understand and showing where you stand as well, without demanding, this will mostly put you in a different light. That of a person that goes for what he/she wants but doesn’t take anything less than what he/she brings to the table.

      P.S: Just saw the other answer from Johnny Legend. He’s spot on, except for the very first sentence. I am a guy and I don’t think that’s pretty normal. Unless I’m not interested. But then again I will not see/mislead someone for 2 moths if I’m not interested. “Golden rule” again.

  2. Johnny Legend  November 9, 2012

    It’s pretty normal for guys to do this behavior. If he’s checking weekly it’s likely he is merely keeping his options open.

    I would actually recommend you tell him how you feel and, if you want exclusivity, ask for it. The worst thing that could happen is that he’ll say he’s not ready for it, and maybe break things off. Then at least you know! And you can go find a guy who is ready for you.

    I really like this website for a higher-level perspective on men and women, although it is aimed a little more towards men being respectful and responsible:

  3. Charles  January 1, 2017

    Great article. Just a couple of thoughts to add:

    Men and women, don’t come across as demanding or needy. You want the individual to have complete freedom to choose who they want to be with. Overall, it is best to take it slow the Japanese proverb; “The slower you go, the faster you get there”.

  4. Charlie  August 13, 2017

    I wanted to also point out an issue that people might not think about, I’m hoping it’s the same situation that I’m in right now. The way some online profiles work the minute that you sign into the account it shows you as being active, regardless of a hidden profile or not. I know it’s detrimental to my self-confidence but I often sign on just to check on the recent activity of someone that I’ve been dating. There’s a chance that we both could be doing the exact same thing. She signs on to see that I’ve been active in the last 24 hours, I sign on to see that she’s been active in the last 24 hours, and it’s a cyclical issue that won’t be solved until one of us gets the courage to bring it up to the other.

    There’s a multitude of reasons why someone might be keeping an active profile, and I think this article really does a great job on the importance of getting some understanding or clarification. If it corresponds with what you were looking to hear, all the better but tormenting yourself in the dark is hardly a healthy way to live.


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