Remember last week? When I was working on finding my cool again and not being insecure about my dating life and whether or not a guy likes me? Well, all of that was going quite well, until I went to my friend Lana's for dinner last Monday night.
With Lana's husband Mark out of town for a few days, and Mags' boyfriend Gordon working late, the three of us were having a girls' night in to gossip freely. In between breaks to check on Lana's baby, who is going through a "I cry if anyone but Mom holds me" phase, Mags was discussing the new apartment she and Gordon are moving into in a few weeks, and Lana was explaining Mark's disappointment that his job keeps sending him on business trips when he wants to be home with her and their son.
And then the subject turned to me and my doings. I filled them in on all my work aspirations and how the job has been going, but what they really wanted to know about was Mr. Charming.
I talked about the fact that I'm still enjoying his company, that when he's come over to my place I've started to appreciate little things he does, like clearing his plate from the table and checking that he hasn't left any mugs or glasses or bottles lying around. This sounds like a small thing, but it means a lot to those of us who have dated people who don't do these things. I have a great appreciation for such small gestures of thoughtfulness. It is nice, to me, that he does things like pull out my chair for me in a bar/restaurant, or help me into my coat at the end of the night.
"How many times have you been out with him?" they wanted to know. I threw out a round-about number, casually acting as if I have not meticulously been keeping count.
And then Mags asked the follow-up question that I have been quietly stifling in the back of my own mind and which has been openly haunting me ever since:
"Are you two exclusive?"
It's a justified question. I had just finished saying that although we had now spent a certain amount of time together, it was not yet a serious relationship. I imagine the only reason Lana didn't simultaneously ask the same question is because she had dashed downstairs to check on laundry while I was conveniently holding Baby William on my hip. Coming to my rescue, William began crying, having suddenly realized that not only was I Not-Mom, but Mom herself was no longer in the room. I began singing an absurd rendition of Doe a Dear, trying to placate him while I considered how to answer Mags' question.
Were we exclusive? We had not—have not—expressly said so, which would mostly be fine by me at this point (I am very decidedly not the jealous type.). After all, I had just myself said we were not serious. And although, as I've said before, I myself am a one-at-a-time style dater, initially it would not have bothered me if he had been going out with other women.
But there's one tiny little hiccough in that statement. Although we're not serious, we have -clears throat awkwardly- been physical.
So yeah. Although I wouldn't have had a problem with him going out with other women, I realized that I would have a very massive problem with him having sex with other women while he's been seeing me. And personally, out of courtesy and respect, I would never dream of doing the reverse.
Now let me establish that this is an entirely hypothetical concern. I do not have reasonable grounds to believe that this is happening, nor am I under the impression that Mr. Charming has been going out with other women at all. As far as I can tell, I'm his current point of interest. And that's great. But there's a part of me—probably the part that is obsessed with proper communication—that is now consumed with anxiety about how to establish my expectations with him.
I saw him just yesterday and the question was burning on my tongue the entire time. "Are we exclusive?" I wanted to ask him. "Do I have to establish with you that I don't want you having sex with other people?" Would he be offended if I did bring up such a thing? Doubtful, if I phrased it right, but the other concern was that I would appear to be trying to speed things along, to back him into a corner of being in a committed relationship with me.
Yes, ultimately I do want that committed relationship, but I also want it to happen naturally, when we're both ready for it. I don't want him to feel pressured to give our relationship titles because I coerced him. I want those things if and when it becomes the right time. And I don't think the right time is when I'm having an internal freak-out that is entirely grounded in paranoia.
"No," I answered Mags, as Lana returned to the room to take the screaming infant from my arms. "We haven't actually said we're exclusive."
Eyebrows rose and I felt defensive.
"I mean, I really don't think he is seeing anyone else. So it's not a problem at the moment." Mostly the truth. But all the while since dinner that night, I have been trying to think of a good way to establish exclusivity anyway. I don't want to coerce Charming or freak him out by approaching the subject the wrong way, but I do have a right to ask this sort of thing.
Not only that, but I feel I have a responsibility to make my needs and expectations known in this situation. If he does do something that hurts me, it will be partially my fault for not communicating with him.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, I'm afraid. It's a cliché expression, but an accurate description of how I'm feeling.
Still, when I said goodbye to him last, he told me to have fun at my cousin's wedding this weekend, asking me to send him pictures. I felt slightly soothed by the request to hear from me even while we weren't spending time together. I'm going to have to broach the subject eventually, preferably soon, but in the meantime, I don't genuinely feel as if I have much to worry about.