What Exclusive Dating Really Means Versus Being In A Relationship

Everything's going fine and dandy in your dating life until the dreaded question no one wants to ask—“So, like, what are we?”—rears its ugly head. Sound familiar? Maybe your current situationship comes to mind, or perhaps the person you’ve been FWB with since senior year of college. What about your airport crush who you just future-tripped your third child’s name with while waiting for your flight? (Just kidding about that last one—kind of.)

But seriously, it’s a critical conversation for to have, especially if you’re hoping to progress past uncertainty into a satisfying relationship. But in 2022, the “define the relationship” conversation is more confusing than ever before—so it makes sense that not everyone has the concept mastered.

Take Love Island UK and USA, for example—while they’re still in the “getting to know each other” stage, they often start their exclusivity conversations by tiptoeing around the dang question, asking stuff like, "Well, would you be open if a new person came in, or not so much?" “People get so tripped up these days with ‘label aversion,’" says Lisa Concepcion, relationship expert and founder of LoveQuestCoaching. “They tiptoe around one another, wondering if they’re dating, dating exclusively, or are in a relationship.”

Relationship ambiguity can be mind-boggling. It helps if you have a clear intention about your life and dating style, Concepcion says, so you can go into flings or relationships with clarity on what you’re looking for from it. Regardless of how you feel about putting a label on it, you want to be on the same page about what’s going on and the appropriate boundaries involved (like, dating-app usage and sex with other people).

If you’re confused about where you stand with a romantic partner or are nearing the “what are we?” stage of your courtship, no need to send up the SOS when you're trying to DTR. Here's everything you need to know about exclusive dating, including how long you should feel things out before asking about a label, how to have that conversation, and what to do if it goes wrong.