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How to Navigate the Grace Period

Whether you’re hazy about commitment, new to a relationship, or playing the field it’s best to approach this grace period with honesty and mutual respect.

Dating is like buying a house. It may not be a particularly romantic metaphor, but they weren’t lying when they said, “Home is where your heart is.” Real relationships require work and commitment just like purchasing a new home. Before you move into a new house there is an escrow period. Why should your relationship be any different? There is a grace period after you met someone you really like and before you’ve decided to purchase a one-way ferry ticket to Monogamy Island? But how do you navigate this period? How do you talk about the rather tense subject of potentially sleeping with other people? And how do you ultimately know when you’re ready to commit?

Courtship has changed over the past 50 years. There was a simpler time when people got married as virgins, chaperones accompanied people on dates, and doctors endorsed cigarettes. But our sexually liberated times have given rise to people taking control over their sexual wants and needs. That’s great, but that can leave a lot of people with a murky understanding of what’s “normal” in dating. You probably don’t tell someone you’ve just met you’ve been casually seeing a few guys. You probably don’t want to spend your fourth date talking about Julia, your friend with benefits. You may not even want to mention them until you’ve dissolved your benefits agreement. But it’s important to find a balance between honesty and consideration for your and your partner’s feelings.

I personally have been on the receiving end of many an awkward conversation with guys I’ve really liked. “Sorry, I’ve been dating a couple of people and it’s really working out with someone else.” It’s like a gunshot wound to the chest. Here you are picking out china patterns and not only are you no longer in the running for America’s Next Top Partner your “relationship” was a figment of your imagination. That’s a tough, dry pill to swallow but it is a harsh reality for the new arena of dating in a post-Tinder, post-Sex and the City, pre-Apocalypse dating world. People will be dating, sleeping with, and talking to other people and you will need to find a way to navigate that space.

Whether you’re hazy about commitment, new to a relationship, or playing the field it’s best to approach this grace period with honesty and mutual respect. Let’s say you’ve met someone you really like and things are going really well. After a few dates you will want to check in on how you both are feeling. It doesn’t need to be a grandiose conversation about commitment. You will want to clear up if you are casually dating or seriously seeing each other. You may want to ask if they are seeing other people and disclose if you are. It’s also a good time to calmly tease your feelings on monogamy. It will be unclear until you mention it. Finding out your shiny new dance partner is dating a few other people can be a huge shock. So why not temper the surprise by being as honest as you can as early as you can? I have found it’s best to be honest because then you and your partner can approach your relationship as it is rather than how you both want it to be.

As your relationship progresses you’ll want to have periodic check-ins to be clear about how you are both seeing your future together. Do you want to be in a committed relationship, would you prefer a throuple, are you interested in open relationships? These are important conversations you will want to organically come to. You don’t need to push them, force them, or turn them into a huge confrontation. But it’s good to clear the air. Your best bet is a calm, casual four sentence conversation. You ask a question, they answer, you accept what they say, and you move on. This will avoid any needless escalation or discomfort. In my experience it’s good to ask and be as open and diplomatic as possible. If you feel the situation starting to escalate try to just reiterate your commitment and excitement about the relationship. That way you don’t let fear or insecurity needlessly escalate the situation.

Handling these conversations can be tough. It’s easy for these honest moments to unearth a lot of baggage. The key is to be honest, open-minded and respectful. If your partner tells you they have opposing political views you wouldn’t immediately break up so why should you do that if you have different views on sex, relationships and boundaries. Sometimes the biggest hurdle to establishing healthy and happy relationships is our own personal idealized version of a relationship. That great person you are spending time with is a full-fledged human being so entertain their individual beliefs, opinions and experiences. If you have a calm conversation you can understand how the other person sees your relationship and how they see you. Now this doesn’t guarantee a marriage proposal or that you will not break up. But it does guarantee that you’re on an even playing field and having a healthy conversation. It also ensures you are entering into a relationship with the healthiest perspective you can.

There is no right or wrong way to date. There are billions of people on the planet and there’s someone out there for everyone. But you can never go wrong with establishing honest conversations with people you sleep with and date. If you are honest and open during this grace period it will help you establish healthy patterns and develop organic intimacy as your authentic self. That’s better than implying monogamy if you’re not ready or dating a few people. It also allows you to see how well you can communicate, empathize, and handle tense conversations. Even if it doesn’t go well you’ve worked on the key skills to a healthy long-term relationship for next time. Once you’ve done that you’re in a better position to make it work or attract your right match.