As a child I remember watching Marsha Brady go goo-goo gaga over a crush from school, Harvey Klinger. Carol helped her gain his attention and about 15 minutes into the episode, Harvey ends up asking Marsha to go steady. Just like that, she was in her first relationship. I could recall episodes of Saved By The Bell where a similar scene happened.
However in real life, long gone are the days of asking a girl to go “steady.” Instead, we live in a generation of “talking” “hooking up” “special friends” and “situationships.” Yes, Situationships, we really created a whole new word for non-committed relationships. Nowadays, how two individuals find themselves in an exclusive dating relationship with one another is often a mystery.
This mystery has been one of the most difficult pieces of single life to unpack for me. Without being in an exclusive relationship the lines of expectation are not quite drawn in the sand. How long do you date before deciding to become exclusive? Is it safe to assume that because you’re not having sex with anyone else that he’s not? If you inquire about being in an exclusive relationship too early, will that scare him off? I could list questions until I’m blue in the face, the whole thing makes me dizzy.
I recently planned a quick 48 hour trip with a guy I’m getting to know. We were both anxious to spend some real time together to see if this was something we really wanted to explore deeper. I’m attracted to his honesty, wit, confidence, and drive but the most intriguing part about him was that he seemed to be a man of his word. If he makes a plan or appointment, he sticks to it. If he says he’s going to call me back, he does. If he can’t, he won’t make that promise. If he says he’s going to bed early at 10:30, don’t call at 10:35 pm- he will be sleep. He hasn’t given me a single reason not to believe everything that comes out of his mouth.
A girlfriend of mine makes the argument that all men are men of their word for the first 90 days or until you have sex, whichever comes first. I don’t think she’s wrong, but I do love to think I’ve found the exception to the rule.
Anyhow, back to our weekend….. and the assumption that he is who I’ve built him to be in my mind. The first day was filled with a trip to the spa, pilates, Netflix & chill, and so, SO many laughs. On the last day, we were snuggled up watching a movie when he laughed out loud at a funny video on Instagram. He showed me his phone and in typical girl fashion, I happily grabbed it. I watched the video and then proceeded to continue to scroll down his timeline. Unlike most men, he didn’t flinch or reach for his phone, instead, he laid back. He had nothing to hide from me. We don’t follow each other on Instagram so I wasn’t familiar with the type of content he consumed daily. I have to admit– I was insanely curious so I kept scrolling. About 2 minutes into my scroll-a-thon his phone began to ring. It was an incoming facetime call and the name read Nicole – NY.
Yes, a city code. The names men save women as in their phones are far worse than the names women give men… but we’ll save that for another blog. Hold me to that.
With the watch your next move buddy look on my face, I handed him his phone. He looked at the screen, declined the facetime, and then handed it back to me. Naturally, I began to wonder who Nicole from NY was but I pretended not to let it bother me. I continued to scroll his timeline but 2 minutes later Nicole – NY sent a text. There it was hovering across the screen “What’s your excuse for not answering this time?”
Another girl who meant business.
I tossed his phone into his lap and let out “Damn. Nicole, the one from NY, is really looking for you” while the phone was in midair. I fired off 1 or 2 more passive aggressive comments before I left the room. The idea that another woman could be looking for him during our time was almost repulsive.
But why? Quite frankly, I didn’t have a right to be upset. Or did I? Technically, he and I are not exclusive. We are “talking.” We are “just dating.” We are “just getting to know each other.” Hell, we’re at the beginning of a situationship.
At what point in getting to know a man are you allowed to have the expectation that he isn’t also seeing or even talking to another woman? I’ve heard 3 months, 6 months, and even “when the time is right.” As if there is some starter’s pistol that will sound to begin the official relationship. Most women say “As soon as we start having sex, I expect he shouldn’t be having sex with anyone else.” I hear you sis. I hear you.
Thus far, I hadn’t really thought about who else he may or may not be talking to. Our interactions allowed me to believe that there wasn’t another girl who felt entitled to his time. But did her text read otherwise?
There’s a part of me that’s also afraid to admit that I may not have wanted to face the same implications had the roles been reversed. Too many times I have fallen victim to cutting off every guy in my life for some dude who exudes potential. When the relationship goes sour, I’m left with an empty roster.
I took a quick breather, made myself a cocktail, and decided I had no grounds to stand on. I reset my attitude and walked back into the room. Hours passed and still somehow I couldn’t stop wondering about Nicole from NY. Who was she? What did she mean to him? Why was she looking for him?
Later that day as we prepared to head to the airport he asked: “Did you have a good time this weekend?”
I responded quickly. “I did… did you?”
It was the truth. The reason that Nicole- NY had consumed my thoughts for most of the afternoon was because I did really enjoy my time spent with him. His intentions seem pure and when that happens it’s easy to indirectly place expectation early on.
He responded back “Of course I did.”
After a few seconds, I commented “Well… there is just 1 thing that I may hold above your head for a few weeks.”
“What?” He looked confused.
“Nicole from NY? Come on dude, you have got to do better. At least remove the city code.”
“Oh boy Ash. Would you like to talk about this or just throw out stupid comments? I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.”
Remember that little honesty bit I mentioned about him earlier? There it was again and just as attractive as ever. We proceeded to have an open conversation in which he explained all he believed I should know. It was gentle, mature, and honest. It is far easier to throw out far-flung allusions than directly address the concern and initially, I had copped out.
On my flight home it became clear to me how important it is to have genuine communication about intentions and expectations in the beginning stages of dating. In fact, there are no rules to this going steady thing. There’s no milestone that says now you’re in an exclusive relationship. There’s no roadmap to navigate mountains of expectations and fields of intent. There is only one way : To communicate. But it’s essential to find someone who can.