Navigating Non-Exclusive Waters

Non-Exclusive dating isn’t a new concept for men who’ve long been playing the field. But with today’s swipe culture, non-exclusive dating is the new norm for the majority of single adults in the dating pool. Often a casual, non-exclusive relationship is the best option for someone working on themselves or making big moves in their career or figuring out the qualities they want in a partner. It can be an ideal way for you to slow down the pace of courtship and simultaneously learn the nuances of your dynamic with various potential love interests.

Many serial monogamists inadvertently tend to get into relationships too quickly. Not because they necessarily want to, but rather because they simply don’t know how to embrace the concept of casual dating. If you’re unclear and curious about the rules for playing the field, the Kelleher Matchmaking team is sharing the basics so you can surf the non-exclusive dating waters with confidence.

One of the biggest benefits of casual, non-exclusive dating is your ability to be honest and exploratory without getting in too deep with a person. It’s almost as if you’re trying on the relationship. On the other hand, if you know you’re not ready for a relationship, casual dating offers an occasional dose of intimacy – just enough to take the edge off with some much needed TLC.  But the key to making this work – without blowing up in your face – is that the dress rehearsal or rent-a-mate situation must be a group activity. All parties must be privy to the plot.

“Often, it’s not discussed,” says Kelleher matchmaker Shawna Quinn, “Many people aren’t comfortable having the awkward conversation of discovering the other’s intentions. But not having the conversation at all can lead to even bigger awkward moments if you’re non-exclusively dating someone without their knowledge and they find out another way.”

The four habits below are imperative in all healthy relationships. For you non-exclusive daters, let this be your dating roadmap. It will spare you a lot of drama and potential heartache down the road. Might we even suggest you print this out or write it on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror as a daily reminder?


1. Be clear about your intentions from the beginning.

Matchmaker Nahla Grafer encourages, “Be playful going into any new romantic engagement. Assume everyone is non-exclusively dating and be clear about your boundaries when it comes to potential sex and sleepovers. Knowing yourself and what you want makes weeding people out fairly simple. However, if you’re in the early stages of the dating game because of major life changes, I encourage you to take your time and be easy about the whole thing. Don’t hastily rule anyone in or out. Don’t rush to any declarations.”

2. Set and follow ground rules that respect everyone involved.

Shawna advises, “A conversation to identify the ground rules needs to be had early on between people dating. Be transparent with both emotional and sexual commitment levels. Any important sexual history should be shared as well. It’s the mature and respectful thing to do.”

3. Communicate clearly and often.

The ground rules can be a moving target, so periodic check-ins are essential. These conversations don’t have to feel heavy. Getting what you want should feel good. If the talks feel heavy, that’s telling you something. Nahla adds, “It’s good to have boundaries, and it’s okay to change your mind. If you don’t enjoy dating multiple people at once, then simply say that and stop.”

4. Actively listen to both verbal and non-verbal cues.

What if you’re reading this too late and think you’re in a relationship with someone who you suspect is non-exclusively dating you in return? Kelleher matchmaker Erin Soskin suggests, ”If you have feelings for someone you’re seeing and your commitment is unspoken, it’s time to define the relationship! Wondering whether or not the person you’re seeing is dating someone else feels terrible. If you want exclusivity and sense you aren’t on the same page, have that conversation. Share your needs and appreciate theirs to find a copacetic understanding. Openness and honesty will either set a good foundation for a committed relationship or give you the clarity you need to move on to something better.”

It is entirely possible to make casual dating work for you. As matchmakers, we believe in second dates, but encourage our clients to keep meeting new people while they’re figuring it out. Reframe your perspective on non-exclusive dating and open yourself up to the possibility of multiple matches. We assure you, the cream will undoubtedly rise to the top.

Kelleher matchmaker Patty Russell explains, “We encourage clients just starting out to meet different people to discover likes and dislikes. It is an excellent practice to get your feet wet if you haven’t been in the dating pool for a while. The more fun and casual you can let yourself be is when something typically clicks. I recognize it isn’t easy to be out in the dating world today; you just have to look at it as a fun exploration. You won’t have chemistry with everyone but you will learn so much about yourself, and that’s half the battle!”

What’s stopping you from non-exclusive dating? Tell our matchmakers in the comments below and let us help you find your solution.