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Heavy Meddle: My New Lover Wants To Date Around — Should I Let Him?

Dear Steve,

Someone I recently started dating explicitly told me that he is going on a date with someone else.

While I understand this is one of the realities of being in the early stages of a relationship (before any expectation of exclusivity), do I take this as an indication that he’s not interested? Or does it mean I need to step up my game?

We’ve already been "intimate" and he seems interested. Still, the comment just sort of threw me off.

Help!

PHOTO

Signed,
Testing the Waters

Dear Testing,

Good God. These are the sort of questions that make me glad to be an old married fart with no discernible social life and spit-up on my shirt collar. I’m going to assume that by "intimate" you mean that you and Mr. Play-the-Field have had sexual relations.

Is this how the kids date these days? Because back when I was sleeping around, having sex with someone implied that you were exclusive. If you then sought to have sex with someone else, you at least had the good sense (and poor morals) to keep it to yourself.

But okay, I’m not going to impose my "morality" on you, especially because my morality appears to lead to an endgame in which you have no social life and spit-up on your shirt collar. Maybe you’re at a stage in your life where strict monogamy isn’t that big a deal. And maybe it never will be.

If his desire to date around sits wrong with you than you should simply tell him so, with a minimum of drama.

Still. I have to ask: Do you like this guy? Do you like him a whole lot? Enough that you’re willing to put up with him going on a date with another person, even though the two of you just became intimate? It may be that you honestly, in your heart, feel he’s a special enough guy that he’s worth "stepping up your game" for. If that’s the case, I’m not going to tell you to do otherwise. Maybe the fact that this guy was upfront with you about dating someone else speaks to his candor.

But there’s a more important question kind of hovering in the background here, which is how much you like yourself? I don’t mean any disrespect here. But I do believe that it’s perfectly reasonable (after making love to someone who is apparently single and searching) to feel that what you shared is real and important enough to be exclusive — at least until you figure what’s what. That may not be a binding contract, but it’s how most people feel deep down.

I’m also a little unsettled by the notion that you need to compete for this guy’s love and attention. Yes, we all work hard for love and attention in the early stages of a relationship. But we expect in return a certain regard, and "taking another woman for a test drive" doesn’t count in my book as regard. In fact, from a certain angle, his "candor" scans more like manipulation — a way of undermining your self-worth by making you feel like a contestant. There’s enough of that sadism on reality TV, dontcha think?

Again: You’re getting my take. Maybe you’re really just casual with this guy and have plans of your own to date around. Or maybe you dig him but accept that, this early in the game, it’s fair for him to explore other options. But based on your letter, it sounds to me like you’re a bit more troubled.

You need to do some soul searching here, Testing. If his desire to date around sits wrong with you then you should simply tell him so, with a minimum of drama. You’re not asking him to get married or move in, for Chrissake. You just want him to offer the same devotion you are. If he can’t do so, then let’s be honest: it probably wasn’t going to work in the long run anyway — and better to know that now. It may also be that he needs to face the risk of losing you to figure out how much you mean to him. Many men are like that, unfortunately.

These are the sort of questions that make me glad to be an old married fart with no discernible social life and spit-up on my shirt collar.

To be clear: what I’m advocating here isn’t some kind of power play. The idea isn’t to pressure this guy into committing to you. It’s simply for you to tell him the truth about how you’re feeling. If he can’t deal with that, he’s not worth dealing with at all.

One final note, Testing: No matter what the emotional outcome is here, there’s a basic health issue you must confront. If this guy is going to be intimate with other women, you have the right to know. And you have the right to know whether he’s having safe sex or not. This is non-negotiable. It has nothing to do with self-respect, or romantic power dynamics, or sexual mores. It has to do with protecting your body from a variety of serious diseases that range from HPV to HIV.

Good luck, Testing. My own take is that if this guy can’t see a good thing when it lands in his lap, he ain’t worth having.

Steve ♥

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on August 5, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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