Sex & Relationships

When Should You Stop Dating Multiple People? Experts Weigh In

Plus, how to approach the conversation.

by Alice Broster
Originally Published: 
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Dating over the last year has been hard, period. As bars and restaurants closed, singles flocked to parks to see if their dating app crush could be the one. In 2021 there are no dating rules and it’s usually the best policy to follow your gut but when should you stop dating multiple people? Dating two people at once can get really messy, especially when feelings are involved. I asked the experts for some advice.

Dating over the last year has been hard, period. As bars and restaurants closed, singles flocked to parks to see if their dating app crush could be the one. Aside from the added complications caused by coronavirus, there are other dating dilemmas to deal with. One that can be tricky to manage is when should you stop dating multiple people? I asked the experts for some advice.

It’s pretty normal to speak to a few people at one time if you’re single. Hell, you may even be organised enough to go on multiple first dates in one go. Whatever kind of relationship you're looking for, apps have opened up endless possibilities and in the past year they have been one of the few ways to meet new people and make new connections. But if you’ve found someone during lockdown once you’ve found someone you like, when should you cut the others out?

Dating Multiple People: The Pros

Research reported by the BBC highlighted that singles had more to consider over the last year when it comes to meeting up with people and it’s changed people’s attitudes towards casual dating. Dating and relationships coach Annie Lavin also told the Irish Times that she’s witnessed many people skipping past those early stages of flirtation on dating multiple people and moving into relationship status very quickly. But online dating expert Benjamin Daly believes, so long as you’re being safe, it’s good to date around.

“It’s similar to finding a job – you’re putting yourself out there, seeing what’s available, until you eventually find someone or something worth committing to,” Daly tells me. For him, it's all about efficiency: “The dating cycle from matching to chatting to the first date and even second date can take up to a month. If you realise by the second date that you’re not compatible, you’ve invested a lot of time and will have to start again. That isn’t an efficient use of time.”

Behavourial psychologist Jo Hemmings agrees that dating around is a good idea, but for a slightly different reason. "It’s using it as an opportunity to not only find someone who feels right for us, but also as a way of learning something about ourselves and our own wants and needs,” she explains.

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Dating Multiple People: The Cons

However, not all experts are in agreement. Sex and relationship expert Gillian Myhill, for example, believes that, if you're sharing your time out, "it can be difficult to know who is the right person." Myhill explains: "Speaking from my own experience, I would say that it certainly does slow the progression down."

It’s good to know all your options but the grass isn’t always greener. Just because you can date multiple people for a prolonged period of time doesn’t mean you should. Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist and Psycho-Sexologist Kate Moyle notes that communication breakdown can be a major issue. "Problems occur when one partner is under the impression you're just dating each other and this is where the biggest amount of upset occurs. You need to make sure that you're all on the same page,” she says.

Moyle also tells me there can be more than emotional problems to contend with when you’re being intimate with multiple people. She explains: “if you're having sex with multiple partners then contraception that protects against STIs is essential as they can easily be transmitted between partners.”

When Is A Good Time To Become Exclusive?

If you’re ready to settle with one person, it’s no small matter of working out if they want the same thing. But Myhill says conversation is key. “As both partners become more serious about each other, this is typically around the three month mark, the conversation should be had – at that point both partners should agree to the type of relationship they are seeking from each other,” she tells me.

If you’ve dated someone for three months you usually know whether you're into them, but as Moyle explains, issues can still arise. “There’s a trigger or fear of loss of a relationship which means that a partner will throw themselves into committing to it fully. Some relationships are open to having multiple partners and work well this way, but they work with organisation and rules," she says.

The reality is, while three months may be long enough to know you like someone, if it takes you a longer or shorter period of time to get there then that's totally fine. There's no set-in-stone rules in modern dating.


How To Ask A Partner To Be Exclusive

Once you’ve sorted things out with the other people you’re dating, it's time to tell your SO. But going exclusive is a two way conversation – it only works if your partner feels the same. If they’re not quite ready to quit the dating game Moyle says, “you have to make a decision about whether this is acceptable for you or not. It's about the rules and boundaries that you set between you.”

While dating in 2021 means doing things your way it also means there’s no cut and dry time to make things exclusive with someone. However, if you start to get the fear that being without them would suck then it’s probably time to have a conversation about your feelings.

And How To Let Other Partners Know It's Over

While the very nature of seeing multiple people means there’s more people to check in with, ghosting is still not polite. You may have decided to see one or more people exclusively but that doesn’t mean that you should drop out of your other dates lives with no explanation. “We live in a world of online dating and most people out there have received 'hey how are you' messages from previous matches long after the time of completion. I think it’s important to update people,” says Myhill.

“Be polite and respectful when ending it with others,” adds Daly, “if you haven’t made any commitments [...] you’ve done nothing wrong calling off.”

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