The Truth About 20-Somethings And The Fear Of Being Exclusive


On a typical day, I wake up, hop on the subway, write a couple of pieces, run a couple of errands, potentially head to a social engagement, then go home. In that time, I can’t help but notice all the couples, both seemingly happy and seemingly unhappy: the ones kissing on the sidewalk, the ones holding hands and laughing, the ones in which one partner looks unequivocally more invested than the other because the girlfriend is picking out a Ben & Jerry’s flavor in a deli while talking about which movie she wants to cuddle to later while the boyfriend (indiscreetly) checks out the ass on the aspiring model in tight spandex standing two feet behind him.

As the end of this past Spring turned into the beginning of Summer, I met a guy at one of New York’s male-heavy bars. It – that is, the nameless thing that began to brew between us – started out as casual, and I had intended for it to stay that way. See, I’d just been offered a dream job, set to start in July, and I wanted to celebrate this new chapter of my life by remaining tied down to nothing and no one.

The problem is, the moment in which we’re least looking for something (or someone) is usually the moment in which we find ourselves pleasantly surprised by our new-found convictions.

The more I hung out with this guy, the more I realized how much I actually enjoyed his company; when I’m not with him, I miss him, the way I miss chocolate when I try to go low-carb for a week (AKA I miss him a lot). I haven’t felt that feeling in a while. Not soon after coming to the aforementioned realization, I came to yet another one: I wanted exclusivity. For the first time in nearly years, I felt comfortably prepared to see one person, and only one person. And that person was him.

So this is where I find myself. Lately, I’ve been lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, mulling over what to do next. I don’t know what to do, but I do know I have to proceed cautiously. The thing is, I’ve never proposed exclusivity before, and the thought of doing it makes my heart race, because modern dating confuses the absolute sh*t outta me.

What is it about being exclusive that makes us jump in either unabashed excitement or fear? Why are people so apprehensive when being asked to commit?

Why are people – er, like myself – afraid to even ask someone to commit? When the f*ck did it become “cool” to trivialize feelings that are practically pouring out of us and screaming to be coddled?

Like any true adult hoping to find concrete answers, I googled “how to ask to be…”. “How to ask to be exclusive” is the third most popular search, following “how to ask to be a reference,” and “how to ask to be laid off” (um, wtf?)

I also read multiple viewpoints on this topic: the “scientific research” of one of those so-called love-ologists in a Huff Post piece, some dude’s ramblings on BroBible, and a clearly misinformed chick’s claims on AllWomenStalk (do NOT take dating advice from the women who write on there. Those are the women who show up unannounced at their exes’ doorsteps with gift baskets.)

What’s interesting is this: women say “Go for it! Be honest about your feelings! Girl power!” But the general consensus amongst men is that the dude should man up and ask a woman to be his girlfriend. Between third-wave feminism and the unimpressive progression of chivalry – women armoring themselves in attempts to come off as though we don’t need men, and men replacing dinner and a show with drinks and Netflix – I don’t know what on God’s green earth I’m expected to do here.

The one thing I do find solace in is that my research has concluded that, apparently, I’m not the only one left in the dark about how one makes his or her way from being completely casual to completely exclusive.

Like that ass-staring guy in the deli, I’ve got one foot out the door and the other one still inside; though I know looking isn’t the same as touching, my thoughts can’t help but to cement themselves in what happens to young couples once the novelty in a relationship wears off. Striving for exclusivity in New York is like that scene in Aladdin: the one where Abu steals the gem in The Cave of Wonders while Aladdin tries to keep his eyes on the lamp, and only the lamp. Abu is the devil on my shoulder, too curious for his own good – greedily always wanting more – and he’s got his peripherals to thank for that.

I’m fearful of what bigger, better, shinier thing may come his or my way if he and I become exclusive. Maybe I only want him because I don’t yet fully have him. Maybe he only likes me as much as he does because he doesn’t fully have me.

Maybe, we’ll always simply want that which we don’t have.