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Carolyn Hax: Man declines exclusivity in new relationship

Dear Carolyn: I have been seeing a guy who seems perfect for me. Maybe. He’s a bit different from men I’ve dated in the past, but shares major goals in life with me.

After about six weeks of spending every bit of free time with each other, I suggested exclusivity. Although he’s not dating anyone else, he declined. He feels he falls into exclusive relationships too easily and early. And he’s new to town, so I worry there’s a real factor of relying too much on me for his main social support.

So, I think I’m OK with the not-exclusive-but-in-actuality-exclusive framework here. I think? But not really. I’d be very unhappy if he were to date someone else.

So what should I do? I don’t want to stop seeing him over this. I understand his hesitation. But the idea of spending so much time with someone in a “relationship” that is so ill-posed bothers me. Obviously we need to talk, but I don’t know what subjects to start with.

– Not Exclusive (But I Spend All My Time With Him)

Do you need to talk? I’m not so sure.

It’s like writing; if you don’t know where to start, that usually means you don’t know what you want to say.

From here it appears he’s already repeated his favorite mistake, and just wants to think it’s different this time – or build a more brightly lit pathway out.

When words and deeds are so mismatched that you don’t know what to believe, you actually know something really important: that he lacks credibility. He’s lying to someone, either to you or to himself.

That’s plenty to act on. You can believe his actions and keep seeing him as much as you want, since he’ll sort himself out eventually – or, at the other extreme, you can believe his words and stop seeing him altogether, because you don’t need equivocation, new-in-town dependency or people who don’t want you.

Or you can go the middle route, where you just decide to trust yourself. That’s when you enjoy his company while you have it, and don’t kid yourself that it’s anything more than he says it is. This warrants the emotional discipline, though, to maintain a full life independent of him even as you keep hanging out.

Since that’s what he says he should be doing now anyway, even as he fails to do it – and since it’s a reasonable bit of self-preservation for anyone swept up in a budding romance – you can frame it as exercising rational restraint for both of you. See your other friends, keep feeding other interests you have, restore a few things to your schedule that you dropped to make room for him. And no, this isn’t playing hard to get or following Rules or some other form of manipulation. It’s merely taking him at his word that this relationship isn’t what you had hoped, and adopting a temperate Plan B.

If you’d like to go this middle route, then it’s up to you whether you tell him so. It wouldn’t be dishonest to keep this to yourself as you see how things play out, but if you’d like him to know where you stand, then there you go – that’s the subject for your talk.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.