Dating more than one person at a time is no longer the borderline fringe, Samantha Jones-esque walk on the wild side that it was once portrayed as in the 90s and early 00s. In 2017 and the age of Tinder, juggling multiple romantic prospects at once is not only accepted, but smart—even if what you’re ultimately looking for is a committed, monogamous LTR.
“Seeing multiple people is a great idea when you’re single and navigating the dating world,” says couples therapist and relationship expert Tara Fields, Ph.D., author of The Love Fix. “Don’t make the mistake of jumping into an exclusive relationship after a few dates. In most cases it’s really healthy to say, ‘I’m going to sample this smorgasbord of available prospects.”
But before you dive in and start filling your G-cal, be sure to check out these five handy etiquette tips for dating several people simultaneously—they’ll keep things stress-free, fun and classy.
Reflect on What You Want
One of the up sides (and purposes!) of dating around is to help you learn about what kinds of partners do and don’t work for you. So even if you don’t have a clear vision of who you’re looking for, it’s helpful to at least have a vague sense of what your ideal love life looks like, whether that’s having fun and keeping things light with a few different people or settling down with someone if and when you find the right match.
“If you’ve spent some time mindfully thinking about what it is you’re looking for, dating multiple people can be especially fruitful,” says Fields. “Every date is an opportunity to learn and grow, and playing the field can help you spot red flags and narrow the choices.” For instance, you might not even know it was important to you to find someone who’s not carrying serious baggage from a past relationship until you meet someone who does have that chip on your shoulder. Or you might not realize that it’s such a priority to date someone who supports your career until you’ve met someone who failed to do so.
Sure, you’re not technically in any kind of formal, committed arrangement until an explicit discussion has been had (see: the DTR talk), but use your best judgment if you sense that someone you’re dating is getting emotionally invested while you’re still out having fun with other people. “Transparency is my one rule about dating multiple people,” says Fields. “You want to come from a place of integrity. Be open and honest, especially if you’re asked. You can say, ‘Right now I’m not ready to be exclusive.’ And exclusivity means different things to different people, so be sure to clarify what it means to you.”
Worried that if you’re honest about seeing other people, the person you’re dating might be upset or less into you? Well, if the idea of upsetting that person bothers you so much, that might mean you’re ready to have the DTR. And either way, you gotta suck it up and tell the truth. “Then you’re giving them the choice about whether they want to take an emotional risk and move forward with someone who’s still dating around,” says Fields. “They may not like the fact that you’re dating others, but plenty of people will appreciate your integrity—which actually can start building a foundation of trust for a relationship.”
Be Intentional About Sex
Sex is another area in which you want to be careful when you’re dating around. It can take enough energy to juggle dates with several people, and having sex with more than one person has the potential to make things more complicated. “If you’re looking for an LTR, I’m a big believer in not sleeping with people too soon because it confuses things,” says Fields. “Hormones start going wild and you can become more attached to someone and be less clearheaded about your compatibility.”
On the other hand, sex does have the advantage of helping you figure out whether you have serious physical chemistry with someone—good to know with LTR prospects! And if you’re just looking to have fun and not limit yourself sexually when you’re dating around, that’s cool, too. Just extend the transparency rule here, and of course, be extra-safe when it comes to protection. “When it comes to sex you also want to come from integrity,” says Fields. “Are you sleeping with someone else? Have you been tested? Are you using protection? You have a right to ask those questions, and you should answer them honestly when asked by partners.”
Take Your Time
The whole point of dating around is to explore, enjoy yourself and see what (and who!) works for you. And that process isn’t always the speediest. If, say, you’re dating two people and are starting to like one of them more and are torn about whether or not to go on a third date with the other person… just go! As long as you’re not misleading him or her by letting them think you’re headed towards commitment, you’re doing nothing wrong. It’s better to hang out with someone a few extra times to be absolutely sure that you don’t want to keep seeing them than to cut things off early and wonder if you should have given it more time.
Don’t Ghost Anyone
Maybe you’ve decided to start getting serious with one person you’ve been dating or you’re simply moving on to new prospects and don’t want to keep seeing someone you were previously spending time with. When you’re dating around, it can be tempting to let communications drop with people you’re not into seeing again. But do anyone who keeps following up the courtesy of explaining that you’re not interested in moving forward with them—even if you only went on a date or two. It takes five minutes to write that text and it’ll give that person closure so they don’t waste any more time on you.
“Even though it may be the norm to ghost someone or even lie about why you’re not saying yes to any more dates, this is an opportunity to exercise emotional courage,” says Fields. “You never know if the person you’re blowing off might be the brother of your future boss or whatever—it’s a small world. Plus, it’s really nice to be the one that got away, but also be the person who handled it with grace and kindness.”