One question we often hear from singles is about dating one person versus dating more than one person at a time. It is a good question and gets right to the heart of healthy dating practices.
For many single adults, there has been a history of dating one person, seeing if it will lead to a close significant relationship, and taking the relationship as far as possible. After it ends, the cycle then repeats: find and date just one new person. While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to create a close relationship with one person, in our view this approach falls short in several respects.
First of all, the purpose of dating is to have fun; explore how emotionally and physically safe it is to be with your dating partner; learn as much as you can about this person; and ultimately discover if you are compatible for a long-term relationship (if that is what you desire). In keeping with the purpose of dating, we advocate a conservative, defensive posture since it is our experience that there are many more people that don’t know how to date in a healthy manner than those that do. It is dangerous and risky to place yourself in a vulnerable situation until you really know who you are with.
Secondly, if you are coming out of a lonely period, it is more difficult to be objective about your new dating partner. It is difficult enough to keep your wits about you if you experience some degree of falling in love or infatuation with this person. When that is coupled with not having been with someone for a while, it is an extremely potent combination that can quickly escalate into a full-blown intense relationship, often before you reallyknow who you are dating.
We often talk in our workshops about the importance of de-intensifying the beginning of a relationship, if you want to date in a healthy manner. Going for the maximum adrenaline rush might help you temporarily feel very alive, but is often a set-up to get badly hurt, since you just won’t see the red flags that are staring you in the face.
The two best ways to de-intensify a new relationship are not seeing the person (or even having phone or voice mail or email contact) every day, and dating other people. When you date only one person, you have nothing to compare that person with. You will tend to project all of your romantic fantasies (and other unfinished business) onto this person that you barely know. By dating other people at the same time, you give yourself a built-in reality check to insure that you see things a bit more clearly.
“Fine”, people say, “but how do you tell someone that you’re dating other people?” That’s easy: be honest. Remember, you want to learn as much as possible about this person. Their reaction to your telling them you’re dating others will reveal some valuable things about their personality and maturity.
There are three rules of thumb for dating more than one person:
- tell people honestly if you’re dating more than one person, and why;
- if you initiate a physical relationship with someone, let the other people you’re dating know about that;
- if you become very romantically close to one person, decide if it’s time to date exclusively.
Dating more than one person is a great way to de-intensify the beginning of a relationship, to learn more about each person you are dating, and to truly assess the health of each dating experience by having a clear basis for comparison. Remember, it’s your heart which is ultimately at stake. Choose wisely!