Dear Dr. Julie: My boyfriend and I have been dating for quite a while. He and I have agreed to be exclusive but I can't tell how committed he is to the relationship. Sometimes I don't hear from him for a day and he often makes plans with his friends without checking in with me first. It hurts my feelings and I wonder if he's really committed to us as a couple or if he's just having a good time.
--Together or not?
Together or not?: There is a lot to say about your situation. My first question is whether you have asked him your question about being committed or not. Communication is always the first step.
Secondly, whether you have asked him or not, you seem to be noticing that his words about being exclusive don't match your expectation of commitment. You have some expectation that if the two of you are exclusive, then you are committed. If you are committed, then he should check in with you before he makes plans. These are your "rules" and if you don't let him know, then he is going to have difficulty meeting your expectations because he can't read your mind. If you state your expectations and he is unwilling to meet them, then the two of you can have a discussion about whether he's committed and how much.
Thirdly, being exclusive is NOT the same as being committed. It just means you aren't dating other people. Commitment is a process that develops over time until you are ready to make a public statement, such as getting married or moving in together, that you two are a committed couple.
Lastly, the two of you need be able to talk about each of your visions of the relationship to get to a place of being committed. Can you come to a place with a shared vision? Initially, that's a "let's be exclusive" agreement, but over time should also include topics such as where to live, when to get married, whether you want children, etc. All your individual preferences need to be discussed as you continue to build your relationship.
However your conversations about the relationship play out, don't go along just to keep the relationship. Be your authentic self so areas of disagreement or incompatibility can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Sometimes it is difficult to start big conversations like I suggest in my answer to Together or Not?. If you need some help having a difficult conversation, get my Effective Communication Guide here. It's free and if you follow it, you will finish it with a script you can use to start a difficult conversation.
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