Can I Get A Consensus? When Does a Relationship Become Exclusive?


I recently met a young lass and was having a chat to her about relationships. She was born in Australia, raised in England and has spent most of her young adult life in the US. She is on a mission to meet the perfect man and was quizzing me on my single friends and asking me what Australian men are like. She then told me she has a guy in the states that she’s been seeing but they haven’t said that it’s exclusive yet so she can still date other people. I laughed and told her that an Aussie bloke wouldn’t put up with that and she said ‘Oh right! You guys are really weird about dating here aren’t you?‘. I completely understand what she was talking about. Australians approach dating in a very different way than Americans.

I’m sure that I’m making mass generalisations here but from my own experiences of living in Australia, visiting the US and being fed a fairly substantial diet of American television, books and magazines as a teenager I’ve come up with a little dating profile for each country and I’d be interested to see if anyone agrees. Just to be clear I think both ways of dating are perfectly acceptable. I just find it fascinating how two such similar developed countries have such different dating protocol.


* Don’t date aggressively and are far more likely to casually find a partner at work or through friends. Or drunkenly falling on someone else’s face at a pub.

* Don’t multi-date. If they are regularly sleeping with/dining with/watching movies with one person it would be considered pretty poor form to be doing that with another person.

* Work on assumptions. If two people have been seeing each other 3 to 4 times a week for more than about two months everyone is going to assume they’re in a relationship, themselves included.

* Might not ever have the exclusivity talk. Mr Smaggle and I never did. We just kept sleeping with each other for like seven years in a row and somewhere along the way ended up living in the same house. In Australian culture it’s a bit Captain Obvious to ask someone to stop sleeping with other people.


* Are far more business minded about dating and approach it more scientifically and with more purpose.

* Like to label things. They want to be able to call someone their boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/wife/husband.

* Will not put all their eggs in one basket. They like to multi-task.

* Place a lot of importance on milestones – when to talk about being exclusive, when you say ‘I love you’ for the first time.

I don’t think either way is more superior than the other but I have a sneaking suspicion that the US way of dating is slowly polluting the dating pool in Australia. I don’t mean this in a negative way it’s just that these systems are completely incompatible. You just can’t mix and match here. I’m hearing weird stories from Australian women about guys they have been dating sleeping with other girls because they ‘didn’t think they were exclusive’. Is this a thing now? Because when I was dating (In Australia) back in 2006 that was considered a bit of a dick move. This system works in the US because everyone is aware of it. Even in high schools you guys (I’m talking to my Northern Hemisphere cuties here) have that ‘going steady’ thing right? Or have I just been watching far too much Sex and the City?

What do you think?

When does a relationship become exclusive? And can you ever just simply assume that you’re in relationship? Do you think your location or nationality plays a part in the exclusivity of new relationships?

Would love your thoughts – if you could state your age and location that would be tops! Also if you’d like to add if/when you’ve ever had the exclusivity conversation.

Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.


  1. Rach 3 years ago

    I’m 25, American, married. I’m serial monogamous. I have lots of guy friends, but I’ve never shagged around casually. I knew what I wanted out of a boy and it wasn’t That short a list.

    My husband straight up asked me to be his girlfriend, any hanky panky on the side wouldn’t have flown on either end! We both wanted marriage and eventually babies, which we established in casual conversations before we even started dating. So cunning!

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      So you guys ARE planners! 🙂 Awesome. Sounds like a perfect match. 🙂

  2. auroralapetite 3 years ago

    Irish relationships tend to be like Australian relationships. Hook up through a friend or in a pub, ask them out for a drink, continue hooking up and hanging out until everyone just assumes you’re going out together. Eventually maybe have a conversation about the direction your relationship is going in when there’s a slight crisis but for the most part, let it wander it’s own course.

    My fiance and I did it slightly differently- we did talk about our relationship and that probably brought our relationship closer towards the stage we’re at now because we both knew we were on the same page about where it was going.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      Maybe that’s why there are so many Australian/Irish relationships? Mr Smaggle and I have definitely discussed our relationship – me moving interstate, him following me, career plans – but never about whether or not we were seeing other people in the beginning. It was just assumed that we weren’t.

  3. jasmine 3 years ago

    This is probably a bit different from the norm on account of being a single mum, but I haven’t had an exclusive relationship since my bub came along (six years ago). I’ll ‘date’ guys for six to eight months – I think it’s fair to allow a fair bit of time because they’re taking on more than just me – but without fail every time I’ve approached the ‘exclusive’ talk, I am met with one of the two following dick responses: “I didn’t realise we were dating, I thought this was just a casual thing”. OR: “I need more time, but let’s just keep things the way they are until I decide” (read: there’s never going to be a relationship but I really want to keep having sex with you). In both cases I call things quits. I once found out a guy I’d been seeing had been multi-dating … using my computer as I slept to find other women online, and on one occasion actually going direct from my place to meet another woman. He seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable as we weren’t exclusive … but I was utterly repulsed.

    But from what I’ve seen of my girlfriends, the norm seems to be 2-3 months (sometimes much sooner), and there does seem to be a natural assumption rather than vocalised talk about it.

    I’m in Australia and just shy of my 31st, same with above mentioned girlfriends. I think my personal situation has more to do with things than location/age.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      Oh my darling that’s horrifying. It still seems like something we’re not all on board with, the whole sleeping with multiple people thing. It seems like douche bags have adopted the trend and not let the rest of us in on their secret.

      • Jasmine 3 years ago

        I think they’ll just take what they can get away with to be honest, and my standards are probably pretty low because there’s not a huge amount of offers coming my way. But I have three new handbags and a swanky pair of earrings courtesy of that Peeptoe voucher, and I’m quite pleased there’s no stinky man-shoes taking up space in my wardrobe, so thanks!

    • Spinetta 3 years ago

      That guy has no class. Being open about seeing/sleeping with multiple women is one thing, but I think you owe it to each to give them your full attention while you’re together, Christ.

  4. Rachel 3 years ago

    American here. While n’t not much for the dating scene myself, I can give a bit of an account based on friends.

    I have friends and acquaintances that run the full gamit. One couple I know is in what they call an open relationship in which they are both free to see other people. As far as I know, the girl has gone on a few dates, but the guy has not. It’s considered rather strange among my friends and we often discuss how little we understand of that relationship.

    Others are living together with no clear plan to marry (at least to my knowledge), a couple I know who recently graduated and got married the summer after, and others who are in committed relationships and are living together or apart usually depending on how long they’ve been together and if they are still in school. I don’t know what talks went down, but other than the open relationships these things are pretty exclusive.

    On the other side, I have a friend who has gone on dates multiple times without knowing beforehand it was a date (guy was too ambiguous). I’m told that it’s “harder these days” for guys to ask, but no one has been able to explain that to me. A guy acquaintance of mine seems to have multiple “fuck buddies” if you’ll excuse my french. He’s kind of a pig though and we don’t get along.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      We certainly have fuck buddies here (and just quietly ‘French’ is always welcome at Smaggle) but they’re a world away from ‘not exclusive’ relationships. You don’t really hang out with fuck buddies in Australia. You drunkenly show up at their house at midnight on a Friday night.

      • GoddessMel 3 years ago

        Yep, f*ck buddies are booty call material. The end.

  5. HoneyLog 3 years ago

    Great article! So true, I think there is some seriously confusing cross-pollination going on.
    I’m an Aussie, 26, now in lovely stable relationship. I’ve definitely seen some of this ‘I didn’t think we were exclusive’ douchery in my previous dating life! I think Aussie guys are blurring the line a bit, and a few times I was a bit taken aback with fellas who obviously wanted to have their cake and eat it too.
    Having a shag-friend is totally fine, but in my mind as soon as you start sleeping over, kissing and snuggling after sex, calling just to say hello, etc – it is no longer shag-friendliness. I had a fellow I was sleeping with on and off, which suited both of us ok (in fact, he made it very clear that I was a f*ck-buddy only), but I found it befuddling that he also wanted ‘casual emotional connection’ along with ‘casual sex’. He wanted to eat pizza in bed, cuddle, watch movies, talk about spirituality and families, hang out and all that, but he was very vocal (a little too vocal, ick) about the fact he was enjoying loads of rumpy pumpy with other girls on other nights of the week. Luckily, I wasn’t attached at all to this guy and didn’t want a relationship with him, but after a little while he accused me of using him for sex after I politely declined to sleep over for the fourth time. It’s not like I dragged him into bed, had my way and then left without a word, but I had pretty firm boundaries.
    It’s funny that he was accusing me of being a ‘player’…I feel like he was being a bit of a dick by wanting to sporadically have the ‘relationship stuff’ for a few hours along with the sex, without having to commit or be exclusive. I remember thinking that if I happened to ‘like-like’ this shag-friend, his behaviour would be quite hurtful and manipulative. I told him, on my way out of his room for the last time, that he can either have casual sex with lots of people OR he can have the love-texts and D&Ms in bed, but you can’t have both. He didn’t get it at all, and thought I was being a cold hard bitch. I reckon he was a victim of the Australia/America cross contamination.
    My now-boyfriend and I kind of just knew pretty early on that it was exclusive, and neither of us were sleeping with other people. There was a quick conversation about it to double-check at one point, and we were both on the same page. We didn’t even really call each other ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ or any other labels. We admitted after a few months that we were falling in love with each other, and it all just kept being awesome. A lot of it is down to chemistry and ‘right place, right time’…

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      We actually do get a lot of that bullshit in Australia where guys won’t let girls call them their boyfriends. They aren’t necessarily sleeping with other people but they don’t like being labelled. I think maybe Americans take that literally and think if they’re aren’t labelled as a boyfriend then they can sleep with other people.

      I was once dating a guy who decided I was obsessed with him. It was hilarious, I hadn’t seen him or contacted him in 2 weeks and I started hearing through the grapevine that I was really clingy and wouldn’t leave him alone. I saw him at a party and he did that duck and avoid thing in front of a whole group of his guy friends, one of whom I’m really close to. My mate asked me what was going on and I told him it was all crap. I show him my phone text history which showed that HE had texted ME the last two times and received no reply from me. Fucking weirdo.

      • HoneyLog 3 years ago

        Oh dear. Lord of the Knobs! Haha.
        I forgot to mention that the guy I was talking about (“Look, you’re one of many f*ck buddies…but while you’re here can you spoon me and call me schmoopy on the phone tomorrow?” guy) was Eastern European. I don’t know what that says, but there you go. I have so many hilarious stories about his douchery. You put it so well – f*ck buddy means precisely that! There’s no hanging out. Don’t blur the lines!
        Current boy is Aussie. He was pretty straight up about everything, which was refreshingly awesome. It’s been two years now and…well, he is the raddest guy I’ve ever met. Massive WIN 🙂

  6. Spinetta 3 years ago

    American here, 23, but my boyfriend was born and raised in the Netherlands, so.

    We’ve seen each other exclusively since the first date without really having a conversation about it, it just kinda happened. (We were acquaintances first and he later told me he knew he was interested in pursuing a relationship with me from the start.)

    After a couple months of dating he mentioned that a friend had asked him if we were official–and that was that. Another few weeks and he said I love you. Half a year later he said it’d be fun to get a “love nest” in the city after I graduate. So far it’s felt like a natural progression, I’ve never really had to wonder where I stand with him. It’s nice for a change!

    Before that, though, I “dated” an American in the US (9 months) and a German in China (2 months)–the American was keeping me around as a surrogate girlfriend without the commitment while he explored his options (he’s kind of a pig, he’s done this to a LOT of women), and the German had a girlfriend he neglected to mention (even his friends thought we were together).

    So yeah, I guess I’ve experienced a little of both systems.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      I just don’t think Australian men have the energy to date more than one woman at a time! If Mr Smaggle had a bit on the side she’d be extremely unsatisfied because he’s with me or working 100% of the time… and about 90% of the time he’s both working AND with me. He’d have no time!

      • Spinetta 3 years ago

        I wonder if online dating is changing dating culture? What with contacting a bunch of different people at once and setting up lots of first dates and all. I feel like it’s a lot more time consuming to make a connection with people in person and juggle all those dates, I don’t know how anyone has time…

        • Author
          Smaggle 3 years ago

          I think that’s exactly right! I have some girlfriends who are online dating and they’re have several dates a week because they can’t waste time putting their eggs all in one basket. It actually makes a lot of sense.

  7. Lauren Cass 3 years ago

    Interesting! I’m an Australian who has my feet in both ponds. I absolutely dated heaps of guys all at the one time and I’m very much in the boy camp that if we haven’t discussed exclusivity then I can do whatever the hell I like. My friends and I frequently joke that we seem to be the boys in dating situations.

    I had a fuck buddy for about 18 mths during a single period in my life and we totally used to cuddle afterwards, spend the whole day eating pizza, watching movies and intermittently shagging. He cooked me dinner on several occasions and we would discuss politics, religion, our pasts and future plans without a second thought. It worked great for both of us and I look back fondly on that time.

    I’m currently in a super happy relationship and we moved quite quickly, but it was all discussed. A friend once told me that relationships are all about mutuality and I’m a firm believer in that. You both need to be on the same page. I think plenty of girls (and guys) are happy to kid themselves that the other person is more into them than they really are. They either don’t have the balls to bring it up or they don’t want to hear the answer.

    I’ve had many a friend tell me about how the guy she’s dating is driving her insane and she doesn’t know if he wants to be with her. But they refuse to take control of their own destiny, instead desperately sitting by (frequently the phone!) hoping that in time he’ll pick her. Absolute insanity!

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      ‘They either don’t have the balls to bring it up or they don’t want to hear the answer.’

      This. Absolutely. I do think that sometimes people in relationships don’t want to see the relationship for what it is and are really shocked when it all breaks down because they refused to take off their rose coloured glasses.

  8. American, age 40.

    So I can’t really comment on this angle of US vs. Aussie men and dating, because I’m a serial monogamist and any of that not-knowing-where-we-stand-BS doesn’t fly with me. I’ve never been one to casually bed men regularly for the sake of it, because that just complicates things and usually, someone gets their heart broken. Usually.

    I demand complete loyalty and devotion, and give the same, so I have not found myself in these kind of situations. Someone says I love you first, and if it is reciprocated, that’s that. I’ve had long-term relationships with a couple Americans (3 years with each) and a couple Aussies (10 years and 5 years), and I can’t recall having the exclusivity discussion with any of them, as their intentions were pretty obvious. I’m guessing the common denominator is me. Probably early on there was a discussion about loyalty, and I make no bones about telling my partner that infidelity and playing the field do not exist in my world. So if someone wants me to share my world with them, that’s how it works.

    That may sound terribly arrogant, but I don’t mean it that way. I just know that I’m not going to share the most intimate parts of myself/life with someone who isn’t serious enough to appreciate it. Being southern AND Greek-American, the message to at least *appear* chaste and maintain your good name came at me like a double-barreled shotgun. Living with someone before marriage, casually bedding anyone after you KNOW better—it just wasn’t something that a young woman did. So I didn’t find myself in a situation where I was THAT entrenched with someone without knowing where I stood with them. In my opinion, that’s why so many women have a difficult time finding a great partner. Women have the power…they should say NO more often.

    Related to this topic, what I have observed over the years with regard to men and non-exclusivity or cheating (and getting away with it), is that the ones who aren’t told that they will cease to exist in a woman’s mind/life if they cheat are the ones who usually do. I know a couple women who never made that abundantly clear to their partners, and both eventually discovered that their husbands didn’t just cheat, but had long affairs. That’s a big generalization, too, but I will say that my (Australian) husband has noted that knowing where that line is for sure, and what the consequences are does make a difference.

    Back to the differences between Aussies and the US in the realm of love, I have noticed that Aussie men just seem to be more manly than US men. I do find Australians to be a bit more aggro, in general, (no offense), and life for young men in Australia is tougher, on the whole, than the US. There’s a LOT of fighting, a lot of chiding, and the way of life there is a little more difficult than here. That breeds stronger, cockier men, more rugged men’s men, I think. Maybe that explains why y’all aren’t having the exclusivity discussion. Most Aussie men assume you’re kind of theirs, and couldn’t DEAL with the idea of you with someone else. It’s a little caveman, really, but in a good way.

    Alright, I’ve rambled on for long enough. Hope this makes sense!

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      LOVE your insight! I had no idea you dated 2 aussies! No offense taken… we have a MUCH bigger drinking culture here than in the US and the average Aussie male is very… erm… testosterony. I also think it’s general laziness. Aussies are really laid back and it’s hard enough dating one person let alone several!

  9. KatieP 3 years ago

    [Australian, 48]
    My boyfriend (who is English) asked me to be his girlfriend two days after our first date. I wasn’t keen as I was just out of bad marriage and was enjoying the freedom of dating. What changed my mind is he said “just give it a try and see how you feel”. That phrase somehow eliminated the permanency of the arrangement. I was test driving the relationship and he gave me a built in exit strategy.

    I think the thought of having to commit for an indefinite period of time is what put me off. I still have the ‘get out of jail free’ card and it’s been nearly three years. I like knowing either of us can leave at any time and yet we choose to stay together.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      I love that too. That’s why I don’t like the idea of marriage. I like waking up every morning and knowing that Mr S is choosing me and not buying into the crap of breathing a sigh of relief once I have a ring on my finger.

      • GoddessMel 3 years ago

        Yep, hubby and I often wonder why we didn’t spend our wedding money on a holiday or house instead, particularly as we’d been together almost 7 years by the time we actually organised the wedding. I really think we did it mostly to keep my family happy (he’s not close to his family). Given that he took my family name – which I guess wouldn’t have happened if we’d remained ‘co-habiting’ – was probably a bonus for him too 🙂

  10. Cilla 3 years ago

    (Australian, 33 nearly 34)
    I did the dating thing after 13 years in a relationship.
    I dated somebody for 2 months and he was still on the dating website on which we met. Douchebag.
    It is good to have a talk about it though – my fella (48, lovely, sexy) wanted to call me his girlfriend 9 days after we met. (We’ve now been seeing each other 6 months).
    I was happy with the arrangement and relieved not to have to attend to the “three month rule”

    (anyone else ever heard of that?)
    It helps to remember that both may not be on the same page, sometimes it takes people a while, uncertainty is common, but it is important to be gently honest. It sucks to have this uncertainty but it sucks even more to be in a relationship with somebody that you are not sure about. That a person is uncertain does not mean that they are an arsehole, but if you have been dating regularly a number of times, then they should know something either way.

    The rapid connection and both being on the same page at the same time is quite rare. It is beautiful when it happens, though.

    Gentle honesty and humility is always good.

    • Author
      Smaggle 3 years ago

      What a rat! That makes me stabby. Happy for you the new fella though. x

  11. Amber-Rose Thomas 3 years ago

    I’m British – aged 21.

    I’ve dated about ooh 10 or so different guys since I started “dating” at about 17 – if you can even call it that at 17…

    Some of those turned into relationships, some of them didn’t. There has ALWAYS been an “are we exclusive now then?!” moment. Sometimes it’s been more of a “We’ve been dating for two months, can we be exclusive now please?” and other times it’s just all fallen into place on an unspoken mutual understanding that it’s exclusive, and only discussed/appraised when some nosey person asked “So, are you, like, dating now or what?”

    I think there if definitely a more Aussie culture of dating in the UK, as in drunkenly falling on faces and then it turning into a relationship, or the casual “fancy meeting up coffee?” then trying to work out if it’s a friend-date or a date-date.

    I briefly dated an American lad, and his approach was very “Shall we go on a DATE?” “Can i take you out for Dinner?” “Will you be my Girlfriend?” It was weeeeiiird.

    EDIT: I have however found that some guys think that “exclusivity” in the early days means no dating/having sexy time with other people but think Facebook/Text flirting is perfectly OK. And when I say flirting, i’m trying to be polite…

  12. GoddessMel 3 years ago

    [Australia, 39] Now-hubby and I met sharing a flat, so we kind of fell into our relationship when he transferred interstate and we realised there was a connection there (fuelled by lots of phone calls and his regular visits back to where I was). We were also very young and neither of us was ‘dating’ anyone else at the time so the ‘exclusivity conversation’ never happened: we lived together, then we became a couple, then we lived together as a couple and eventually got married.

    However, I have friends who handle this one of two ways: the younger ones tend to ‘date’ one or 2 (or more) people they like, but once they start having sex with one person they stop seeing the other(s), and generally assume that the person they’re now having sex with has done the same (not always the case, this has ended in tears more than once, and not all from the women!). However my older friends (my age range or more) will happily date and/or have a sexual relationship with more than one person provided each person is ok with that, ie none of this I’m going to keep shagging wo/man A but not tell wo/man B about it until I’m sure which one I like best. That’s just childish.

    Of course then at some point those in situation 2 find themselves having to decide whether they want to be ‘exclusive’ with one of the people they’re dating. And if that’s one sided, then things come to an end.

  13. Omega 3 years ago

    As a poly person, exclusivity isn’t a part of my relationships, nor would I ever want them to be.. but where the boundaries lie is something that is mutually discussed.

    One of my relationship rules is “No Suprises!!” (I realise this might cut me out of some chocolates and flowers but it’s a price I am very willing to pay). If one of my lovers is seeing someone else, thinking about seeing someone else, regularly having eye-sex with a cutie on the bus.. I want to know. I want to know everything. No surprises!

    They say there are three rules to a successful poly relationship – communicate, communicate, communicate – honestly I think this ought to apply to ALL relationships. If you don’t know if “you’re exclusive” or not and you don’t feel like you can have that conversation…. should you really be sharing a bed with that person?! I’d say “probably not” because if I can’t trust them enough to have that conversation, I sure as heck don’t trust them enough to be intimate with them.. but that’s just me.

    Making the person you’re with feel insecure is a dick move. Having them feel unsure about the parameters of your relationship and what the expectations are on both sides is a dick move. People who deliberately make the person they’re dating feel unsure about things are horrid and don’t deserve to be dated!

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Daily Outfit – Cream Dress and Giant Hoop Earrings.

This outfit was worn for a casual wander around the city on a very warm day.