June 29, 2011

Is it okay to date multiple people?

By Anthony Buono *

Dear Anthony,

There are three women I have developed an interest in on an online dating service. I know I should form friendships first, but I’m starting to feel guilty about communicating with multiple people. How can I sensitively slow down communication with two of them while I am concentrating on the one I have the most in common with?

You are bringing up two specific issues. First, there is the issue of whether or not it is okay to communicate online with three people. Second, there is the question of how to tell two of them you want to concentrate on someone else.

Taking the first, there certainly is nothing wrong with being in communication with three people at the same time. Dialogue with several people does help to determine who you would like to pursue.

The things to consider are what you are saying. Hopefully, you are not telling each of these women that they are the most beautiful girl you have ever seen. That would be an inappropriate way to dialogue with several people. Friendly exchanges that seek to share some general things and get to learn more about the other is more productive. That way no one can claim that you were leading them on. (Of course, some people see things as they want to see them, and might mistake any message at all as an indication that you want to seriously date that person. No much you can do about that.)

An online dating site like Ave Maria Singles can have the assumption associated that everyone on the site is looking for love and marriage. That might be true, but it is a distorted view of online dating to write only to those you want a serious relationship with. Therefore, no one should assume an initial contact, or subsequent dialogue means there is something serious developing. I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about having friendly exchanges with several people. If you have the time to keep up, and the courtesy to respond, then it is a very productive way to use online dating to determine if there is anyone you are serious about pursuing.

It sounds like you have gotten to that point of determining of person you wish to exclusively put your time into getting to know more. Hopefully, you will be talking to her about meeting in person and not just continuing electronic communication exchange. And now that this is the one person you wish to focus on, you are not sure how to tell the other two.

You mentioned you want to “slow down” communication. Does that mean you still want to be interacting with these two ladies while you pursue the third just in case it might not work out with the third one you are more interested in? If so, that’s a tough one. Obviously, it makes some sort of sense to not want to burn any bridges so you can be open to one of the other two in case gal #3 hits a dead end. But is this the right thing to do? It sounds like leading on to me. That’s probably where your guilty feeling is coming from.

Your best approach would be to be honest with the other two. Tell them you have enjoyed getting to know them but want them to know you are spending more time talking to one certain person and don’t feel comfortable continuing the dialogue with them unless they are okay with it. You could even ask their permission to continue writing just to keep in touch and respect whatever decision they make about that. But definitely contact either one of them again if it does not work out with the women you chose to focus on.

Dating sites tend to give you a lot of information about a person. You might feel like you “know” more about them than you would if you met in person somewhere. But the fact is you don’t really “know” them yet at all. You have information only. So it is best that we treat contacting members online as a networking effort, rather than some form of dating.

Since online dating sites are actually networking environments, everyone is entertaining multiple contacts. So there is no reason to feel guilty. Writing a careful and considerate initial message based off of what you read on their profile is a normal networking exercise. Only writing to as many as you can keep up with is prudent.

Again, honesty is best. In your case of writing to three women at the same time, it would have been a good idea to let them know that you are writing to more than one member currently. Also let them know that you will not be seeking any further contacts, nor accepting further contacts, as you discern these current possibilities. Probably their reactions to this fact will help them (and you) determine if this is a relationship that is going to progress further.

It's helpful to think of dating online on the same lines as dating offline. If you'd taken a girl out for coffee, enjoyed it, and then met another girl out at a picnic, would you feel guilty about striking up a conversation? Probably not. It’s only conversation. And let’s face it, you are not engaged to someone you took on a date for coffee. So it is with communication online. It’s just conversation. But I will reiterate that we have to be careful what we say, because it is NOT “just” conversation if you are saying things to more than one woman that elude to strong interest or intentions.

It might seem like I have gotten off topic, but cutting off people you dialogue with in order to focus on one person has everything to do with an attempt to get serious. And it is very important that meeting in person not get prolonged too much.

If you follow my blog then you know that I believe there shouldn't be too much time between speaking on the phone and meeting in person. So you should focus on the woman you've spoken with for a little while, and see if there is interest on both your parts in meeting. If not, that's a sign that you are not in the right place. If so, you will probably be able to determine rather quickly if this relationship is going to continue to grow. If you have any hope at all of being able to communicate again with one of the two you let go of in order to pursue the third gal you determined is not for you, you will need it to be sooner rather than later.

I think you have everything in order in your situation. It’s great that you have a healthy guilt about talking to more than one woman. But I hope you realize now that you are not dating three women in this circumstance, just networking and being friendly. And I think your desire to slow things down or cut it off with the other two is admirable. I’m sure you will find the right words for the two women you want to slow things down with.

Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice.  Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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