Are couples becoming monogamous too fast?

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Plenty of our contemporary dating rituals are painfully drawn out. We spend weeks cautiously flirting on dating apps and months remaining in undefined gray areas, only for our egos to then make us dance around the exclusivity talk in some strange ways. Let’s be clear: There’s no right or wrong way to do a relationship. You don’t have to want to be in one (open or otherwise); and if you are dating, you certainly aren’t required to make things exclusive with one or more partners. In fact, these days, increasingly more people are going the relationship anarchy route.

But, of course, some of us do want monogamy — and when we actually find someone we'd like to be monogamous with, it can be tricky to figure out the best time to have “the talk.” How many dates before a relationship is typical? Like everything else relating to relationships, that can vary widely among couples — you could have a turbo relationship or take things really slowly. That said, according to a Google survey of 3,058 individuals in February of 2015 by Mic, the most common timetable for having the exclusivity talk in a relationship was less than four weeks. A full 45.2% of respondents said they dated their current partner for less than a month before taking themselves off the market, while 28% of respondents said it took them just one to two months.

If a month sounds like a surprisingly short time to contemplate a monogamous partner, know that for a lot of people, it really isn't. Perhaps the game has changed. Here's what to consider.

How many dates before a relationship is typical?

According to a 2015 dating survey conducted by Time Out of 11,000 people worldwide, people decide to go exclusive and stop seeing other people after six dates — which, for many, falls in line with the one- to two-month mark. They officially declare themselves a couple after nine dates, on average. A 2017 poll conducted by Groupon of 2,000 U.S. adults, meanwhile, found the answer of how many dates before a relationship gets discussed to be five.

So, how can one month of five or six dates turn into an exclusive relationship? Let's do the math. People tend to spend at least three to four hours on a good date (and that's a conservative estimate), which means after five or six dates (assuming no sleepovers), you've spent almost 20-to-24 hours together.


How many dates before sex is typical?

Six dates might not seem like enough to build intimacy, much less prompt an exclusivity conversation. But depending how physical those dates get, they can. According the Time Out survey, the average time it take for people to get to the sex part is 3.53 dates; while the Groupon respondents reported waiting an average of 8 dates before having sex. Previous surveys have estimated that we're willing to both kiss and sleep with someone after just two to five dates. That means after six short dates, 20-somethings are bound to have kissed, had sex multiple times, and spent cumulatively an entire day with the person they're just beginning to date.

But even those people who just focus on making out during the early weeks of a relationship can form a serious connection. A 2013 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the primary function of first kisses is to determine mate suitability, and kissing has a meaningful effect on pair bonding — something study author Robin Dunbar called the "Jane Austen" assessment.

Theoretically, the more we engage in physically intimate behaviors with our partners, from kissing to casual sex, the more likely we are to form meaningful bonds that can lead to the real-deal relationship talk. Sounds pretty idealistic, but hey, it works for at least some people. A 2021 YouGove survey of more than 1,300 Americans found that 15% of respondents who were married or in a serious relationship and have had sex, did so within one week of starting the relationship; 19% did so sometime between one week and one month; and 21% did the deed between one and three months.

Plus there's evidence that heightened levels of the bond-forming hormone oxytocin are responsible for driving those butterflies as well as maintaining long-term connections. With a jolt of hormones, some researchers found that "falling in love" (or, let's be real, lust) only takes That's a lot less than six dates.


How important is communication in a new relationship?

That physical and emotional intimacy is amplified by behaviors that connect us faster and more frequently to the people we've just met. As reported by Slate, a 2014 State of Dating in America survey found that 78% of singles expect to be communicated with in some way within 24 hours of a really good date, with 31% of people ages 25 to 29 citing texting as a good means of asking someone out. And if that first text goes unanswered? Data from the dating app Hinge revealed that it’s actually beneficial to send a follow-up, rather than give up, Insider reported. Then there's the texting between dates (although the practice remains controversial).

That constant contact fosters feelings of support and communication that make relationships last. According to the Pew Research from 2014, "41% of 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships have felt closer to their partner because of online or text message conversations."

Those texts, emoji-filled as they may be, are shortcuts to intimacy. In a small study of texting and relationships, Amanda Klein of Towson University found that, during "the early stages of a relationship or in casual dating scenarios, texting is an ideal mode of communication, as it helps reduce uncertainty and lessen anxiety," according to the Huffington Post.

That increased communication, plus the physical intimacy, is jumpstarting relationships in a way not previously seen. In the early to mid-20th century, young daters were actually likely to keep their options open and “play the field.” According to surveys from the University of California Press from 1960, 51.6% of boys in their senior year of high school went on two dates a week, while fewer than half were “going steady” with anyone.

The bottom line

When it comes to being "exclusive," six dates, or less than four weeks, really isn’t so wild: We've had sex with the person, we've definitely spent time in their apartment, and we're probably exchanging mid-afternoon texts. It's the perfect terrain between something casual and something incredibly serious — but it's past the point where you're just leading someone on.

Again, these decisions are incredibly personal and vary from person to person. Ultimately, much of this timeline comes down to how your own relationship is progressing, how you feel, and the vibes you’re picking up on. Data can’t tell you everything or make important decisions for you. In fact, it’s important to note, as Healthline points out, that much of the data on how many dates people go on before having sex (or even before having the exclusivity talk) is cis-heterocentric and gathered using a narrow view of what constitutes sex and dates.

Bottom line? If you want to become monogamous, you and your partner will need to have an open discussion at some point — and it’s fair to say that after five or six dates, spending time with that person becomes a considerable investment; so it’s not unreasonable to want to start assessing whether to move on or really commit.