If you come across a person you feel is worth fighting for more than once, or you’re finally ready to move a new relationship to the next level, know that there’s one thing capable of killing all hopes of a seamless transition into a meaningful union with them — those dangling-shoestring relationships. These are the people you leave in dark about your main relationship, just in case what you have going with the person you’re really focused on falls flat. Sure. These side options are harmless as long as your love life is at a stand- still, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re at a point in your life when you’re not looking for anything serious at all. But the moment you’re ready to move forward with someone new or settle down with someone you’ve decided is numero uno, you can bet that your inability to let go of them will be the reason you fall on your face and crack your incisor on the concrete.

Consider this. Maybe you think you’re ready to move forward with someone, but what you actually fear is being alone. Or perhaps you’ve made the mistake of loading your brain with romcoms (I’m determined to make ‘romcom’ a thing as I find saying ‘romantic comedy’ tedious). Also, it’s possible that you’re completely warped from all the summer weddings you’ve attended. Unfortunately, if those are your reasons for craving the familiar arms of a past love or permanence with a new one, it’s probably not going to be enough to overcome the crap that led you to break up in the first place — or maintain anything meaningful with someone new. Know that being in love with the idea of being in love is always a tricky thing. Once the novelty of being in a relationship fades, your subconscious mind could go right into sabotage mode before you know it, a mode in which you unravel your relationship enough to leave room for other possibilities…loose ends.  

Luckily, there’s a litmus test for this. Ask yourself if you can let go of the other people you’re dating in a mature way. This means no ghosting (abruptly ceasing communication without explanation), no lies — nothing.  If you feel you’re not ready to, that’s your answer for whether you’re ready to be exclusive or if you’re better off exploring what else is out there for a while. No harm, no foul; just happy hunting. This cycle can go on for however you long you choose. That’s life. That’s youth. Hell, that’s North American dating.

The flip side of that scenario is that you find someone you really want to move forward with. You’ve become somewhat disinterested in others you’ve been dating and only one person truly occupies your thoughts. That’s your indicator that you’re ready to tie off those loose ends. Unlike the aforementioned scenario, in this instance severing ties with all side options is the most decent thing to do. This is because there’s usually at least one person on your romantic roster whom you view as just someone to pass the time with, but who’s already developed deeper feelings for you. Making the choice to break it off with that person cleanly can cauterize emotional wounds before they begin to fester, and probably save you the headache and awkwardness that will likely ensue if you don’t.   

There’s no hard and fast rules to dating nowadays, but it’s pretty savage to use people as placeholders in your love life when, unbeknownst to them, you don’t see yourself having a future with them. Besides, if building something real with one person is your aim, then holding onto distractions is a bit counterproductive.

P.S. Being polyamorous is totally a thing, but I don’t have any insight into that. So by all means, polyamor on, polyamorous folk.