A Guide To Inclusive Dating: Know The Facts

By Ellen Klein

What Does Inclusive Dating Really Mean?

Casual dating, long-term dating, situationships, friends with benefits…

These days there are so many relationship labels that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. 

Now there’s another fairly new term that’s getting airtime: inclusive dating. If you look online, you’ll find a range of definitions—some people say it’s about accepting your partner for who they are, being inclusive and accepting of all aspects of them.

The other main definition is about how many people you’re dating at once. It’s another term to add to the list that includes an open relationship and being polyamorous. 

Inclusive Versus Exclusive Dating

In many ways, inclusive dating can be seen as the exact opposite of being exclusive with someone. When you’re exclusive, you only see one person, and you both commit to not dating or sleeping with anyone else. If one of you does go outside of the relationship, it’s considered cheating.

In an inclusive relationship, you’re committed to the person or people you’re dating, but you’re also open to dating or having sex with other people. Of course, it’s up to you and the other person (or people) in the relationship to set ground rules about what you can and can’t do. 

How Inclusive Dating is Different to An Open Relationship

It might sound like inclusive dating is just another term for an open relationship, but it’s not quite. It’s more of a variation on the same theme. 

In an open relationship, the rules tend to be (and this is a generalization) that you can go on dates and sleep with people other than your main partner. The main couple tends to be two people who are committed to each other. Additional partners or one-night stands tend to fulfil physical connections rather than deeply emotional connections.

With inclusive dating, you’re operating in a more polyamorous way. You may have a primary couple or group that’s slightly elevated above anything else. However, when you go on dates or have intimate moments with people outside of the primary partnership, you may have deeply emotional connections with them too. An inclusive relationship allows for more intimacy with more people.

It’s really about understanding the word and meaning of inclusivity. You are open and accepting of people from all walks of life and all backgrounds when you are inclusive. Therefore, with inclusive dating, you’re more accepting of including more people in your love life and relationship. 

Inclusivity is about being non-prejudiced and non-discriminatory. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to date anyone and everyone who comes your way. It simply means that no one is off-limits if you don’t want them to be. 

Tips for Healthy Inclusive Dating

When starting any new relationship or making major changes to one you’ve been in for a while, you need to do so in a way that’s healthy and comfortable for both of you (or all of you). To do this, you should follow these steps:

  • Set the Rules

There need to be ground rules when bringing new people into a relationship. If you’re going from an exclusive, monogamous couple to seeing more people, you need to be comfortable with the kind of people who will be getting included. This is both for you and your partner. It can be a big change from an exclusive couple to an inclusive one.

If you’re already in a polyamorous relationship and there are three or more of you involved, you need to really look at the group dynamic. Including more people, even on a casual basis, can upset the balance, and everyone needs to be on board with the changes.

  • Keep Communication Open

Communication is vital in any relationship. If you can’t talk to each other openly and honestly, you will never be able to operate as a unit or support each other fully. When the dynamic is shifting through the introduction of new dates or sexual partners, you need to stay on top of your communication even more so.

Remember, the primary couple or group must always come first. You need to check in with each other and be honest about how you’re feeling with the people coming and going.

It might be a good idea to set up weekly or monthly sit-downs where you actively check in with each other. This can give you time to air any issues and prevents you or your partner(s) from bottling feelings up. You also need to remember that feelings will change over time, and when the new relationship energy fades, new emotions may arise that require difficult conversations.

  • Check In with Your Feelings

As much as communicating with and making sure that your partner is feeling comfortable is important, so is making sure you’re happy! 

Starting an inclusive relationship might be exciting and fun, to begin with, but you may find that it’s actually not for you in the long run. You need to keep checking in with yourself and seeing if what’s happening is actually making you happy or if you would prefer a different kind of relationship.

There’s no shame in trying out an inclusive relationship and then going back to exclusivity if you prefer it. You might need the change to help you explore and accept your sexuality and to become more sex positive. Or, you may feel that your needs were not getting met adequately due to certain circumstances, and these have now changed.

If one type of relationship doesn’t work for you, allow yourself the freedom to acknowledge and recognize this and make a decision that will make you happy. You may now know what you want —or don’t want—until you’ve tried it!

Remember to Do What Makes You Feel Comfortable

There’s no right or wrong way to date or experience emotional connections with other people. The key is to figure out what makes you comfortable and what allows you to have the best connection with the person or people you truly care about. 

Any kind of dating, whether inclusive or exclusive, means putting yourself out there and trusting someone else. Do what works for you, and don’t be afraid to change your mind if it doesn’t feel right.

Ellen Klein is a versatile editor who brings a unique perspective to her work, with a focus on financial management, family and relationships, and health-related topics. With a realist approach, she believes in the power of planning for life’s unknowns, bringing her extensive experience to bear on business, family, and relationship advice. When Ellen isn’t editing, she can be found volunteering for social causes close to her heart, or indulging her passion for writing at her keyboard.