Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Why it's good to have 'the Manhattan talk'
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The Independent Online

Cheating on him? I barely knew him. "I didn't tell you that I wasn't seeing anyone else," I said, pointing out the fact that we had only seen each other twice (in a month) and - other than a 2am snog outside a bar - had had no physical contact. "Yeah, but you didn't say that you were," he said. "I thought you were my girlfriend."

As he started rambling about fidelity, I realised that I had done it again. Back in my days in Manhattan, couples had to have "The Talk" after a few weeks of dating in which they agree that they are in a monogamous relationship. But it seems that things in the UK are much more fluid: after stumbling into bed together post-pub crawl, many consider themselves boyfriend/girlfriend if they talk every other day and sleep together occasionally. Or sometimes - as the Irish guy's tirade proves - even if they aren't.

While on the whole I love the more laid-back approach, monogamy has always been the exception for me, not the norm. So how am I supposed to decide if I want to commit to someone in less time than I am given to return a sweater at Topshop?

I know that the initial dopamine rush initiated by hooking up with someone new can be deceptive. So while en route to Mr Right, I've been making a succession of pit stops. I've found a shoulder to cry on, someone who showers me with flowers, someone who gives me brilliant conversation and spectacular sex. So what if they weren't all the same guy? The title of "boyfriend" is reserved for someone who rocks my world so hard that I can't imagine living without them. Until then, I'm following the advice of my friend Victoria, who is fond of saying: "Men should be like Kleenex - soft, strong and disposable."

But, as I found out the hard way, loads of men seem to have a big problem with my logic. Maybe I should have told my lawyer straight away that our relationship wasn't going to be exclusive. But that would have felt a little tricky and premature at best when we'd only been out for a couple of drinks. Surely ignoring a guy's calls and being slightly unavailable is a big enough hint?

"Guys don't think that way," says my friend Michael. "Most of us assume that women want a boyfriend and we aren't being sized up against some secret rival. If we like someone we assume things will progress from there."

I can relate. I have been dumped in the past by someone who I wanted more commitment from, but even then I think that it is best to be honest sooner rather than later about the casual nature of the relationship. Otherwise, things can drag on unresolved for months.

At least that didn't happen in this case. After I walked out of our argument in the bar, I got the following text: "Obviously you have some emotional problems. I thought that we had something special - anyway a connection that could lead to a future together. You and your friends may think that your behaviour is amusing now, but I wonder where you see yourself in five years?" For someone this sanctimonious, there was only one response. "NOT WITH YOU!"