The other night, a friend of mine told me he’d met a girl he really, really, really likes. He doesn’t want to fuck it up, so he asked me for some advice. (I wouldn’t have tried to tell him what to do otherwise, honest.) One of the topics we covered was “when do I need to stop banging other women,” and the answer I gave him was surprisingly conservative, for me.

Now, the most obvious, not-technically-wrong answer would be “when you have some sort of relationship talk.” The way most modern, not-saving-themselves-for-marriage people do it, dating involves a nebulous period during which all manner of things can happen. You can realize it’s starting to seem like you only like each other, but it’s not time for “the talk” yet so you wait. One person can decide they’re super into the other one, but not vice versa. And as for other people in the equation…it’s not uncommon to have several irons in the fire. Irons you must get rid of down the line if things get serious.

Of course, this leaves lots of room for people to get hurt, but I’m not sure there’s really anything you can do about that. It’s impossible to avoid any and all ambiguity, because it takes a while to get to know someone, and you can’t always predict which way your feelings will develop. That said, there are some things you can do to try to make it go more smoothly.

Here’s my controversial advice: if you are dating someone and you think you like them in a potentially monogamous way, stop sleeping with other people. (I’m talking mainly about fuck buddies of the type my friend has; it gets more complicated when you’re actually dating multiple people.) It costs you nothing, and it could help you out a lot. It can be a long and arduous process to find a partner, and if something potentially really good gets aborted early on, and it’s your fault, you will be a special kind of sad. It costs you very little to stop banging other people for as long as it takes to see where this new thing is going, and the potential benefits are worth it. You can always re-commence banging them if things don’t work out.

Baby relationships are fragile, tiny, easily broken things. If your current favorite man/lady finds out you’ve been dallying with others, it might make him or her kind of bummed on you, even if you’re not technically in the wrong. People have gotten turned off to other people by way less. Is that really a risk you want to take? Think of it as a gesture of good faith.

Back when I was in that nebulous phase with my current dude, I had the chance to sleep with someone I’d slept with before, but I blew him off, because I was paranoid about fucking things up with my main dong. I also had the chance to sleep with someone whose manly beauty I’d admired from afar for quite some time, but I turned him down too, because I didn’t want to jeopardize what I was building for a single night of manly beauty appreciation. And you know what? I’m not sad about it.

I guess you could treat this nebulous time as a “get it while you can!” period, and so long as your person doesn’t find out, you’ll probably be fine. But why take the risk? If your goal is to fall in love and live happily ever after, it seems like it can only be counterproductive. Of course, things could get fucked up for other reasons. While you’re busy making good faith gestures, that person could rip your heart out and stomp on it with both feet. They could decide they like someone else better. They could turn out to be a fucking serial killer. But that’s just a risk you have to take.