Imagine you’re dating someone and things are going super well. They’re cute, the chemistry sparkles, your conversations flow naturally, and you can actually see yourself dating them long-term. Fast forward a few dates, weeks, or months later, and you’re both still into it. Neither of you has brought up labels yet, but deep down, you think you’re ready to take the relationship to the next level. Then, one night, the person you’re seeing casually drops the infamous question: “So… what are we?” and you think, Now what?! No matter how excited you are about your new boo, defining the relationship can feel intimidating — however, it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re considering going official with your partner, what should you do, exactly? According to Lisa Concepcion, a certified dating and relationship expert and founder of LoveQuest Coaching, being honest with the person is key. She previously told Elite Daily, “It's up to you to ask the right questions and communicate your intentions very clearly right from the start.” This, she says, can help you avoid “being in limbo” between casually dating and being official. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being in limbo if you’re both OK with it — but if your partner is ready to talk about labels, it’s probably best not to leave them hanging.
Maybe you’ve been eager to put a label on things since your first date, but you’re not sure where your partner stands. Or, maybe the person you’re seeing has been hinting at a label for a while, but you’re not exactly sure how to discuss next steps. No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on, here’s what to consider before going official with your partner, according to relationship experts.
What Does It Mean To “Go Official” In A Relationship?
Like all things in the dating world, making a relationship official can mean different things for different people. Generally, though, “going official” is when you choose to be in a committed relationship with someone else. Up until this point, you may have been casually talking, hooking up, or going on dates — or not! Regardless of what your experience has been like, going official represents a new step.
“When you go official with someone you’re dating, it typically means you’ve had a conversation to define your relationship together and have decided to become an exclusive couple,” Blaine Anderson, a dating coach and the founder of Dating By Blaine, tells Elite Daily. “There’s both a boundary component — for example, you’re no longer open to dating other people — as well as a communication component, where you’re comfortable discussing these boundaries with other people,” she says. Of course, this is just one example of establishing boundaries in an “official” relationship. You can be official and be ethically non-monogamous, too — it’s up to you to define what the “official” title means to you and your partners.
Sara Sloan, LMFT, a sex and relationship therapist and owner of Austin Concierge Therapy, adds that going official usually involves calling someone your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner. However, the “official” title isn’t simply limited to these labels; many people, including those in queer and poly communities, prefer to use other terms, like "date,” "sweetie,” and other terms that resonate with them. Again, it’s up to you to determine what language feels right.
Kevin Darné, a relationship expert, dating coach, and author, says that going official can be a way of welcoming someone into your social group. “Going official means you’re ready to introduce the person you’re dating to your inner circle of close friends, family, and co-workers as your significant other,” he tells Elite Daily. In some cases, Darné says there may be a mutual agreement to delete your dating apps, start posting pics together or update your social media status to say “in a relationship” — although these steps definitely aren’t required.
Suzannah Weiss, a certified sex educator and dating coach, says that the “official” title can also represent the quality and frequency of your time together. “Going official may [mean that] you start seeing your partner regularly and become highly involved in each other's lives,” Weiss tells Elite Daily. If you’re considering going official, it’s up to you how often you want to spend time with them — and in what capacity — so approach the process in a way that feels natural.
What To Consider Before Making A Relationship Official
For some people, the decision to call a relationship “official” is merely a formality and doesn’t hold much weight in the grand scheme of things. However, labeling the relationship can also be a huge step that requires careful consideration. Neither approach is right or wrong — they’re just different — and you have the power to choose what feels right for you. After all, there are no official “rules” for going official, and there are endless ways to be happy in your dating life or singlehood. However, if you’re navigating what to do, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Are you actually ready to become exclusive?
“The two most important things to consider before going official are your readiness to be in an exclusive relationship with the person you're seeing, and their readiness to be in an exclusive relationship with you,” Anderson tells Elite Daily. Does “going official” make sense for your behaviors and lifestyles? It’s crucial to consider whether or not an official relationship is actually realistic for you and your partner.
“Do you genuinely believe you can be good partners to each other in an [official] relationship?” Anderson says. “Even if you’re deeply attracted to someone, it may not make sense to ‘become official’ if they’re unpredictable or unreliable.”
Do you have similar values?
If you and your partner agree to become exclusive, Darné tells Elite Daily that it can be helpful to reflect on your values and whether or not they overlap. “Ideally, you want to find someone who shares your same values, wants the same things for a relationship as you, and naturally agrees with you about how to obtain those things,” he says.
For example, maybe your partner loves to party, but you’re not into it, and part of you wonders if weekends together will get awkward. Maybe they’ve hinted at wanting to move across the country, but you’re happiest staying close to home, and the idea of long-distance feels overwhelming. Of course, this isn’t to say you can’t compromise and find a sense of balance in the relationship, but examining your core values and looking ahead to the future can be a key part of deciding whether to ultimately “go official” or not.
Are you both emotionally ready?
Heather Moore, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests examining your personal boundaries and expectations to see if you’re both on the same page. “One person may feel that your relationship is official, but the other may see it as a casual dating experience or hookup because you’re both in very different places,” Moore tells Elite Daily. “Talk to each other about where each person is emotionally and decide together, in agreement, to move into the next phase of the relationship.”
How does it feel to call them your partner/girlfriend/boyfriend?
If you’re debating about going official, Anderson says to consider the exact relationship language you’re comfortable with — or, what you’re not. For instance, are you ready to call them your partner or significant other? How would it feel to introduce them to your friends that way? What specific dating terms do you feel OK using? “It’s normal to start using terms like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ after you’ve gone official with someone,” Anderson tells Elite Daily, “but different people can have different expectations here. It’s never a bad idea to define how you’ll communicate about your relationship with others!”
Are you willing to accept their flaws?
“A great way to test whether you’re ready to go official with someone you’re seeing is to consider the things you don’t like about them,” Anderson tells Elite Daily. It’s easy to feel blinded during the honeymoon phase, but the truth is, most relationships are a series of ups and downs — and dating won’t always be an easy ride. Genuinely reflecting on all of your partner’s qualities can help you make an informed decision about going official.
For example, is there something about them that gives you the ick? Or are there any serious red flags you’ve noticed — like immaturity, controlling behavior, or the way they’re rude to waitstaff? You may be irked by their innocent habit of leaving dishes in the sink, but dealing with disrespect is another story. If your partner has a characteristic you’re concerned about, ask yourself whether or not it’s a relationship deal breaker or something that can be constructively worked on.
Then, Anderson says to ask yourself if you’re still comfortable being with your partner — quirks, pitfalls, and all — and to be mindful of rose-colored glasses early on in your relationship. “Nobody’s perfect, so if you can’t think of anything you don’t like, you probably don’t know the person well enough to make an informed decision,” she tells Elite Daily.
How To Tell Someone You Want To Define The Relationship
Once you’ve reflected on your wants, needs, values, and boundaries, and you’ve determined you’re ready to make things official, it’s time to have a conversation with your partner. Ideally, you’ll know whether or not your partner’s feelings are reciprocated, but sometimes, things are a lot less clear. Regardless of your situation, you can still approach the DTR talk from a calm, informed place.
According to Connell Barrett, an executive dating coach, the goal of your conversation shouldn’t be to pressure your partner into going official. Instead, try to keep things open and honest so you can naturally chat through next steps. Barrett previously told Elite Daily, “If you want a relationship, tell [your partner] how you’re only interested in dating them while telling them why they’re so wonderful.” Then, instead of pushing them to put a label on it, share exactly what you want and what you’re looking for — and see what they say. “Nobody wants to be talked into an ‘official relationship,’” Barrett continues. “But by sharing what you want, you give them the green light to open up and share what they want.” When they do open up, be sure to listen carefully and really hear what they’re saying — the conversation should be a two-way street.
Barrett adds that although “the talk” can be intimidating, it’s worthwhile to clearly communicate how you’re feeling. “Yes, this conversation can be scary, because you’re opening yourself up to rejection,” he previously told Elite Daily. “But sometimes you must state clearly what you want in order to turn a ‘Casual Other’ into a ‘Significant Other.’ When in doubt, be bold and honest!”
If you’re getting cold feet, Barrett says you can informally “test out” the official status by planning date nights, weekend trips, or other activities that can help get a feel for a committed relationship with your partner. Treating the person like your official partner — whether you’ve talked about “going official” or not — can give you both valuable insight. And if you do all of these things and still feel lukewarm or uninterested in committing, that’s OK, too! Chances are, you’ll still learn valuable information about yourself to support your dating life moving forward.
Remember: It’s OK To Take Your Time.
From seeing happy couples on social media to witnessing your favorite celebrities tying the knot IRL, it’s easy to feel like the clock is ticking on your dating life. However, no matter what stage you’re at, it’s important to move at your own pace and only pursue what works for you — there’s no rush to lock things down ASAP, even though society often makes it feel that way.
“There are a lot of people who rush to become official with someone because they like the sense of security involved in knowing someone is committed,” Weiss tells Elite Daily. “However, I recommend that people take their time in becoming official.”
Anderson agrees. “Many people gravitate toward ‘going official’ in relationships because they crave the emotional stability it implies, or simply because an emotional need compels them to kick the ball down the road, and take the next step,” she says. “But it’s important to remember that there’s no rush to make a relationship official, and it seldom hurts to take a little extra time to make sure you make the right decision.” Unless you’re heading to the courthouse, going official isn’t legally binding; saying “yes” to a relationship doesn’t trap you with someone forever! For the sake of protecting both of your hearts, though, it’s worth approaching your decision with care.
Dating is complicated enough, and you want to be sure you’re moving at a pace that’s comfortable for you. If you’re still unsure about going official, consider the following: Are you comfortable and at ease around the person you’re dating? Do they respect and appreciate you? Does the idea of “putting a label on it” make you excited, nervous, or a mix of both? Are you feeling pressured (by your partner or otherwise) to go official, and is the official title what you truly want? You know yourself best, so carefully consider each question before rushing to make your relationship official.
Whether you’re 100% ready to make things official with your person or you’re still feeling a bit hesitant, take a deep breath and remember: You’re in charge. Take your time, move at your own pace, and you’re bound to make a decision that feels authentic to you.
Lisa Concepcion, dating and relationship expert
Blaine Anderson, dating coach
Sara Sloan, LMFT, psychotherapist
Kevin Darné, relationship expert, dating coach, & author
Suzannah Weiss, certified sex educator & coach
Heather Moore, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist
Connell Barrett, dating coach