It’s no secret that our generation is known for being somewhat averse to "defining the relationship." When our parents were dating, there seemed to be a linear progression when it came to commitment (start dating, become exclusive, get engaged, etc.). Nowadays, things have become slightly muddled for Gen-Y. We all share a common, relatable dilemma: you want something more, and they don’t want to DTR . In other words, you're excitedly dating someone new, and you're ready to take things to the next level — but they don't want to put a label on it, or define your situation in any way.
These days, it’s quite possible to date someone for months on end without ever labeling the connection. “It’s casual,” we say while shrugging our shoulders when friends ask what’s up with that new guy or girl we’re seeing. However, if you suspect you've caught feelings, you have a right to make them known — and figure out whether or not they're reciprocated.
Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve been terrified to so much as hint at the fact that I want to pursue something series, or that I’m even just curious about where a relationship is headed. I’ve walked on eggshells so as not to potentially scare someone away. However, because of my trepidations, I ended up with some hefty regrets when the relationship didn’t pan out and I felt as if I’d wasted time with someone who couldn’t give me what I wanted. This past year, one of my best friends made a habit of fearlessly asking her dates the first time they met up: “So, what are you looking for?” This may have intimidated some — but those were the ones who obviously weren’t looking for a serious relationship. In other words, she weeded out the ones she believed didn't stand a chance at offering her real happiness. (Side note: In case you can’t tell, I fully support this strategy, no matter how scary it may feel at first).
That said, defining the relationship is a complex conversation. There is no right or wrong time to have it, as each relationship is obviously unique. Kate Stewart, psychotherapist and dating coach at Modern Therapy Seattle, believes that if the person you’ve been dating is resistant to defining the relationship after about a month, that could be a red flag. She may not be off the mark in her proposed timeline, either. A 2015 Google Consumer Survey conducted by Mic revealed that the majority of people have “the talk” in less than four weeks. Another survey conducted by Time Out found that people typically decide to become exclusive after about six dates. In other words, it doesn't take most of us very long to figure out that we want to be with someone.
Regardless of these results, when you choose to have "the talk" is up to you, and will probably depend on how much time you’ve been spending with that person, and whether you actually believe you're compatible long-term. Once you’ve mustered up the courage to bring it up, if your crush is hesitant to define things, there are several factors to consider when deciding your next move. I spoke to two experts about how to handle this all-too-common dating debacle — here's what they had to say.
There’s a difference between being empathetic and patient and totally compromising your own wants and needs in order to accommodate someone else. If the person isn’t ready to DTR, Stewart suggests setting some boundaries for yourself
“Tell yourself that you will reassess in two weeks or one month. Give yourself a specific amount of time to not worry about it, and then check in with your sweetie when that amount of time is up.”
This gives your would-be partner some time to think while preventing you from feeling as if you’re stuck waiting around for them forever. Compromise is a massive component of any healthy relationship, but remember: your needs are just as important as theirs.
So, a month or three has gone by, and you’re still feeling left in relationship limbo. Stewart says that if you’ve brought up the DTR discussion more than once and the person still isn’t willing to define it, you definitely want to understand why they’re reluctant.
“One good question to ask yourself (or them) is: ‘why would they not want to define it?’” explains Stewart. “Can you come up with a good reason? Or are they giving you a good reason? Maybe they lost their job and feel bad being in a relationship with someone when they are unemployed. Maybe they have a sick family member and want to focus on them.”
This step is crucial. Whether they have a good reason or not, it will help you to determine whether it’s an issue you can potentially work through or a significant difference in values that may be difficult to overcome. Plus, exploring the “why” behind their hesitance will also show your crush that you’re empathetic to both their situation and their feelings.
There comes a point in time when continuing to try and pursue a relationship with someone who doesn’t want the same things can be unhealthy and potentially emotionally distressing. So it’s very important to know when you should consider cooling things off — and according to Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, there are ways to tell when the relationship may be turning into a toxic situation.
“It becomes a problem when you start to blame yourself or when you start to try and convince them or prove to them they should be with you,” she says.
Richardson advises making it clear to them that you’re interested and that you hope you’ll still be available if and when they change their mind without making any promises. Then it’s time to start trying to move on — at least for now.
“You deserve to be with someone who is excited to be with you,” she says. “And if the other person has been straightforward and open, they do not deserve to be badgered.”
Defining the relationship is a big step because it has the potential to give both people the peace of mind that they’re on the same page about where things are headed. However, it’s worth noting that DTR doesn’t have to mean you either have a serious boyfriend or girlfriend, or that you’re single. Take the time to consider your own needs, and make sure you’re being honest about them with yourself — and your desired partner — as early on as possible. Striking a compromise could mean you simply set certain boundaries that will reassure you, like agreeing not to sleep with other people while you’re seeing each other. That said, if putting a label on things is important to you, you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about that or brush that desire under the rug. If this person doesn’t want to define what you have on the terms that make you feel comfortable, don’t fret — someone else will.
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