Talking about what you "are" with someone is such a delicate conversation to try and navigate. You don't want to push the person you're seeing to define the relationship (DTR) before they're ready, but the ambiguity that comes with casual, "no labels" dating can be difficult to deal with — especially for people who experience anxiety. There's also the question of how relationships change after you DTR. Not everyone is in agreement over whether you even need to put a label on your relationship, but if you ask me, what with breadcrumbing, ghosting, stashing, and a dozen other gerunds to worry about, dating in 2018 is hard enough already. So why not just be honest about what you want?
While I can acknowledge the other side of the argument, and I understand that it's not always necessary to define the relationship, I wholeheartedly believe that it's almost always better when you do. Nine times out of 10, defining the relationship will help move things forward, one way or the other. The point is that if you want to DTR and the other person doesn't, it's best to know that earlier rather than later. That way, you can both move forward and try to find what you want, albeit with other people.
I've been in this situation more than once: I spend a ton of time hanging out and hooking up with a guy, too nervous to ask whether or not we're moving toward exclusivity. As the weeks or months go on, I start to hint more and more at the fact that I want us to DTR. Ultimately, the guy feels pressured and says that he isn't ready for a relationship (or at least not with me). I'm a big advocate for finding someone who has the same priorities as me, but it does sting when I've invested all of my emotional energy into someone and started to fall for them, only for them to say they aren't ready to commit.
Once you do successfully DTR, though, everything gets easier. Whether you decide to start out by being exclusive, or you choose to label yourselves officially dating, simply having an answer to the question means you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.
When asked how long is too long to date without defining the relationship, licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson told Elite Daily that it's only really an issue if and when you are ready for a commitment and you don't know if the person you're dating wants to commit too. Obviously this can go both ways, with you not wanting to commit and the other person being ready for a relationship. So how do you handle this predicament?
"I think the way to handle that is to say, 'Hey, this is the kind of relationship I'm looking for. I don't know what you want, but this is what I want. And if that's not what you're looking for, that's cool, but I'm going to looking for something else,'" Richardson told Elite Daily. "Not like an ultimatum... But basically say, 'It's OK if we don't want the same thing, but please tell me.'" You don't have to tell someone that you want a relationship with them on your first date, but once you reach the point where you're considering deleting your dating apps, you should probably find out where the other person stands.
If the two of you do end up being on the same page, you've begun forming a positive pattern. You're encouraging a shared habit of healthy, open dialogue that will serve you both well throughout your relationship. You know that you can trust one another to speak up when there's something important that needs to be discussed, which is an invaluable asset to any relationship.
Once you get past the awkward DTR talk, there's no more ambiguity. You no longer have to wonder "what if?" You've put your intentions out there and laid your heart on the line. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, you might get hurt. But until you bite the bullet and DTR already, you can't know for sure. After all, this could also be the start of something new and completely wonderful.
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