Real talk: Is there any dating-related conversation that triggers more stress than defining the relationship? It’s undoubtedly one of the most difficult discussions to initiate, because it can A) make you feel super vulnerable and B) bring up a bevy of insecurities. That said, having an open, honest conversation with your boo about what you both want not only helps you to avoid potentially hurtful misunderstandings, but it also ensures you’re on the same page before you get in too deep emotionally. But first, you'll want to know what to discuss when you define the relationship.
According to Maria Sullivan, dating expert and VP of Dating.com, defining the relationship helps a couple to “evolve together” and ultimately, “create a stronger bond.” And who doesn’t want that? It’s important to note, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all way to approach this discussion. Sullivan notes that the subjects you cover will vary from couple to couple depending on their own unique needs, desires, and circumstances. Still, she says there are certain questions you should be sure to touch on, regardless of the nature of your relationship.
First thing’s first: Sullivan says the most important topic to address is (drumroll, please) — exclusivity. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Sure, it may be an awkward matter to tackle, but you know what’s more awkward? Getting upset when you find out that bae hooked up with someone else, only to realize you never discussed monogamy. That’s why Sullivan recommends talking to your partner about whether either of you is seeing/sleeping with other people, and whether or not you want to maintain that option. If you met on a dating app, you might also want to address whether or not you’ll delete those profiles. A girlfriend of mine learned the hard way that if you don’t ask, you just may hear from a single friend that she spotted your SO while swiping away on Tinder (#woof).
Exclusivity is a complex subject and has many different possible interpretations, so it’s all about finding what works for you and your boo. You might agree to be completely monogamous, or keep things casual and date whomever you please. But there are gray areas as well — for example, you might decide that you’re both allowed to go on dates with others, but that you’ll remain sexually monogamous. Or, you might agree to delete your dating apps, but not put a specific label on things.
In addition to asking specific questions about exclusivity, you’ll also want to get a bigger picture idea of what you both hope to get out of this relationship. Sullivan recommends asking your partner, “What does your ideal dating situation look like?” and “What are your expectations for the relationship?” A committed relationship does not mean the same thing to every person. Your last bae may have made it a point to see you at least once a week, and call you every day, but if you’re now dating someone who isn’t used to checking in that regularly (and has no idea that’s what you want), you may end up feeling unfulfilled. That’s why it’s crucial to be super specific about your expectations. So, while defining the relationship, you may want to talk about how often you can realistically see each other and communicate with each other.
In a society where some avoid labels like the plague, it can be nerve-wracking to ask “what are we?” but here’s the thing: Knowing how to refer to the person you’re dating lend a lot of reassurance. When my current boyfriend and I defined the relationship, he simply asked, “I’d like to call you my girlfriend if that’s cool. You want to call me your boyfriend?” And that was that. I know, it probably sounds almost too simple. But that’s honestly all this convo has to be, so keep in mind, you're merely trying to make sure you have a mutual language for how you describe the relationship, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you feel uncomfortable bringing up the subject of labels, you could say, “The other day my friend/sister/coworker asked if you were my partner and I didn’t know what to say. How do you refer to me when you talk to other people?” You might even discover that you’ve both been feeling equally awkward about the lack of labels, and agreeing on some terms could ultimately put your minds at ease.
Before you wrap up that DTR convo, Sullivan also advises discussing your hopes for the future.
“If you’re at the point in your life where you are ready to settle down, it is important to ask what your partner’s thoughts are on long-term relationships,” she tells Elite Daily. “Some things to talk about include: Where do you see yourself in five years? Can you see me in that picture? Do you want to get married? Are you interested in having kids? Defining the relationship doesn’t mean you have to get married and spend the rest of your lives together, but it does show your partner that you are committed to them.”
Feeling overwhelmed? Keep in mind that you definitely don’t have to address all of this in one conversation. Very often, DTR is actually a series of ongoing discussions rather than one long talk. After all, every relationship is continually growing and changing, so it’s likely that you’ll have to keep checking in to make sure your evolving needs and expectations are being met.
If you’re nervous about defining the relationship in general or bringing any of these topics up, Sullivan advises setting aside a specific day and time to talk with your partner and allowing yourself some time before that to gather your thoughts.
“If it’s the right person, they will respect any concerns you may have and talk through them with you,” she adds. “If they do not want to define the relationship, it’s better for you to know sooner rather than later.”
Again, there’s no right or wrong way to have this conversation, and which topics you cover will depend on your situation. But as a general rule, the more thorough and specific you can be when you DTR, the better. Because as you and your partner gain increasing clarity around your current relationship, you’re in a much better position to meet each other’s needs and ultimately, build a more mutually satisfying and fulfilling relationship. Will it be a little scary to dive into this discussion? Probably. But hey, what doesn’t kill your relationship can only make it stronger.