The urge for immediate answers for when to label a relationship is particularly strong in the early flush of infatuation. It might seem like the two of you were absolutely made for one another, but how much of your perception is being blurred by all those nice hormones flooding your body? How do you know that you and your partner will continue to be a compatible pair after the oblivion of early love wears off?
Every relationship has its own unique timeline. It's possible to become extremely close with somebody over the course of six months or a single week. It depends on how vulnerable you both are willing to be with one another. There's really no wrong or right time to decide when you are going to open your heart to someone, and there's no time when the process doesn't have the possibility of being painful. In the course of that process, New York City-based relationship expert Susan Winter says there comes a time when both partners realize they are in a relationship.
"It may not have been stated in exact words, such as boyfriend, girlfriend or partner," says Winter. "It's inherently understood by both."
She refers to this stage as the tipping point. But how do you know whether you and your partner have reached it?
"You'll know you're in a relationship by these markers: You're seeing each other exclusively, there's continual and easy contact, and the natural assumption that 'of course we'll spend the weekends together,'" Winter explains.
According to Winter, whether or not you choose to label the relationship after reaching this stage is up to you and your partner. If you are already behaving like a couple, then it's definitely appropriate to ask, "So, what are we?" Or, better yet, tell the person you are seeing what you want to be, so you're owning your intentions and making them perfectly clear. If they can't give you what you need at this stage, then you have the autonomy to decide how you want to go forward. Don't enter a relationship where you can't get what you need, or your resentment will build into an atomic cloud over time, and your relationship will implode.
Winter says that waiting until it feels like you're in a relationship isn't the only time to think about labeling it. You can also initiate a discussion about being exclusive that will help the both of you establish boundaries for your partnership.
"The other time that you know you're ready to call the person you're seeing your 'partner' is when you've had the exclusivity talk," Winter says. "Your partner may ask you directly, or back themselves into assuming you're already exclusive."
She says if you haven't approached having an exclusivity talk yet, you can tell whether it's coming up by watching for some key markers. Being together for long, uninterrupted periods, feeling sexually romantic, and being identified as a couple by everyone who is around you are some indicative signs.
If labels are important to you to understand what is happening within a relationship and where it is headed, paying attention to your daily interactions will offer you more information than the length of time you've been seeing each other. Whether or not you fall into a label without premeditation or have a sit-down conversation about exclusivity, there is no should or shouldn't when it comes to your feelings. Approaching what you need with clarity and insight will serve the both of you in a relationship more than checking off the days on a calendar, even if you turn out to actually be on two different pages in the playbook. After talking to experts, it seems like you don't need a timeline for all the signs of a relationship to be there. But if you need that extra reassurance, you should ask your partner what they think.
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