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How to Define the Relationship

Two people at the stage in their relationship where they are ready to define things more.

For some lucky couples, defining the relationship comes as naturally as breathing. One day, one of you introduces the other as “my boyfriend” with a knowing smile, and that’s that. But, for everyone else, figuring out when and how to define the relationship, or DTR, is stressful.

Whether you’re already feeling exclusive or simply in need of clarification, having a discussion about exclusivity can be unnerving because, until it’s discussed, you always run a risk—albeit small—that you’ve made some faulty assumptions. Talking about the status of your relationship doesn’t have to be as uncomfortable as you think. In lieu of blurting out, “We need to talk”, you can ease your way into the conversation by considering the following:

Timing the DTR
There is no one right time to have the talk about exclusivity. For some people, titles are important early on. For others, a longer dating period feels more comfortable. The trick is to feel out your partner’s vibe while minding your personal boundaries. For example, you may be itching to define the relationship, but your date has hinted that he’s dealing with career stress. In that case, perhaps you give it a little more time until you ask, “Where are we going?” On the flip side, you might get a sense that the person you’ve been seeing for two months is prepping for a proposal, but you’re still feeling things out. If that’s the case, you can express reservations to avoid surprising him and, consequently, hurting his feelings.

Playing It Safe
For other couples, the decision to get more physical will naturally lead to the discussion about exclusivity. It’s important to consider, especially for safety concerns, whether your partner is being intimate with other people. Although regular sleepovers can certainly feel like exclusivity, you can’t be sure until you have a straightforward discussion. Is someone leaving a toothbrush at the other person’s apartment? Do you have a drawer? If you are meeting some of these milestones then you’re overdue for a DTR.

Getting What You Want
Set boundaries for yourself before defining the relationship. What are you willing to accept? Where do you draw the line? How long are you willing to wait to become exclusive? It’s best to think about these questions beforehand, because it’s easy to agree to another person’s conditions—even if they don’t suit you—if there’s a lot of chemistry. Don’t just let a relationship happen if you’re not sure you want things to progress. Conversely, don’t let yourself settle for the non-committal, casual relationship if you want something more serious.

So, How Do you Actually Bring It Up?
The best way to approach the conversation is honestly and calmly. You shouldn’t feel the need to pressure or convince the person you’re seeing to answer a certain way.

Good Approaches:

“I’m wondering how to introduce you at my holiday party. Going with ‘this is my friend, Tony, doesn’t sound quite right.’ Know what I mean?”

“I’m only seeing you, and I want to be on the same page.”

Bad Approaches:

“You’re not seeing anyone else, right?”

“How many people besides me are you actually dating?”

“Why don’t you want to be with me?”

If your partner dismisses the conversations or isn’t willing to answer your questions, consider whether this person is right for you. Search within yourself and think about what this person has to offer. It’s not a good sign if your partner is unwilling to communicate—however, if your date expresses interest but just needs a little more time, perhaps, for the right person, you’d be willing to wait.

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