There are a few phrases that can be kind of terrifying to say to a significant other—whether it’s because you don’t know how they’re going to react, or because you’re not sure how you feel about the situation, either. “I’m pregnant” is in a league of its own, but we’re talking about the “What are we?” and “Where is this going?”—a.k.a. the “define the relationship” talk.
We’ve all heard it before: You shouldn’t have to ask; you should just know. Well, many women (wisely) would prefer to receive verbal confirmation that both partners are on the same page, emotionally and otherwise. But sometimes it can be tricky to raise this topic—especially if you’re seeing someone who’s not a great communicator, so you’re not sure where you stand.
So, here are six expert-approved steps for how to initiate the DTR talk and hopefully get the answers you need.
Know What You Want
Before diving into the DTR talk, make sure you know exactly what you want from the relationship and how you feel about the other person. If you’re unsure about what you truly want, then you may come across as insecure, confused, and even needy.
Get the Timing Right
If you’ve only been dating a couple of weeks, it’s too soon to pick up any clues and hints about your relationship status. Relationship expert and radio personality Dr. Cooper Lawrence advises never to have this talk during the first two months of dating. “It’s the ‘getting to know you’ stage where your only job is to have fun. Even if you already think she or he is the one, it’s still a weird conversation to have if you’ve been dating less than a month.”
Pick an Appropriate Setting
You don’t want to have this convo in a noisy bar or at a family picnic. Make sure it’s just the two of you—and in the flesh, not over the phone. Ingrid Madison, a sex and dating blogger, says you can ask your partner for a good time to have the DTR talk. Whatever you do, don’t spring it on her or him. “Don’t do it in bed or during a drunken situation,” she says. “Go for it on a chill Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Most people are likelier to feel relaxed and open at these times.”
Choose Your Words Carefully
Yes, the DTR is a serious discussion, but the more calm and collected you are about it, the likelier your S.O. will feel the same, rather than stressed or nervous. “Ask your S.O. what they think,” says Madison. Say something like, “I think you’re amazing and I don’t want to date anyone else. I was wondering how you felt about that?” Then let them talk. You’ll have your answer fast, and you’ll know if you should move forward or not.
Be Real and Up-Front
If you want or expect something from your relationship, don’t hide it, says dating coach Harris O’Malley. “If you want exclusivity, let them know,” she says. “Hiding something you want because you’re worried it would chase your partner off—or hoping that you can change their mind about it later when they’re more invested—is just going to result in an epic and even more brutal breakup later on.” Wise words.
Backing your S.O. into a corner will ruin any chance of a meaningful conversation. And even if it’s disappointing, try not to freak if their response isn’t what you hoped for. “Don’t assume their reluctance has anything to do with you,” says Lawrence. She or he just might not be able to define their feelings yet. However, Lawrence adds, “if you hear something that doesn’t match with your expectation, then you must decide: “Do you want to be FWB (friends with benefits)? If not, and you’re looking for something more serious, it’s time to move on.”