How to clarify a relationship

  • Article by: ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RUIZ , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2014 - 3:29 PM

Even in an age of constant communication, people say they are as confused as ever about defining relationships.

So you’re dating someone. At least, you think you’re dating, though maybe you’re just hanging out. It is so hard to say when no one has said.

At some point, though, in this era of confusing courtships, you want some clarity around whether you are on a relationship track or just enjoying a casual fling.

You want to “define the relationship” — a move so anxiety-provoking that it has its own acronym: DTR.

“These talks are so difficult because the stakes are high,” said Los Angeles psychologist Seth Meyers. “At least one member of the couple believes that he or she may have found a lasting, long-term romantic partner” — and the greatest fear is that pushing the subject will drive that person away.

This conversation takes courage. You can do it. Meyers gave some tips on gracefully orchestrating a DTR:

Take it slowly. Wait to have a DTR until you’ve been dating at least a month and are sure you want to be exclusive with this person. You should have already met close friends, co-workers and/or family members. The greatest mistake daters make is meeting someone and then talking every day, including seeing each other frequently in short periods of time.

Be informal. Choose a time when you are both relaxed to prevent defense mechanisms from taking over the conversation. Choose an environment that feels free, where he or she doesn’t feel trapped, such as over a walk or an evening glass of wine. Don’t do it over dinner, because many people feel suffocated or set up once confined at the dinner table, or in the bedroom, which should remain a peaceful sanctuary.

Be light. Start awkward conversations by saying in a relaxed tone that you have something awkward to talk about. This allows a person to mentally prepare. Express how you feel and that you hope your date feels the same way. For example: “The good news is, I really like you; the bad news is, I have an itch for us to have that awkward where-are-we-headed question. Seriously, you’re the one I want to be with, and I hope you feel the same.” Using humor and smiling can help deflect the seriousness.

Be brief. Don’t ask questions whose answers are going to make you anxious or obsessive. For example, don’t ask, “Have you been seeing anyone else the past month or two?” It doesn’t matter. Do ask, “Do you feel ready to be exclusive with me, or are you more into keeping it casual for the moment?” Phrasing questions in this way allows the other person to tell you the truth, because you haven’t given him or her a reason to be defensive.

Take it in stride. If you get a conflicted response, wear your brave face but say you might need a week to sit with it. Run the issue by some friends, but don’t make any decision for a week or so. Ultimately, an ambivalent response is usually the same response as a “no,” just framed in more polite language. If you feel confused by a mix of feelings, always go back to what your goals are. Are you ready for a grown-up relationship now? If so, move on because there are others out there who could commit to you fully without the drama of hesitation.

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