When should you have the relationship status talk?

(Getty Images/iStock)Gift ArticleShareDo you want to be my boyfriend? my friend says, lying on my bed and tossing her hair back in mock seduction. This, she claims, is the most dir

When should you have the relationship status talk?

(Getty Images/iStock)Gift ArticleShare

Do you want to be my boyfriend? my friend says, lying on my bed and tossing her hair back in mock seduction. This, she claims, is the most direct method of asking the person youre dating whether he wants to be exclusive.WpGet the full experience.Choose your planArrowRight

After several glasses of wine, the dinner party Im hosting has devolved into an impromptu relationship-counseling workshop in which my friends demonstrate their best advice for having the talk, or the conversation so anxiety-inducing that it warrants its own euphemism in scare quotes.

The talk is also known by a three-letter acronym: DTR, short for Define the Relationship  fittingly, also the name of Tinders official podcast.

For a dating milestone so universally acknowledged that its spawned more than one cringe-worthy nickname, few of my friends can agree upon the right way to approach it  or whether its necessary at all. Have the conversation too soon, and it could signal an awkward end to an otherwise good thing. Have the conversation too late, and you might realize the person youve been spending every other night with will never introduce you to anyone outside of his Netflix account. (Maybe youre being stashed.)Advertisement

I decided to consult dating coaches about how, when and where to DTR. While every relationship is different, here are some general guidelines:

The talk can start before you even meet the person

In my profile online or in my first meeting of a person, I want them to know Im looking for a relationship, says author Susan Winter. That eliminates 90 percent of the nonsense that we go through.

To her, dating is a little like hitchhiking: You may get sick of the driver along the way, but you at least want to know that hes heading in the same direction as you, taking as few detours as possible. Somebody is maybe going to the West Coast, but somebody [else] is going directly to L.A., says Winter, who wrote Allowing Magnificence: Living the Expanded Version of Your Life. You want to go with someone whos going directly to L.A.Advertisement

Often the lack of communication stems from a fear of getting kicked off the ride, says Winter. Men and women have been so afraid to say what they want. Saying what you want is more powerful than asking them what they want.

Dont assume youre in a relationship without talking about it (people do this)

Whats really interesting about the relationship talk is that a lot of people these days, especially online and app daters, dont feel that they need to do it, says Laurel House, a dating coach who worked with celebrities on E!s Famously Single. That leads to a lot of confusion.

At least partly to blame, says House, are online dating apps, which have created a more casual dynamic riddled with guesswork. She cites clients who assumed they were in a committed monogamous relationship for months or even years, only to find out their partner was still dating other people.Advertisement

Every single dater has a different experience-based perspective, says House. There are a lot of daters out there who feel like, I like you and you like me enough to go on a date and possibly a second, and therefore, lets dedicate time to see if this develops. While I agree with that, that conversation has to be had. It cannot be assumed.

Think of the talk as a series of talks

If youre using an online dating app, you might want to bring up a preliminary discussion with your partner: Should we delete our dating profiles?

That doesnt mean that were putting a label on this, says House. That just means we like each other enough to explore this without being distracted by other love interests.

Laurie Davis Edwards, who founded the coaching service The Worthy One, suggests one way to bring up the topic is to frame it as a personal assertion rather than a question for your partner. Mention that you are going off the app or the site that youre on, and just make it a statement and get their reaction to that statement, says the author of Love at First Click: The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating.Advertisement

House, nicknamed the man whisperer, advises her clients to be prepared for all possible outcomes during this conversation. You have to be okay with them saying theyre not there yet, she says. And thats okay. It doesnt mean that they dont like you.

It also doesnt mean you have to stop seeing other people: If someone else comes in, youll welcome them in, says House. She likes to think of these conversations as traffic signals with red, yellow and green lights for various stages of a relationship. Having the get offline, exclusive conversationis the yellow light, she says.

When you actuallyget tothetalk, theres no one right time orway to do it

Theres something called the three-month rule, says Winter, referring to the assumption that the talk happens around then. Winter believes this so-called rule is total garbage.Advertisement

Sometimes it happens after a good first date. Sometimes it happens after a third or fourth date, says House. Sometimes it happens after several months. It totally depends on the couple and it depends on the types of conversations youre having on your dates.

So now youve started the talk. When in doubt, ask questions. Are you open to the possibility of a relationship? is a good one to start with, says Winter. If they say no, Are you dating casually? Are you looking to have a good time? Of course, not every conversation will end in exclusivity; nor is that the goal of every relationship.

If youre really feeling bold, one way to test the waters is to schedule what House calls a make-or-break vacation date a short day trip or weekend away which she typically recommends on the fifth date because it can help gauge the future of a relationship before youve invested too much time. At the end of the trip, you know yes or no, she says, recommending this strategy only if youre looking for a committed, monogamous relationship.Advertisement

Dont force things

Not all dating coaches agree that the talk needs to happen at all. Edwardss husband, Thomas Edwards, who founded the coaching service The Professional Wingman, says there are more subtle ways to define a relationship that dont involve having a three-hour conversation. One client, he says, was introduced to [his girlfriends] friends as her boyfriend but they never really had the talk about it, he says. His reaction to that was basically the beginning and the end of the talk.

(We should note that one great time to have a traditional talk isright beforemeeting friends or family together because theyll askwhat your deal is.)

Above all, Edwards says, be flexible and open to having all kinds of conversations without rules or expectations. Defining a relationship is a milestone for sure that I think a lot of people reach, but it should never be forced, he says. I think the most successful transitions with dating someone to being exclusive with someone happen naturally.

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