“So, what are we doing?” How many times have you found yourself in a “relationship,” but desperately wanted to lose the quotes? Have you been in situations where you spent several hours a week with someone, texted frequently, and maybe even shared some affectionate moments without fully knowing if you were on the same page?
When I was seventeen, I was “just friends” with someone for several months. Nothing about our relationship looked like “just friends,” but I kept filing it under that status thinking I was fooling (or, at least, satisfying) those who might not approve of our “relationship.” Then, one Wednesday night he knelt down beside me as I was getting into my car and said, “Heather, I know you say we are just friends, but that is not how I feel.” That phrase still rings in my mind to this day.
Relationships should have definition – it is only fair and brings clarity for each party.
If you have dated someone for months (or are pretending “not to date”), it is reasonable for him or her to request a define the relationship conversation, a.k.a. DTR. Having a DTR can be a nerve-wracking experience, but we will try to make less stressful for you.
My boyfriend was brave. He put his heart on his sleeve and let his thoughts and feelings be known; but, just because he made it look easy does not mean that it was. In fact, I have no idea which emotions were dancing around in his heart as he spoke those words. What is coming next? Could this be the end? What if she does not feel the same way? Am I stupid for upsetting the apple cart? Am I ready for her response?
People tend to avoid DTRs for some (or all) of the following reasons:
- They can be awkward.
- They require a change in the relationship – and we do not know which direction of change he or she will choose.
- There is fear involved because no one likes rejection. Anytime someone humbly requests a DTR, know he or she is showing courage.
- Sometimes, DTRs are done in haste (because of nervousness) and those conversations do not always go well.
For any of the above reasons reasons, “couples” may keep meandering down the “relationship” path hoping something happens which will cause a definition to emerge. Maybe Denise will introduce me as her boyfriend to someone and then I will know where we stand. Maybe John will give me a promise ring or another piece of jewelry which will clue me in as to his feelings and intentions.
And… the wondering gets old quickly.
We Are Not in 1945 Anymore, Toto
Dating has changed. It used to be a process in which parents were very involved. Then, it changed dramatically with the birth of the American teenager in the 1950s. In the 50s, a person could date several people at once there was nothing wrong with that. Dating did not insinuate a commitment; instead, going steady was understood as commitment. The temptation today is to consider two people a committed couple after one, single date – especially in Christian circles. A guy and girl go out for ice cream after church and they are immediately branded a couple even if they have nothing in common and little interest in each other. When I was 16, I got my feelings hurt when a guy broke up with me – a guy I did not even like. In fact, every other phrase out of his mouth made me want to beat him. But, other people thought we should be together.
Overall, the changes on the dating scene in the last few decades have not been beneficial in my humble opinion. Having experienced the effects of modern dating, I wish we could go back in time about six decades. We could go to a movie with someone Friday night and to dinner with someone else Saturday night! I would love to see a revival of the days when going steady required a talk or the giving of a gift – a defining moment in time. Though I am sure dating had its significant struggles in the mid-20th century, I love that becoming an item required an actual conversation – not an assumption (especially by others).
We can have a taste of simpler times in this crazy 21st century. You can tackle the dreaded DTR like a champ. If you are interested in defining the relationship with your special someone, keep reading!
- First, do some soul-searching on your own. Do some observation. Based on what I know so far, is this the kind of person I want to marry? If you cannot confidently answer yes to that question, it is not time to work towards being a couple. In fact, if the answer is no, it may be time to part ways.
- Pay attention to cues. Is she quick to get away from you at the end of a date? Is he weird about introducing you to his friends? What general vibe do you get when you are together? How long has it been since you started dating? It takes some people longer than others to warm up and gain trust. However, if it has been six months and you are no more certain of his or her feelings than you were at the beginning, it is time to talk – or walk away. (Talking first is recommended. ~smile~)
- Confidence is attractive. Try not to appear overly eager or anxious. Regardless of how the conversation goes, you are still you and you still have a lot to offer to the right person. His or her reaction does not define your worth. Say that twenty times, out loud, every day until you believe it. No matter how wonderful this person is, he or she does not have the power to determine your worth. Only God can do that, and He says you are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:13-14). Even though it is natural to be nervous, you can still be confident in who you are and to Whom you belong.
- Remember that defining the relationship does not necessarily mean you are going to get married. Defining the relationship can simply mean saying, “I am interested in pursuing a relationship with you that may lead to marriage.” Going into it this way makes it seem a lot less stressful and final.
- Seek wise counsel first. What do your parents, mentor, pastor, or trusted friends think about your plan to define the relationship? Do they have any thoughts or concerns? Any advice? Though you are the one who will ultimately have to live with the decisions you make, it is smart to consider what your trusted advisors have to say. Even if you do not abide by everything they say, at least prayerfully consider their words. They may offer you a life-changing tidbit of knowledge.
- Choose a time and informal place to discuss. Keep it casual but know what you are going to say in advance. Let him or her know (in advance) that you want to talk about something important so it does not catch him or her off guard, but have the conversation shortly after that so he or she does not spend days going crazy wondering what you are going to say. If you sense hesitation in the conversation, feel free to cut it short. If he or she is not ready, ask for a time and a place to discuss it later.
- Receive the outcome with class. I remember Dr. Dobson talking about his breakup with his college girlfriend (who eventually became his wife). She listened to him, graciously received his words, walked into her home, and cried all night – but he did not know this until years later. She did not beg him to stay. She gave him what he said he wanted – space. If your friend tells you he or she is not interested in pursuing a committed relationship, accept the news graciously. Do not constantly text, follow him or her around town, or beg (please do not beg). Do all the grieving you need to do – it is healthy – but do it in private or with trusted friends. Keep your thoughts and feelings off social media. Be classy.
- Finally, stop doing whatever you were doing which blurred the lines between friends and partners. If you talked late into the night, flirted, held hands, snuggled, or kissed – stop. If he or she takes the no commitment road, do not continue to give what should be reserved for someone you are dating. It will chip away at your self-respect, blur lines, keep you from getting over him or her, and hinder you from pursuing a potentially wonderful relationship – a real relationship with someone else.
So, I Think We Are Going to Get Married
When I think back to Eric’s and my DTR, I cannot help but smile. In true Eric fashion, it went something like this (very matter-of-factly): “So, I love you. I can see us getting married. I think it will be next summer.” I guess you can say he is a man of action. ~smile~
Like with anything in life, venturing to begin a relationship is scary; but, it is something people often regret avoiding. There is some rejection in this life, and that hurts. But, previous rejections make happy moments much sweeter. If this relationship does not go the distance, it is okay to grieve – but, please do not give up.
DTRs Show Maturity
One aspect I appreciate about DTRs is the intention behind them. When someone seeks to define what the heck we are doing here, it shows maturity. It shows that he or she is looking towards the future and not content in wasting time. It separates the middle school relationships from the adult relationships. Ideally, I love to see men taking the initiative to say, “I want a deeper commitment with you.” No matter what “modern” women say, we love when quality men pursue us. God put it in our natures and it is not a sign of weakness. Likewise, He put the desire to pursue within men’s hearts. Society tries to squelch it; but, deep down, it remains.
However, if a friendship has remained in neutral for several months, it is okay for her to ask for his intentions. Doing so shows she has respect for herself and her time.
Even though Eric and I are fourteen years on the other side of our DTR, we still remember what it was like hanging out, flirting, and wondering what was coming next (okay, maybe that was just me ~smile~). We know this phase of life is both exciting and terrifying and we are happy to be a part of your journey, even if in the smallest way. The mountain in front of you may seem daunting right now, but before you know it, it will be so far behind you that you can barely see it.
Much love to you all! We wish you the best in your upcoming conversation.
Are you ready for a DTR conversation?