What Are We? How to Define the Relationship Tactfully

Atlanta couple Chesley Phillips and Owen Gaddis fell in like at the same time, fell in love at the same time, and decided they wanted to date exclusively at…surprise, surprise…the same time. Well, lucky them. In this increasingly competitive dating landscape we’re trying to survive in, not all of us are so lucky to be, as Phillips puts it, “on the same page from the start.” Although it is the American (Dater’s) Dream to find a relationship in which every stage transitions into the next seamlessly, many times one party is ready before the other to have the “Define the Relationship (DTR)” talk: the conversation that determines what kind of relationship you are in, or if you’re in one at all. So, how do you do it without losing the guy or girl and your dignity? We’ll defer to the pros on this one.

Warning: Labels
“You can start by not calling it the define the relationship talk in the first place,” says Steve Ward, CEO of Master Matchmakers, relationship expert, and host of VH1’s hit shows, Tough Love and Tough Love Couples. “That’s associating too much significance to a conversation. There is such a thing as establishing your boundaries and letting someone know the additional benefit to being with you. That’s a conversation worth having.”

If you must title the talk, Ward suggests “Sell the Relationship.” “It’s about offering something, having a bargaining chip, showing the other party the added benefit to becoming exclusive [or whatever it is you’re asking for]. It’s the ‘give to get’ principle – not the ‘get to give.’ You handle it like any other negotiation,” he explains.

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free?
As degrading as the expression is, it applies to many relationships. If a guy already gets sex, overnight stays, and casual “hang out” (without dining out) time and he still has the freedom to date other women, then what is the benefit of commitment? Guys are simple (or at least they’re supposed to be), but they don’t want an easy woman.

“You’re saying if I do commit, you’ll sleep over more often? We don’t have to go on “dates” as much? Well that’s definitely an advantage,” Ward says, echoing a typical guy’s thoughts. “We’ll have sex more often and won’t have to use a condom if we’re exclusive? Well that’s a benefit.”

If you no longer have those bargaining chips: you’re already having sex (without a condom), you’re sleeping over frequently and you’re doodling his name in a heart on your work notepad while he’s still out collecting numbers on Saturday night, don’t worry. There’s still hope for you, but it will take a lot of honesty and…wait for it…self-control.

Ward assures us that, “A girl can easily sit a guy down and say ‘I really like hanging out with you, but I want to be closer to one person, have a stronger connection and be exclusive. I’m starting to get attached and I’d be hurt if I knew you were getting as close with someone else as you are to me. But, if you don’t want that, I understand and I’ll move on.

“If he says, ‘I can’t do that right now,’ then she needs to say, ‘I respect your honesty, and I’ll miss you.’ She also needs to politely ask him to not continue calling and texting her like nothing has changed. I guarantee 9 out of 10 guys will call with a change of heart.”

The trick to this seemingly simple tactic is staying strong. Many girls have this conversation and some of them even do it right, but if the guy chooses to leave, odds are she calls him days later, apologizes and asks to go “back to casual.” And, then she’s lost her self-respect and any chance of the guy wanting to get serious. Talk about a lose-lose situation.

If You Like It, Do You Need to Put a Label On It?
Always ask yourself why you want to define the relationship in the first place. Trey Humphreys, president and co-founder of The Fur Bus and ASocialMess.com, feels that girls only want to DTR when they catch a guy cheating, suspect he’s dating other women or if he’s just running around acting like he’s the most single dude in town. “They get pissed and that forces the “what are we” discussion,” says Trey.

Not that the desire to define the relationship under these circumstances is wrong, but take a breather before you go all Fatal Attraction on the unsuspecting victim. As a rule of thumb, never initiate a DTR when you are upset or angry. Ward warns against the “what are we?” demand. “For guys, it immediately trips off their “not” center – that part of the brain that is always looking for reasons not to do things. All guys are programmed that way,” he says. “Don’t be a bitch, don’t be confrontational, don’t interrogate. In fact, satisfy what he is already thinking. Example:

"Girl says: "You don’t think I’d like to be over here more, staying overnight, having sex every day? You don’t even know how much I love cooking. I’d like to cook with you, for you, a couple days a week."

"Guy thinks: Man, that sounds good."

"Then the girl explains that this is what she does in a committed relationship, which is why she is seeking that sort of relationship with aforementioned guy, and voila!: she’s showed him the value of being with her. She’s shown him the difference and (hopefully) has him thinking that the added benefit of being exclusive with her may just outweigh the cost of the “liberties” he’s going to sacrifice.”

Listen to Your Heart, Not Your Friends
You know how it goes when you have been dating him a while: your friends are in your ear asking about the DTR conversation, wondering if he’s your boyfriend yet, and demanding to know when you’re going to update your Facebook status. Tell them to back off. It’s not their relationship.

Before Owen, Chesley fell victim to outside influences. “I listened way too much to other people's thoughts about how the relationship should be or look.” Once she started listening to only her own intuition, she got exactly what she wanted, without any anxiety or pressure.

Women get the rep for pushing commitment, but that’s not always the case. Kelley Hagen, president of Mindframe Marketing, was seeing her now live-in boyfriend, Deke, but was also dating around, when he approached her about becoming exclusive. “He knew I was dating other people, but he came to me and was very clear that he wanted to date me and only me.”

"I told him he obviously didn't know how this dating thing works,” Kelley laughs. “I had been playing the field for such a long time, that while I did want to settle down with someone, I was used to the game. I wasn’t accustomed to someone being so honest and laying it on the line.” Hagen considered Deke’s request and decided to commit. “We’ve been inseparable ever since,” she says.

Steve (The Expert), Kelley and Chesley (The Happy in Loves) and Trey (The Bachelor) have all had different experiences in relationships, but they all agree that not every dating relationship must involve a DTR conversation. In many instances, the evolution of love and exclusivity happens naturally. In those circumstances when one person needs extra incentive to get on the same page, however, a mature, honest conversation should take place, and “the talk” initiator should be prepared to move on if he or she doesn’t get what he or she wants. Sound like it’s all too complicated? It’s not. Just be the confident, mature adult that you are and don’t settle for less than what you’re asking for. You’re too good for that. Hey, we’re just trying to give you some tough love here.

Photo courtesy of the happy couple, Chesley & Owen

For more about Steve Ward and his matchmaking services, visit: www.mastermatchmakers.com