Erika Ettin: Defining the relationship: More of a conversation than a specific milestone

Erika Ettin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

You’ve swiped right, had the first dates and are now “together” with a person. Great! Or is it?

A client recently reached out to me and said, “I’ve been seeing this guy for about a month from Hinge. I’ve met his family already, mine know about him. We’ve met each other’s friends. When is it OK to define the relationship? Do I just assume we’re together?”

Meetups with each other’s family and friends are definitely significant milestones that veer into “exclusive” or “couple” territory. For other people, this may be spending an important holiday together, exchanging thoughtful gifts or taking a vacation together. But the idea of “just assuming we’re together” can be dangerous. After all, you know what they say about assuming…

Like most things related to relationships (and I mean all relationships in your life, romantic or otherwise), communication is key. In my client’s case, it’s definitely time for a discussion to be had about defining the relationship and making sure you both understand what the expectations are. Who knows? Maybe you would never introduce someone to your family who you’re not very serious about, but the other person might not think it’s that big of a deal. While you might have deleted Bumble, Hinge and other online dating apps from your phone, the other person might still be swiping — completely unaware that you are operating under the impression that you’re a full-fledged couple.

No matter what stage of the relationship you’re in, it’s never too early (or late) to check in and say, “Hey, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here.” Maybe that’s keeping things open, maybe that’s agreeing to a friends-with-benefits situation, or maybe it’s agreeing to stop seeing other people and see where your relationship goes. Whatever that definition of the relationship is, it must be what you are comfortable with and agree to.


Ready to make the jump from “seeing each other” to “couple”? You might want to talk to your partner and say something like this: “I like you, and I’m enjoying getting to know you better. I am not really interested in meeting new people at this stage because I want to see where things go with you. How do you feel about that?” After that, be specific about what you want without being confrontational. Is it monogamy? Plans to see each other at least once a week? Or maybe you both agree to delete your dating apps and focus on each other.

Hopefully, your partner will be receptive and excited to ensure you’re in sync with where your relationship is. Key word: hopefully. It’s important to also be open to the possibility that they may have other ideas. Maybe they don’t want to commit to a relationship right now and just want to have fun at this point in their life. Maybe they never want to settle down. If you find out that you’re not aligned with your vision for the relationship, you may need to assess if you should move on.

No matter the outcome, good or bad, having the “DTR” conversation will give you something vital: clarification. Even if you seem to be hitting important relationship milestones, it’s crucial to never assume you know exactly where your partner is emotionally — after all, not one of us is a mind reader (as far as I know, at least). And so, we’re left to have these difficult but important conversations based on total honesty to avoid future heartbreak. The lesson here is communication — because you never know until you ask.

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