How to Define the Relationship – DTR

You’ve been seeing a girl for a week.  Then you bump into a group of her friends and she casually introduces you as her “boyfriend.”

What!?!  When did you become her boyfriend?  And, what is expected of you now that she considers you her boyfriend?

These scary situations can be avoided if you DTR – define the relationship.

define the relationship

Why You MUST Have the DTR Talk

The Defining the Relationship talk is something that you must do.  It is the only way that both parties can know where they stand.  Yes, it can be a bit awkward and unpleasant to have the DTR talk – but it will be even more awkward if one person becomes emotionally invested in the relationship only to discover that the other person doesn’t feel the same.

Another reason you must have the DTR talk is to get the issue of exclusivity out of the way.   As Doctor Nerd Love points out,

If you haven’t had the exclusivity talk, you AREN’T exclusive! Never assume that just because you’re not seeing anyone else that they aren’t too.

In today’s sexually-open and active world, the exclusivity talk is really important.  If you aren’t exclusive, then you’ll need to be aware about the risk of STDs and get checked regularly.  Remember, condoms don’t protect against everything!

It boils down to this: if you respect the person you are with, then you will have the DTR talk so no one gets hurt.


When to Have the DTR Talk

It would be great if we could give you an exact timeframe of when to Define the Relationship.  Is it after you’ve slept together?  Is it after you’ve been seeing each other for a week?   Is it when you introduce him/her to your friends? 

The DTR talk should happen before either party becomes emotionally invested in the relationship, so either party can get out with minimal damage. 

Unfortunately, everyone develops emotional attachments at a different rate, which is why it is hard to determine when the DTR talk should happen.  Usually, it is the girls who get attached faster and the guys who have “commitment issues” – but it isn’t always this way.  Guys can get emotionally attached just as fast as the women. 

Some factors which affect when to have the DTR talk are:

  • How often you see each other: If you only see each other once or twice a week, then you can probably hold off on the DTR talk for a while longer. If you are seeing each other 3x or more per week, then you should have the talk before strong attachments form.
  • How long you’ve been seeing each other: Even if you only see each other once a week, you will still eventually need to have the DTR talk. Unless it is a long-distance relationship, it should be pretty obvious that neither of you want anything serious – but you definitely need to talk about STDs and safe sex as part of Defining the Relationship terms.
  • How often you talk/communicate: You might not see the person very often, but if you are exchanging texts throughout the day and calling each other almost daily, then it is a sign things are progressing to something serious. You need to have the DTR talk!
  • If you have the same friends or work together: When you run in common circles, then you will need to have the DTR talk earlier on. This is to avoid any embarrassing drama or gossip which could detrimentally affect your lives.

You should assess your relationship and what you want out of it before you have the DTR talk.  But, remember, you don’t have to know what you want in order to DTR.  Simply saying that you “aren’t sure” is one form of Defining the Relationship!


Where You Have the DTR Talk is Also Important

You are walking with your girlfriend and bump into a group of her friends.  They ask “Is this your boyfriend?”  She turns to you and asks, “I don’t know.  Are you my boyfriend?”

Everyone HATES being put on the spot like this.  It is awkward and no clear answer or discussion can come out of it.

Don’t try to spring the DTR talk on your boyfriend or girlfriend in situations like this.  Likewise, don’t try to have the DTR talk:

  • In front of other people – the situation above being one example
  • In bed – you aren’t going to get a straight answer when sex is clouding your emotions
  • During a fancy dinner – there is too much formality and pressure in these situations
  • Over chat, sms, or email – it might seem easier to do it this way, but there is too much room for miscommunication. You will feel better if you do it in person.

Cosmo magazine recommends having the DTR talk while walking in a park or doing some other activity.  That way the talk won’t be the center of the universe and it will be less intense.  Boundless suggests that you use a movie to initiate the talk.  Movies often have themes of love, romance, marriage, and fidelity.  After seeing the movie, you can casually bring up the topic and use it as a segue into your DTR talk.


What You Need to Define

So, you’ve had the DTR talk and established that you want to be “keep things casual.”  But what exactly does “casual” mean anyway – does it mean that you can see other people?  Does it mean that you are exclusive but are taking things slow?  What if you define that you two are “serious”?  For one person, “serious” means exclusivity.  For another person, it means you should start planning a wedding and picking out baby names.

Relationship definitions are a lot more fluid than they were in the past.  That is why you’ve got to be really clear about what you want and expect out of the relationship.

Some of the things you need to define as part of the DTR talk are:

  • Are you two exclusive?
  • If not exclusive, are you practicing safe sex?
  • For open relationships, what are the rules? (For example: you can’t sleep with any of my friends)
  • What is meant by “keeping things casual”?
  • What is meant by “serious”?
  • Is this a long-term thing? (Especially important if you have graduation or career changes coming up)
  • Where do you see this relationship going?


Expect to have the DTR Talk Again

If you have ever been in a casual relationship, you know that it is hard to keep it casual.  We are creatures of habit and, after repeatedly seeing and sleeping with a person whose company you enjoy, it can easily turn into a more serious attachment – even if that wasn’t what you initially wanted.  For this reason, it is important that you periodically have the DTR talk to make sure both of you are on the same page.

Even if your initial DTR talk established that you two are in a committed relationship, you still need to have the DTR talk periodically.  Open communication about wants/expectations is important for relationships to thrive.  If you don’t have periodic DTR talks, your relationship could take a huge toll if one of you brings up marriage or kids, and the other person is completely unready for it.    Just think of how many good relationships are broken up because of marriage ultimatums! This is especially true when in casual or serious relationships with women in their late 20s and 30s, because they don’t want to waste their child-bearing years on a relationship which won’t go anywhere.

Remember, Defining the Relationship talks should NOT be used to pressure your partner into decisions or commitments they aren’t ready for.  It is about establishing where you two are emotionally so you can be on the same page.  If you find that you aren’t on the same page, then you can make clearer choices about whether to continue with the relationship or not.

Leave a Reply