In high school, we were all pros at defining the relationship. If you liked someone, you would ask him/her “do you want to go out?”
This sentence didn’t literally mean “do you want to go out on a date?” That would be too straightforward. If someone said “yes” to going out, then from that moment on, they were now your boyfriend/girlfriend, and everyone in your class knew it.
As young adults, however, our relationship status is often surrounded by uncertainty. Couples can date for months without being sure of it, until someone eventually has the courage to ask “So, what are we?”
It’s a crappy way to date. You’re always second guessing – wondering if the other person has the same feelings and wants the same things for your relationship.
That’s why defining the relationship is so important. This conversation isn’t about ticking a box that dating websites tell you needs to be ticked. It’s about approaching your dating relationships with honesty and authenticity.
WHEN SHOULD I “DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP”?
After roughly 5 dates. Assuming that you have been dating intentionally this should be enough time to give you a good idea of whether you could have a committed relationship with this person.
By date 4 or 5, you should be able to answer these questions: Do you enjoy spending time with this person? Do you have shared values? Are you both in a good place to be in a relationship? Can you see yourself in a positive relationship with this person?
If your answers to the above questions are all yes, you’re good to move forward. If the answer to any of them is no, it’s probably time to move on.
Renée and I defined our relationship after 3 dates, but we had known each other for 10 years by that point, so it was pretty easy to answer these questions.
Don’t overthink it. Defining the relationship doesn’t mean you’ve found your soulmate, it doesn’t mean that it’s only a matter of time until you get engaged, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you’re giving part of yourself away to the other person.
What it does mean is that you’re making an exclusive commitment to the other person, so that you can intentionally keep getting to know him/her and better discern whether this is the person that you want to spend your life with.
Often, I think we can put off this conversation out of fear. We’re afraid to share how we feel. We’re afraid the other person won’t feel the same way. Or, if they do, we’re afraid the relationship won’t work out.
But we shouldn’t let fear decide how we live our relationships. Even if the other person doesn’t feel the same way, isn’t it ultimately a good thing that you know that so you can move on? Yes, it’s probably going to hurt a bit, but at least you’ll have clarity.
You definitely don’t want to leave the question of defining the relationship too long. If you get to Date 8 or 9 without talking about where things are going, you’re generating a lot of unnecessary uncertainty.
HOWDO I “DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP”?
Do NOT begin the conversation with the words “we need to talk.” I can’t think of a more anxiety-inducing sentence to hear while dating. Instead, try “Hey, can we talk about where we see things going between us?” or “I’ve really enjoyed the past few dates, can we talk about our relationship?”
The crux of “defining the relationship” is that you both need to be onboard with making an exclusive commitment to each other.
Clearly communicate that intention. When Renee and I reached this point in our relationship, we had a conversation where I told her how much I’d enjoyed the time we had been sharing together, that I was really attracted to her and that I hoped she would be my girlfriend.
That’s the simplified version, to give you the right idea. The reality is that I wrote Renée a letter spanning several pages, with all the reasons why I thought she was an amazing woman and I wanted to be in a relationship with her. (Guys, don’t leave out these details).
The non-negotiable here is that you both want to move forward with a committed relationship. But beyond that, there are a lot of other things to talk through: Are you going to make things Facebook Official? How often do you want to spend time together each week? Is it important that you attend church together?
Have an idea before going into the conversation of what really matters and what is flexible.
Maybe you still live at home, or you’re from a family that spends a lot of time together, so it’s a must-have that your significant-other-to-be is comfortable spending time around your family.
On the other hand, maybe you hoped to hang out 4+ times a week, but because of the other person’s commitments, they can only spend time together 2-3 times a week. That aspect of the relationship might be more flexible.
Be clear about what you want the relationship to look like and what your non-negotiables are (and make sure the other person has the opportunity to share their perspective as well!).
The “define the relationship” conversation has become an awkward moment to dread in the modern dating relationship, but it shouldn’t be. No matter how this conversation goes, it’s always going to be a good thing that you’ve approached the relationship with intentionality.
Assuming you both want to move forward with the relationship, this conversation should be really exciting. Defining your relationship is something worth celebrating.
I remember of the day that day that Renée and I had this conversation, we decided to spend the afternoon walking to a nearby lighthouse. The only problem was that the lighthouse wasn’t quite as nearby as we thought! What was meant to be a pleasant 1–2 hour walk ending up being a 5 hour trek that neither one of us was fully prepared for.
Defining your relationship can be a bit like setting out for that walk. You’ve got a final destination in mind, but you don’t know what the journey is going to look like along the way. The only way you’re going to find out is if you take that exciting first step.