At one point or another, many daters find themselves having the dreaded "What are we?" talk. While discussing feelings can make one feel vulnerable and anxious, these kinds of conversations can also be an important step toward developing a romantic relationship with a strong foundation.
And even if you don't get the answer you want, the benefits of biting the bullet and asking "What are we?" usually outweigh the cost. Still, that doesn't make it any easier to get up the courage and start the conversation.
While every relationship is different, here are seven guidelines that can help you navigate the windy path to love (or something like it):
1. Take a realistic look at the current state of your dating situation.
You need to know what your relationship is before figuring out what you want it to become. Dr. Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and author of Dr. Karen's Marriage Manual, encourages daters to have the "what are we" talk only if the mutual actions and words have shown you both are on the same page, and you just "want to solidify it with verbal agreement."
"If you're not already spending a great deal of consistent time together," April Beyer, CEO of a personal matchmaking and relationship consulting firm Beyer & Company, says, "Then most likely there is no 'we.'"
2. Keep the mood light even as you delve into a deeper conversation.
Ruskin advises daters to begin this often awkward conversation by acknowledging and joking about that awkwardness. She suggests opening with something like, "OK, I know you might laugh at what I am about to say …"
While the conversation topic is serious, beginning with a funny preface can put yourself and the other person at ease and allow both people to speak freely about their feelings.
3. Trust your instincts.
According to Beyer, most people "tend to ask this big question when they know deep down that the relationship is more casual than serious."
Ruskin encourages daters to trust what their "spider senses are telling" them about the other person and their intentions. "In most cases," Beyer concludes, "You know the answer long before you ask the question."
4. Know what you want and ask for it.
Ruskin says the "what are we" talk usually comes from a discrepancy in the relationship, leading one person to want clarity. She encourages daters to be direct and say, "I am really enjoying what we have together, and I am interested in ... seeing where it can go." Then, she says to be direct and ask the other person if they feel the same way about where they think the relationship is headed.
5. But have a plan in case you don't get it.
Ruskin says, "If actions and words have shown you the other person is not where you are in the relationship, then know that having the 'what are we' talk could potentially lead to the beginning of the end of the relationship." Beyer adds, "If you don't get the response you're looking for, be strong enough to walk away."
6. When you have the conversation is just as important as why.
Once you meet someone great, you might want to lock them down right away, but that eagerness could accidentally drive the other person away. Beyer says, "Ask too soon, and you'll get the kind of answer you won't want to hear." Instead, give the relationship enough time to develop naturally before defining it.
Many people rush into defining a dating situation because they're unsure whether the relationship is significant enough to include sex. For daters with that concern, Beyer advises postponing intimacy until you've had the "what are we" talk and are comfortable with the other aspects of your relationship. "Wait until it feels right to you in your heart, mind and body," she says.
7. No matter what, put yourself first.
While this conversation is largely dependent on another person, remember that your wants and needs are your first priority. Ruskin believes daters should approach this conversation with self-awareness and self-assurance. "Only have the 'what are we' talk, if you are ready to have the 'what are we' talk," she says.
Beyer agrees and emphasizes the importance of making "decisions based on what is good and right for you." She adds, "If a committed relationship is what you're looking for, then stay on track regardless of [the other person's] answer."
Cover photo via Giphy