I remember a conversation I had with one of my guy friends a few months ago. "Ugh", he said. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I need to DTR", he told me. "DTR? What's that mean?" I asked. "Determine the relationship. I need to find out if she's actually going to be my girlfriend or not." My poor friend was worried that he would likely get "friend-zoned" again and that having a conversation related to the direction of this potential relationship would be its downfall. No matter what you want to call it - making it official, putting labels on it, becoming exclusive, going steady, changing your status to "in a relationship" on facebook - DTR conversations eventually happen, for better or worse, when you are exploring potential relationships. They may go in your favor, as you discover that the person you've gone on a few dates with wants to take the next step into an official, exclusive relationship. Or it may go terribly awry, as my friend feared, as you hear from the person you're interested in that they want to end it here and not go further. No matter the outcome, one thing is certain: these conversations are tough. In this blog, I will give you some pointers and food for thought in the hopes that your next DTR conversation goes smoother and is less nerve-wracking.
One of the biggest mistakes that happens leading up to a DTR conversation is avoidance. You may have tons of questions in your head about how interested the other person is in you or you may want to speak freely about how interested you are in them, but you keep quiet. You might think to yourself that you don't want to "rush things" or "put pressure on them." What's typically done instead is...nothing. You each keep your feelings about the other person, positive or negative, to yourself until the DTR conversation finally happens when it's unavoidable to put it off any longer. Set a different tone. Instead of keeping your feelings bottled up, let them out slowly and surely. Let the person know you had a nice time and hope to go on another date soon. Tell them when you think they look nice. If you're having fun, say so. Start communicating openly and honestly without rushing to the finish line of being in a relationship with each other. Just say what you think and feel in the moment when you're with them - then they're not left questioning and you're not left hiding. You can take it one step further by asking for feedback from them. Check in with them by asking questions such as, "Did you have fun tonight?" "How would you rate how well our date went from 1-10? What could make it better next time?" or "Are you enjoying yourself when we spend time together?" None of these questions involve timelines or questions that can feel loaded like "How do you think we're progressing?" or "When do you think you might want to take the next step?" These are not bad questions but they are questions best reserved for the DTR conversation itself. The goal of the questions and comments I've given you examples of thus far is to create a culture between you and the person you're starting to date of honesty with how each of you think it's going. Hopefully, this way when you go in to a DTR conversation, they'll have a pretty good idea of where you're at and you won't feel so nervous about what they're thinking or feeling about you.
Another big mistake is setting a timeline. There is no right time to have a DTR conversation. I repeat: THERE IS NO RIGHT TIME TO HAVE A DTR CONVERSATION. Not after 3 dates, 5 dates, 20 dates. Get those numbers out of your mind. Pay more attention to how you're feeling than how many dates you've had with each other. This also means that setting a specific day for yourself to have the DTR conversation - "I'm going to ask her to be my girlfriend when I see her on Friday", for example - is not recommended. Why, you may ask? You are probably going to worry and think about it A LOT before then. If you change your mind, you're likely going to kick yourself for not following through. Life is also ever-changing. Let's say you plan to tell her on Friday when you go to dinner but then she got fired from her job that day. Ouch. I hope you have the discretion to say, "I'll wait til later to ask her to be my girlfriend" but you would be surprised how many people might forge ahead anyways because they've set this arbitrary date in their head that today must be the day. Be flexible with the timing. It's not as simple to say that you'll know when it's "right" but chances are there will be times that might be better to have a conversation like this than others. Make sure you both are relaxed, in relatively good moods, without a time limit. Where you have it is important too - a super crowded, loud restaurant may not be best. Eliminate distractions, meaning turn off the TV, put down the phones, and do it in a place where it's ideally just the two of you so you can easily focus on each other and not the chaos that may be happening around you. It's much better to wait until these circumstances are in place than to rush into it. Set the intention when you feel ready to DTR, and be on the lookout for a good opportunity to talk about it. Create a good time/setting as best you can, but also be patient if needed.
When it comes to the DTR conversation itself, it can be helpful to think some about what you want to say beforehand without having a rehearsed speech prepared. Note to self: rehearsed speech is not romantic, thoughtful preparation is. Think of 1-2 main points that you want to make sure you say, but don't plan every word - you want it to feel natural. There are a million right ways to have this conversation. These are just guidelines and ideas to get you thinking of what might work for you and the specific person that you're interested in. I might recommend saying something about your experience with them first and foremost. For example, "Every time I'm with you, I feel relaxed and I don't worry about anything", "I have so much fun with you, you always keep me laughing" or "I always look forward to spending time with you because of the deep conversations we have, I feel so open with you." Then you could lead into something you like about them specifically, such as, "I appreciate how kind you are to everyone you meet", "I love how hard-working you are at everything you do", or "Your sense of humor is the best and you make everything fun." You can certainly name more than one thing but don't get too winded here - there's a purpose to this conversation, at the end of the day. Finally, name what you want for the relationship. Typically, it's to determine if you want to date exclusively, but make sure that's what you really want. If you're on the fence or not sure yet, that's okay, but don't have the DTR conversation until you know for sure. This is the time to say it, as clearly as you can, in a single sentence: "Will you be my girlfriend?", "I want to make things official and have you be my boyfriend", or "I want to take the next step and be in a relationship with you." The final part here is critical after they've given their answer (which is hopefully yes! - we'll talk about no answers in a minute). Now is the time to ask for their thoughts on how you guys have been doing up until this point and how they feel about moving forward. Now you can ask, "How do you feel about how things have been going with us so far?" "What do you think about us taking this next step now? How does the timing feel for you?" "What's something we haven't done yet that you might want us to do together soon?" This is not the time to start planning a wedding, but it is the time to find out more about how they're feeling with taking this step together and what they want the next baby steps in your now-official relationship to be. A DTR conversation is the perfect time to ask.
Finally, for the sad part: what to do if they say no. If they say no, please be kind to yourself. Especially if you've been giving them consistent positive feedback like we first talked about and if they've been doing this in return - it just means that they weren't sure how to be honest with you if they weren't feeling it. You were honest, you asked thoughtful questions and they didn't do the same because they weren't ready to be equally as honest yet. Please do not fall into the cliches if they say no: do not beg, do not ask if you can still be friends, and do not say, "What did I do wrong?" or "Why don't you like me?" Do your best to accept the no answer and be gracious. You can try saying something like, "Thank you for being honest with me, even if it's hard to tell someone no" or "It's not going to work out every time and I still enjoyed the dates we went on, I wish you the best." This can of course feel really awkward if you're at a restaurant in the middle of dinner for example and don't really have a quick exit. You can excuse yourself real quickly if you need a couple minutes in the restroom to compose yourself but finish out the date. You can even say something like, "Even if we're not going to become a couple, let's still enjoy the rest of this dinner and change the topic." Switch to something else - it will feel more uncomfortable to talk about all the reasons why you're not going to be a couple or convince them to change their mind. Call a friend after if you need someone to talk to about how much it sucks (which it can and does).
Bottom line is this: create a culture of honesty and transparency without pressure to rush into something, be patient in finding a good time/place to talk, keep it short and sweet, and hold your head up if it doesn't go well. Here's to more successful DTR conversations in your future!