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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

How to DTR (Define The Relationship)

Those first few days, weeks, or even months into your hook-up can be a rollercoaster of emotions. You may feel like you’ve finally met your soul mate, the Clyde to your Bonnie, the peanut butter to your jelly, or just the perfect distraction from all of life’s troubles. But there’s a catch—what kind of relationship are you in exactly? You’re head over heels, but just how exactly is he feeling? Is he, dare you say it, your boyfriend? Luckily, we talked to Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, to give you a complete guide to defining your relationship and having “the talk” with him. You’ll never wind up being that girl referring to a random hook-up as your ex-boyfriend ever again (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).

When do you bring it up?

You meet a guy, you find out you share the same interests (breathing, sleeping, etc.), and suddenly, it’s like everything in the world has fallen into place. You’re floating through campus on cloud nine thinking about him, wondering if he’s thinking about you, and possibly picking out flower arrangements for a spring wedding. But just as quickly as those butterflies in your stomach appeared, an anxious feeling starts gnawing at you: where exactly is this relationship headed?

While some of us fall quicker and harder than others, we all know what it’s like to desperately be crushing after a certain someone. But when it comes down to it, lust at first sight doesn’t make a relationship – time does. Before rushing into the relationship conversation, take some time to get to know each other better.

When you’re ready to sit down and talk, Bogle adds that you should figure out exactly what you want, not only from “the talk”, but also for the future. If you’re itching to have the relationship-defining talk, Bogle recommends that you take a step back and truly assess the relationship.

“Girls should avoid bringing up ‘the talk’ too early, not to avoid upsetting him, but because a girl cannot be sure how she feels about things evolving into a more serious relationship until some time has gone by,” Bogle says.

Katie*, a junior at Denison University, waited two months before sitting down and talking with her hook-up. For her, knowing that she wasn’t interested in something strictly casual helped her decide when the time was just right. Similarly, you should ask yourself whether it’s the right time to have this conversation or not.

“I wanted something more serious. I didn’t want to be in a pre-dating/hooking up for six months like I [had been in the past],” Katie said. “I wasn’t messing around this year!”

So how do you bring it up?

With your heart racing at a mile a minute, your palms sweating, and your knees shaking, it’s completely understandable that you’d want to get “the talk” over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.  However, don’t think you’re getting out easy on this one. If you plan on establishing a relationship, you’re going to want to cover all the bases in an extensive, private conversation.

Bogle recommends “never bringing up ‘the talk’ in front of other people, even joking around.  Girls may not like how that turns out!” No one is a fan of rejection, especially a very public, very awkward one.

That being said, don’t bring it up over text, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media networks either.  According to Bogle, it leaves way too much room for miscommunication.  Thus, it’s absolutely best to bring up “the talk” in person, that way you can “check out non-verbal cues to get a better sense of what the other person wants,” Bogle says. Most of us can barely sense sarcasm over text; do you really want to risk getting a false sense of emotion? We didn’t think so either.

“I’ve tried avoiding ‘the talk’ by bringing it up over text with my hook-up,” Rebecca*, a junior at GWU, said. “But I always bring it up at bad times: when he’s in the library studying, when we’ve been drinking, etc. It obviously never worked out well and everything about our relationship was a little blurry because we had never literally sat down and talked about it. But I finally realized I had to get over my fears and do it face-to-face. Not so surprisingly, ‘the talk’ worked out significantly better in person. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to just rip off the band-aid and do it.”

Although it may be awkward to bring up at first, don’t fear that your guy may be absolutely dreading the conversation.

“It just is something that has to be done so both parties know where they stand,” our own Real Live College Guy Andy said. “Even if both parties end up wanting different things, it shouldn’t be too much of a disappointment [or] downer because the conversation should take place before any serious attachment has developed.”

So, sit your guy down and rip off the band-aid. Delaying the conversation won’t lead to anything more serious, and could leave the boundaries of your relationship forever blurred.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable, Bogle recommends saying just that. Try using one of these lines: “I know this is awkward to talk about, but what are you thinking about us?” or “I know guys [don’t always like] these conversations, but where do you see this relationship going?”


What do you talk about?

No two relationships are the same. Although we all wish we could have a romance like Allie and Noah from The Notebook, we (unfortunately) have to live in reality. That being said, it’s completely up to you about what is said during your talk. Just remember, by laying it all out there, there’s no room for uncertainty in the future.

In planning your talk, figure out what’s important to you and where you would like the lines to be drawn in your relationship. Here are some things to consider talking about with him:

  • Exclusivity: “Are we exclusive?” “Are you hooking up with other people?” If you’re ready to make the leap from dating casually to dating exclusively, ask how he is feeling about your relationship!
  • Monogamy: If you’re not completely exclusive, do you want him having sex with other girls? How far is too far?
  • Flirting with other people: “What do you considering flirting when it comes to the opposite sex?” Should flirting with others be allowed in your relationship, and to what extent? “Does flirting count as cheating?”
  • Texting: Don’t expect him to ditch all his girl friends for you, but is 24/7 texting with another girl too much? 
  • Your future together: “Is this going to be a long-term thing?” Keep in mind your plans for after graduation, as well as his.  If you’re going to be in different cities post-grad, “can we make this work as a long-distance relationship?”

Share your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and hopes for the future throughout your conversation, giving him the opportunity to do the same. But an important thing to remember: don’t make it about determining a specific label for your relationship.  Doing so adds more pressure to the situation. The conversation should be more focused on how each of you are feeling, not necessarily about labels.

Michelle*, a 2012 graduate of Bryant University, gathered up her courage and put everything on the table when having “the talk” with her current boyfriend. Bringing up even the touchy subjects like monogamy and flirtation, she “had a long, open discussion about out past experiences, what our definitions and boundaries are, and even talked through some scenarios to help the other person understand specific points,” she said, leaving nothing to chance.

Much to her surprise, her boyfriend was appreciative of their extensive talk. “After we finished talking my boyfriend said, ‘You know, I’m actually really relieved we had that conversation because now I know what the boundaries are and I don’t have to worry about crossing them unintentionally.’ Turns out, the NOT knowing was worse!”

The most important thing to remember is to not hand out an ultimatum right from the get-go. Instead, find out what your guys has to say about the situation, and take some time to think it over. 

“An ultimatum right away is a turn-off and will put the other person on the defensive,” Bogle says. “And, even if he agrees, do you want a relationship that you had to get via threats?” In other words, being pushy won’t get you very far. But, if you’re looking for a serious relationship, just continuing to hook up with hopes that it will eventually become something more isn’t your best bet. 

Still nervous to bring up “the talk” with him? Bogle says that even if you both decide you want different things and break up or end things, it’s best to know sooner rather than later in a relationship. “If [you] let go of the current guy, [you] may find someone else who is more on the same page relationship-wise,” Bogle says.  Like they always say, there are plenty of fish in the sea… you just have to find that special one.


Have you ever defined your relationship status and had “the talk” with your hook-up? Let us know about it in the comment box below!

*Names have been changed

Jamie is a recent graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Political Communication and Journalism.  While in school, she interned at several magazines and online publications, wrote for Her Campus, and contributed to her university's newspaper, The Hatchet. Her work has been syndicated in The Huffington Post, USA Today College, and Reader's Digest. Jamie loves boy bands, anything with a little wit and sarcasm, and of course, diet coke. She is currently pursuing a career in magazine journalism in NYC. You can follow her on Twitter, @jamieblynn