If you’re wondering where you stand with your partner, here’s how to find out.
It happens in nearly every dating relationship that lasts more than a few months: one or both partners initiate ‘The Talk’ to determine where exactly they’re at with each other. This involves questions such as, “Are we ‘just friends’ or more than that? Are we dating exclusively or is our relationship just casual? What exactly is the level of our commitment to each other?”
For Greg and Gina, this conversation occurred at the four month point in their relationship. They had started dating casually with no expectations about what might develop. But it wasn’t long before Greg fell head over heels in love with the vivacious and fun-loving woman. Despite his determination to take things slow and easy, he began to envision a long, blissful future together. And although he was sure about his own ardent feelings for Gina, he wasn’t quite sure she felt as strongly in return.
So on one summer evening, with a picnic dinner spread out on a blanket, Greg popped the question—not the marriage question, but the all-important dating question: “Where do we stand with each other?”
Greg really got nervous when Gina looked away, gathering her thoughts and measuring her response. But soon she said, “I can’t say for sure what the future holds, but right now I don’t want to be with anyone else. I don’t want to date anyone but you.” She grinned added, “Boyfriend/girlfriend, going steady, a committed couple—whatever you want to call it, count me in.”
That declaration of commitment was for Greg and Gina an important milestone in their unfolding relationship. It’s the kind of moment that’s vital for any relationship that will evolve into something serious. Still, a discussion like this can seem risky because we don’t want to appear pushy and scare off the other person.
If you have begun to feel strongly about the individual you are dating, asking if he or she shares your feelings can be a frightening moment of truth. These ideas will help the conversation go smoothly:
Broach the issue clearly. It’s too vague to ask, “So what’s happening with this relationship?” Be as direct as possible. Chances are you want to know if you’ve crossed the boundary from “going out informally” to “dating exclusively.” If you feel ready to stop dating other people, that is an appropriate time to ask if your partner is ready to do the same.
Choose the right situation. Probing each other’s feelings can be intense, so be careful about when and where you talk. Pick a private place where thoughts and feelings can be expressed without being on public display. Initiating the conversation in a crowded coffee shop, or at lunch when she has to go back to work, isn’t the best idea.
Don’t panic if the response isn’t exactly what you want. The other person may not be prepared to give a definitive affirmation of undying love and fidelity. If that’s the case, don’t assume complete rejection. Be prepared to listen to your partner’s reply and to discuss it. However, avoid getting into a debate. If you find yourself arguing for more than your partner is ready to give, you are pushing too hard.
Allow for space. Don’t demand an immediate answer. Sometimes when people feel pressure to respond, they get flustered. Their mind and emotions start spinning too fast for words to make sense. Take the pressure off by suggesting some time to think it over and a follow-up discussion.
Resist the urge to ask for continual updates. We’ve all grown accustomed to watching TV news shows and seeing a “crawler” scroll across the bottom of the screen with stock reports, sports scores, and weather alerts. Relationships do not come equipped with a nonstop monitoring device like that. So it is appropriate to periodically check in with your partner. The key word is “periodically” (think annual or semi-annual review). Seeking constant reassurance is a sure sign of insecurity and clinginess.
Discussing how you and your partner view your relationship is a natural and necessary part of moving forward—or deciding not to. Sensitivity, understanding, and proper timing will make the conversation positive and productive.
For more info, check out our article on Diagnosing Commitment Phobia.