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FROM THE FUCKBUCKET: How and how soon do you bring up the relationship style/DTR question without putting the other person on the spot/under pressure?

do I have to give you a piece of my cookie if I do?

Okay, so first of all, DTR = Define The Relationship. I had to puzzle that one out. When I think about the questions that can come up in a relationship, then yeah, those conversations can feel awkward and weird and a bit pressurizing. Are they my partner? Are we going out or just chilling? How do I introduce you to my folks? Wait, who said anything about being introduced to your folks?

People can experience pressure around these questions because so often there are societal expectations about relationships, and the way a relationship is labeled is directly tied into those expectations, which the person being asked may not be ready for. I think that’s what my fuckbucketeer is asking about.

(Plus there’s that whole trope about how straight women are just trying to trap men into commitment, and men are all hair-trigger commitment-phobic and run away screaming at the first sign of her toothbrush at his house, gahhhhhhhhhhhh. <SIGH> It’s all very heteronormative and plays on the idea that women are psychotic controlling gold-diggers, and frankly this particular trope can die a fiery death.)

ANYWAY.

I think the most important thing you can ask yourself at these moments of existentialist relationship questioning—where are we? what do we call ourselves? how do we define our beingness?—is actually just this: why do I need to know?

What exactly are you trying to pin down when you want to define the relationship? Is this something you need to put down on an application for public benefits or an apartment rental, or is there something else happening? What is going on the relationship at the moment that is making you feel unclear or uncertain, and what do you think is going to become resolved or get better/more defined if you slap a label on it and change your Facebook relationship status to match?

Word to the wise: there is no standard definition of boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/etc that, once you take on one of those labels, will make you or your loved one behave in a certain way. Those words mean different things to different people.

So, if you want to talk with your sweetie about your relationship, one place to start is with more functional descriptors. Focus on the things you want to do together, and less on what you’re going to call each other. With that shift in conversational focus, the questions might look more like this:

  • I feel really good with you, and would like to spend more time with you. Can we try adding another date night a week, and see how that feels?
  • I would like to try going without condoms, because <reasons>. What do you think about that? What steps would we have to take in order to do that safely?
  • Last night when we went out, I wanted to hold your hand, but I didn’t know how you felt about that. I feel like I want to have skin contact with you, even out in public. Could we do that tomorrow night?
  • My mom really would like to meet you; I guess I’ve been talking a lot about you. Would you be interested in that?
  • I want to travel with you, to someplace where neither of us has been. Can we do that next spring?

Have those conversations as the questions and desires come up, however seemingly big or small. You must learn to be okay with “no thank you” as a response, and you’ll also probably encounter some “I dunno, can I think about it?” But you don’t know until you ask, and if you’re consciously trying to de-link the behavior from whatever the larger cultural expectations may be around “partner” or “girlfriend,” then it’s just a behavior, a request, and it stands on its own just fine.

As far as not putting people on the spot, I personally feel that if someone isn’t up to the task of having a meta-discussion about their relationship, then they might be a little bit too delicate for me. If you decide that you want there to be a word for who they are to you, then ask: you feel special to me, and I find myself wanting a word for that.

Maybe existing words feel good. Maybe you’ll create something else. Maybe you’ll decide that, nah, actually you don’t need a word but you just wanted to pick out a little leather bracelet for them to wear. Whatever you find, it’s something that you sorted out together.

*****

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