What Comes First, the Label or the Relationship? On DTRs

Don’t get me started about the “relationship status” option on Facebook. To me, it highlights a huge pet peeve I have about modern-day relationships. But, well, that’s a topic for another day. Still, what do you think about “The Talk”? The DTR (Defining The Relationship).

Although usually a conversation you spin in order to kick the seriousness up a notch, I don’t think it’s reserved just for the from-casual-to-Facebook-official jump. Anyone you see on any sort of regular basis is DTR’ed at some point. From most casual to most serious, the “continuum” (sorry, nerd alert!) goes sort of like this: one-night-stand, sporadic hookup, friend with benefits, casual dating, exclusive dating. Etc.

I’m kind of split on DTRs. I think it can be great to define a relationship when both parties definitely agree it’s taking off, but can’t a label also limit something potentially awesome (or potentially disastrous) in the making? (Really, how often are two people on the same exact page anyway?)

Remember the guy I mentioned previous post? He doesn’t live within driving distance, so we’ve only seen each other twice in the last two months, but we talk on a somewhat regular basis. I look at it as a non-relationship—I don’t know who else he’s seeing and I don’t feel it’s my business to ask. Likewise, he doesn’t know who else I’m seeing and he doesn’t ask (although, yeah, this blog makes at least parts of my dating life somewhat known – damn him for having an advantage! Every time he makes a remark that indicates he’s been reading, I’m secretly pissed off!).

Anyway, I sort of disagree with him on what to call this—er, relationship, for lack of a better term. Why I hate labels: he gives it a casual name–ugh. We all know by now how much I crave seriousness, but really? I feel cheap. But since neither of us wants something super serious or monogamous from each other, I can’t exactly argue in favor of a higher-echelon name. So does giving it a label limit it from the get-go? After all, how many DTRs can one relationship handle?

On the flip side, how many times have you gone exclusive with someone only to find that the “officialness” took things to a level of commitment you just weren’t ready for? Too much too soon, and then what? Has a re-DTR, going from serious to more casual, ever been attempted without, well, Destroying The Relationship?

Tell me your thoughts!

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11 comments
  1. James Vanterpool said:

    Defining Your Relationship, interesting post Pam. Instead of always putting a title on the situation a man or woman are in, I think its better to let things play out, if both parties are really into each other it will develop into a serious relationship on its own and before you know they are head over heels for each other. Of course depending on each indivdual personality traits. My opinion when you put labels on everything it makes it more complicated than what it really is. Sorry to go there but your situation is not casual to me, in my opinion you guys are just hanging out. If the both of you get together thats great if not you simply don’t, its just hanging out until there is something inside of the both of you to take it to the next level. My opinion is to let things happen, too many people have to control things and define things, let fate take control and if it’s meant to be it will simply happen. That not only applies to relationships but in life itself.

    • Pam said:

      Yup, I agree, letting things simply happen is definitely the way to go. But you can’t always rely on fate and you can’t always assume that two people will be on the same page at the same time…just takes an objective (is that possible when emotions are involved?) mix of letting things work out and knowing when to carpe the diem!

  2. Travis Rozier said:

    Well, through out the various relationships I have had in the past. I have only pulled a DTR once. The lady in question was one I was very much emotionally involved in (I dare say it: In love with) and I knew that she like myself had usually only taken relationships as a “come what may” type of situation. We had been seeing each other steadily for around six months at the time, and I just wanted to really hear her say that she agreed with me, on the point that she wanted mutual exclusivity( Pardon the “Wordage” there) with me. I suppose hearing that phrase cemented it, because by saying it she was in a sense committing to us more than her usual relationships. (I eventually married and divorced the lady in question)
    In truth before that I never really cared for, or about labels. Before that I was with various women on a day to day basis for months in undeniable relationships, but never once did we say we were “Together” “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” etc… I didn’t really think it necessary to define it. I believe that a lot of it depends on your perception of relationships themselves. If your by the more traditional sense of romance/relationships then the DTR question will be a necessity sooner rather than later (if said label/categorization/definition is not give freely by your partner early on) because for you, the steps in a relationship are a logical progression. If your a day to day, “enjoy each others company and just simply being together” type than the DTR may be wholly unnecessary and frankly ill advised, as it as mentioned earlier will add undue pressure to the relationship…
    In short… It all depends on the people in the relationship.

    • Pam said:

      I guess it does depend on what one is looking for in their life as well. If someone is on the marriage fast-track (or NOT anywhere near that station), it’s important to know where the two individuals stand.

      Ironically, I’m definitely more the traditional type…not looking for concrete labels of situations is kinda contrary to my nature…but well, what can I say, in the relationship sense labels have made me miserable or overwhelmed me with something I didn’t want..

  3. Kelly Curtis said:

    DTR?!
    This can be very frustrating at my (old) age. Today’s society looks for definition that is within the norm, everyone in their place for their age, social standing and the family makeup. I have been a single mom for all intensive purposes for over 10 years, tried to define family twice with much failure. Now that my children are grown and out of the house, I am on to defining myself as a single woman first. This is expecially difficult since I have been so devoted to my children for over 22 years.
    Yes, I have a boyfriend, but at times that seems silly to say that, feels like I am in high school passing a note during study hall.
    Defining is only up to the user(s), and what makes you most satisfied/happy while under the scrutiny of our environment!

    • Pam said:

      I feel silly using the word “boyfriend” in my 20s, Kelly! Hmm…well, either silly or smothered? One or the other! Haha.

      Society is obsessed indeed with definitions…I was in a situation recently where we were told to introduce ourselves to everyone with our name, occupation, city of residence, and relationship status–what?! Note: this was NOT a speed-dating event…in those situations, yeah, it might be relevant.

  4. Skank Tank said:

    Don’t get me started on definitions! I’m fairly certain definitions have been a major down fall to most of my relationships.

    Take for example my ex of approximately 4 years. He loathed definitions, probably because he wanted to stick it in anything with a hole, but nonetheless he refused to affix anything to our situation. Out of the 4 years we were together, even when we were living, building a house and opening a business together and even making noise about eloping, only two weeks of those was I officially labeled “Girlfriend”. It irked the hell out of me when he would introduce me to family and friends (especially of the female persuasion) as his “friend”. Yes, friend that you have been living This probably should have been one of the many red-flags of cheating that I was too delusional to see but I let it slide and only brought it up during many of our alcohol fueled arguments. Eventually I realized his reluctancy to put a definition to what we were was indicitave of where we were going, NOWHERE!

    On the other end of the spectrum, nearly immediately after ending that relationship (remind me to tell you that story Pam, its a good one.) I found myself in a relationship where definition was needed almost immediately. A few whirlwinded months later I found myself with the ultimate definition WIFE. A label which still makes me queasey whenever someone sticks Mrs. in front of my last name. Now maybe some would see that as preventable but I guess you would need more of a back story… which no one has time for. The point was I went from 4 years of no label to the wife of someone completely different within 6 months. Among a laundry list of other reasons, I think the pressure my soon-to-be-ex husband put on the label of wife, the rules and restrictions that went along with it, just plain scarred the crap out of me.

    It finally clicked. Whether its my ex not wanting to call me girlfriend, or me not wanting to be labeled wife, it will fall into place and not be a huge deal if you are where you’re supposed to be at with your significant other. While I have been exclusive with the guy I am dating now for some time, neither of us feels the need or pressure to slap a label on it and rush to update our facebook relationship status (which is bogus anyway, I’m married to my best friend since Kindergarten on there and whoever I end up with just has to deal with that).

    I feel like I’m rambling. My point is, if you are in the position where you are trying to force a label chances are everything that label stands for is going to shit anyway. But, if you are lucky enough, the Friend, Girlfriend/Boyfriend and eventually Husband/Wife label wouldn’t be a second thought because you and that person wouldnt dream of treating eachother in any other manner.

    • Pam said:

      Haha, Skank, you have the best stories! And that is quite the jump, from non-anything to the ultimate of wife. I will definitely want to hear more details of the first story!

  5. Pete said:

    pam, this is another cool topic. i like to read your stuff so much, because it makes me think about stuff i normally don’t consider. thanks for your work. it’s great!

    the first thing i want to say is related to your continuum from one-night-standexclusive dating. i think you’re missing some really important categories and forcing a very amorphous construct into a linear format. where does the “friend” category fall on the continuum? not on it at all? but i can develop much stronger feelings for someone by chatting with them a few times than i can by hooking up one night. so, then where should “friend” fall? between sporadic hook-up and casual dating? i have no idea. relationships have so many components–variables that shift and require redefinition all the time. the labels, too, are ambiguous. what’s the difference between sporadic hookup and casual dating anyway?

    this brings me to the next point. when i do work, i always try to identify the tasks i hate the most. then, i ask myself why i hate them, and then i ask myself why i do them if i hate them–in other words, what purpose do these hated tasks serve? if i can’t identify a very valuable purpose, i don’t freaking do the task–period. life’s too short to complicate it and make it unpleasant needlessly.

    so, what’s the point of labeling relationships? does it serve a purpose? i think so. two, actually. first, attaching a label to the relationship defines you and your friend’s arrangement for outsiders. “friend” and “boyfriend” mean very different things to a mom, for instance, and it’s nice to keep important people in the loop. the second, and more important reason to label a relationship is that labeling the relationship assures mutual commitment to expected behaviors–doesn’t it? i mean, when you’re “hooking up,” you’re not expected to behave the same way as you are when “dating.” so labeling the relationship is helpful in its ability to make sure both parties list the relationship in the same category and implicitly agree to behave in appropriate ways.

    in my opinion, though, labeling is a passive-aggressive way to achieve these mutual expectations/commitments. i mean, what if your list of appropriate “boyfriend” behaviors differs from mine? if i think cheating is ok, it doesn’t really matter if i’m your “boyfriend,” “hookup partner,” or whatever. i’m still going to cheat. to me, it seems a lot more reasonable to have a conversation where you actually talk about desires and expectations for yourself and your… your… whatever he is. this takes the ambiguity out of the equation. it also sets a good precedent for frank, not beating-around-the-bush communication. if you can keep this up, you’ll have a good relationship (so i’ve heard).

    i think i can sense that you have a little anxiety about your relationship. while you say you have no business asking the guy whether he’s seeing other girls, is it safe to say that you have wondered? c’mon, pam… 😉 why do we have to act in such a tricky way? if you want to know if he’s seeing somebody else, but you worry that it will offend him, why not try this: “hey, i have been thinking about something and wanted to talk to you about it. i don’t want to get too deep into your business without being invited, but i’ve been wondering where you think we stand on dating other people. i don’t want to unknowingly upset you or be upset by you just because i was too cautious to bring this up.”

    who knows how he might react?! he might freak out and dump you, or he might over-commit only to regret it later. or you could impress him with your honesty, and you could live happily ever after. who knows? all you can control is whether or not you’re honest with yourself. laying your cards on the table and being straight-forward seems to me like the easiest way to do this. just my opinion. and by the way, if a girl took this straight-up approach with me, i’d be super-impressed.

    there’s no need to unnecessarily complicate situations, or is there? could it be that some people love to hate this ambiguous, dramatic relationship-defining process? why else would somebody engage in these pressurized conversations? are the drama, ambiguity, and confusion just parts of the “fun”? god, i hope not.

    • Pam said:

      Oh geez, Pete. Haha, ok, here goes:

      I don’t NOT ask from worry about offending at all. I just know I might possibly be jealous, so why ask? Jealousy is a tricky feeling – it can make you think you want something more than you actually do…always want what you can’t have, right? I’d rather just not know. I spent far too many worries in previous relationship-ish interactions worrying why I wasn’t #1, and then later it turned out I didn’t wanna be #1 anyway. It’s more about not letting myself get on a train led by duplicitous emotions…like jealousy. Being straightforward and “laying the cards” at this point is irrelevant…why stir the pot? My point was: I don’t like feeling cheap. Anyway, no more talk about this for now! 😉

      I do think relationship-defining is important at some point…just not for me right now! 😛 Just putting it all out there and seeing what those more in the know (or those actually wanting a serious relationship at the moment) think!

    • Pam said:

      And about the continuum: totally got that off the top of my head and just wrote it. Not saying it’s close to reality as is or necessarily linear. Didn’t wanna get too nerdy or analytical!

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