The Labels Talk
At some point in a relationship, we reach a point where we want to commit exclusively. In the partner selection stages, we want to learn about this person and clarify where they fit in our lives. A question I frequently encounter is “when should we talk about where the relationship is heading?”
I find that people often get the idea that asking for a label can show insecurity, so they ask less directly “What am I to you?”. However, this may not be the best phrase, but there certainly is a time and place for having this conversation. If you are early in the relationship, it is more mysterious and attractive to the other person to remain uncertain about feelings. They can learn what your values, interests, boundaries, and expectations are, yet be unsure of your romantic intentions – at least for a while. So, don’t seek that label or ask clarifying relationship questions too early. Continue to show your best life outside of this relationship.
Criteria to Meet Before Asking "What Are We?"
- You should feel like a couple and have at least three months, closer to 6 months together.
- A lot of consistent quality time is happening, and you’re having fun: Quality time allows you to learn about the person. It’s not just one party after another.
- The invitations and communications are reciprocated and initiated equally: This includes both in volume, quantity, and quality. You don’t need to ask, “What are we” if the relationship is one-sided. You need to lean back and begin taking steps to fill the coming void.
- This person is trustworthy and authentic: Their actions must match their words. If you need clarification, lean back and objectively look at who this person is. (Yes, I know you like this person and are invested. Lean back before you invest even more time.)
- This person offers a future you can see yourself in: Lifestyle, values, and stability play the foundational role of fitting together.
3 Steps to Having the Labels Talk
If you feel it’s time to gain some clarity on your romantic status, the first step is knowing what you want and why you want it. Is it because you think it’s time or because you want more? Is it because you believe your romantic interest isn’t as committed as you are? Is it because it’s lacking something you can’t ask for because you don’t have answers? Or Is your insecurity a primary cause of wanting to have this conversation? In this case, ask yourself what part of this relationship makes you feel insecure. Take an oversized look. Check out your motives before moving to this conversation.
I hate to see people spending time in a relationship that is mediocre at best. If you are confused or forced to tolerate difficult values or behavior, the relationship will end badly at some point out of frustration from one, or both sides. Having a conversation to make clear what the future of the relationship is, will always be beneficial and potentially save future heartache. I always recommend starting with a value statement like:
- I value commitment.
- I value clarity.
- I love growing relationships.
The second step is telling them. Let them know how you’d like to clarify your relationship, how this plays into your values, commitment, clarity, or other growing relationships.
The Third and final step is letting them talk. Listen non-judgmentally and take their feelings seriously. Oftentimes we can get caught up in trying to figure out what we’re going to say next, but here it’s important to fully understand their point of view, so just sit back and listen.
What If We Disagree?
Labels are inherently neutral, neither good nor bad. If someone is unwilling to put a label on a relationship and you need a label, your relationship is asymmetrical. This is to say that if your partner wants to keep it casual and you want to be exclusive and committed, you need to be aligned. And the conversation will either help your partner align with you, or it won’t. Lacking alignment means you need to reevaluate. You are better off saying, I value this, and we won’t work, than believing you can wait for that person to change their mind or finally see it your way.
I see how appearing insecure can be frightening in a relationship you value. So to avoid this, the conversation depends on how you present the question to your partner. Choose your timing and words carefully, you must be mentally and emotionally willing to walk away if they do not align with you. If you can walk away, there is nothing more confident than that. Staying in a relationship that does not suit you is insecure.