Which Comes First – the Relationship or the “Relationship”?

Monday, Feb. 14th 2011 10:50 PM

Years ago, a young lady I had been dating for several months asked me if we were “in a relationship.” I understood her meaning. This is, after all, a question that people involved in new romances are usually called upon to answer. But I still found the question confusing. Of course we were in a relationship. We spent a significant amount of our time together and both seemed to enjoy doing so. We were in a relationship by virtue of what we were doing, not what we were calling it. Relationships exist before we proclaim them as such, or even if we choose not to label them at all, simply because two people choose to associate with and relate to one another.

But when it comes to romantic involvements, most people feel the need discuss and define at some point. One partner or the other will eventually ask if the relationship has (or will) become a Relationship. Apparently, discussing and defining gives it validity and/or clarifies that both parties are on the same page.

But what if a couple skipped the DTR (define the relationship) conversation? What if the two parties simply continued to enjoy the relationship they were already engaged in – without putting any labels on it? Would the relationship be any less of a Relationship? I don’t think so.

I am not saying that you should not have your DTR conversation. I am simply asking that you consider this: What’s the point? How will your relationship change, or how are you hoping it will change, when you call it a Relationship?

Most people have this conversation because they expect things to change. When we label and formalize our relationships, we typically impose all sorts of new rules and expectations on each other so that we can feel safe and secure in our partnerships. In fact, that comfort and certainty appears to be the primary reason we participate in this ritual.

But this comfort and stability is a façade, and trying to ensure it by cementing a Relationship with another person is a farce. Based on the statistics around the rate of divorce and “infidelity,” and the simple fact that change is the only constant in this life, it would be difficult to argue that any happy, lasting Relationship can ever be guaranteed, no matter what label you put on it.

So, what is the point? All things being equal, would you enjoy your partner any less if you were to never have that conversation? Is it more fun if you have something to call it? In fact, the reason two people have a DTR conversation is because they have a relationship that they are, at least to some to degree, enjoying. But consider your motives before you bring it up. When you label something, you change it. If you feel the need to change what you already have by defining it (and, presumably, attaching obligations and restrictions), what does that say about the connection between the two of you? If your current relationship isn’t good enough, is it really worth defining?

Instead of labeling your relationship, or worrying about what its definition will be in five, 10 or 20 years, focus on what it is right now. Enjoy each other in this moment. You might find that you already have what you are working for. And you don’t have to call it anything.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love


…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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9 Comments on “Which Comes First – the Relationship or the “Relationship”?”

  1. LaJaniese Says:

    Thank you for this post. I so agree with you. I had this experience in college. I was dating this guy and we had not defined the nature of our relationship. We simply enjoyed each other’s company and both knew what was up. The push to define it was more external because the notion that two people can simply be present to the moment seemed unrealistic. We are still friends to this day and still have our mutual understanding of what our relationship is.

  2. Peg Says:

    Absolutely the Relationship! I am sure that is the way it is supposed to go. I think it is understanding what Relationship really means and then folks could recognize it when they enter one….great question! Blessings

  3. Edward M. Bryan Says:

    Like marriages all client /coach relationships I think differ. I don’t think there is a simple formula for creating an excellent relationship. Learning and adapting to the styles is important. Professional caution and experience play a big part.

  4. Cindy Loughran Says:

    I just had lunch with a friend and she shared a story with me about her relationship with her mother’s sister’s orphan who came to live with them when both were children. So, they are cousins but grew up as sisters. As adults, they sat down to try to figure out how to refer to each other. They began by defining who they wanted to be to each other in their lives and then, having done that, put a label on it. They decided they were sisters. So, I think you can have and be in and appreciate a relationship and name the Relationship without having it alter it. No matter what, a relationship requires work. The question, for me is, no matter what we call it, are we willing to work at making it the best it can be.

  5. Tweets that mention Which Comes First – the Relationship or the “Relationship”? | Frank Love -- Topsy.com Says:

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  6. HeatherStar Says:

    Even though I completely understand what you are saying, I have to disagree. When you’re in the “first met” part of a relationship…it’s just what you explained and it doesn’t and shouldn’t be defined. However, when time is spent and you are learning each other and want more from each other the DTR must take place. FrankLove, you said it in one of your other letters that we must know what the other wants and be ready to deal with that whether they want what we want or not. But if don’t have the DTR conversation how would we hold one or the other accountable? We will just go with the flow and when he/she steps out of the “good” flow of things one can always say “I never said we were in a Relationship” and the other is left having to own the truth about that statement; now saying “we should have discussed this….had the DTR discussion”. So if you don’t want anything, don’t say anything, but if you do hold them accountable…DTR!!

  7. Lynn Says:

    I think whether to define a “relationship” or not is based solely on the motives and goals of each person. If a young lady…or man for that matter, is interested in one day getting married and having children then the DTR conversation is a must. There is no other way to find out what a person’s intentions are if that conversation does not take place. Now if you are like me, and have no interest in getting married, then such a conversation is not as important.

  8. Dana Says:

    It would help to hear your clarification between ‘DTR’ and having clear communication in the relationship. It seems to me that such ‘DTR’ conversations are a product of one or more parties being in need of some communication…. All of that being said, ‘DTR’ conversations are typically the product of someone feeling insecure in the relationship, like you indicated, and that definition gives them security, although it may be a false sense of it. 🙂

  9. It’s Not Your Relationship; It’s Not Your Business – Or Is It? | Frank Love on Relationships Says:

    […] are defined by the people in it; therefore, no two relationships look the same.  So, why are labels even […]

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