THE BLOG

How to DTR (Define-The-Relationship)

12/21/2012 06:35 pm ET | Updated Feb 20, 2013
Alamy

Defining the Relationship is an often excruciating prospect, especially for unsettled and noncommittal college students. When involved in any fling that lasts longer than a one night stand, there is pressure from social circles and from oneself to clearly define whatever is going on with various intimate partners.

After recently ending a perpetual open relationship, I started dating some wonderful new people. I genuinely like all of my partners and would like to spend more time with them in the future. However, I don't want to be in an exclusive, monogamous relationship with one person right now. After clearly expressing this sentiment to all of my partners, I've been having a lot of great, honest conversations. Openly communicating my relationship preferences allows me to set boundaries effectively and better understand exactly how I want my relationships to be.

It's important for non-exclusive partners to have dialogue about their respective relationship preferences. Heartbreak comes from a discrepancy in intentions and expectations. So when partners don't DTR, it can be destructive for their relationship when one partner discovers the other is sleeping with a third party.

It's hard to tell someone you like that you aren't monogamous, especially if it's someone you want to keep seeing. I don't want my partners to think that I don't take my relationships seriously or that I'm not willing to commit over a period of time.

I asked a good friend of mine who is a polyamorous relationship guru about the process of telling new potential partners that she isn't monogamous. She told me that during the first conversation of the first date she clearly explains what partners can expect from her: how much time she has available, how she practices her relationships and her commitment to seeing other people.

Be upfront with new partners about what boundaries and dynamics you desire, as well as those you are comfortable with. Don't assume that partners can't handle the truth, and don't let the fact that they might not like it keep you from being honest with yourself. New partners should know what they are getting into so that they can make decisions that work best for them -- even if it means your relationship with a particular person won't work out. Clarify how you feel about each other and what each person wants from the relationship.

My partners and I do our best to communicate entirely. With regard to relationships we talk about what we like, what we don't like, what we are looking for and how much time we want or don't want to commit. It takes courage to be honest about my need for space, the number of other people I'm seeing and the fact that I like all of my partners a lot. The upside to all of this nervous conversation is that I can be more open and affectionate with my partners since I don't have to worry about them misinterpreting my intentions.

Another eye-opening insight my polyamorous friend gave me is that there are different degrees of relationships. The monogamy paradigm makes it seem like people can only either be together or not at all. This makes many partners who aren't anointed as someone's official girlfriend/boyfriend/partner feel invalidated and unwanted. We've all been involved in an indefinite fling, one that can't be labeled an "official relationship" because of differences in commitment--situations that made you think 'if only this person liked me a little more, maybe it could culminate in a genuine relationship.'

It's not always the case that someone doesn't want an exclusive relationship because they don't like a partner enough. It might be that a person doesn't want to commit to any expectations he or she can't fulfill, or that a monogamous relationship isn't conducive to one's lifestyle at the moment. It's okay for people to be in various emotional places which only allow them to be comfortable with a certain degree of commitment.

Just because two people aren't in a relationship in the prevailing monogamous way, doesn't mean their relationship isn't valid or special. There are different ways in which people can "be together" such as romantic friendships, purely sexual relationships, nonsexual romantic relationships and more.

No matter what the situation is, it's important to validate all individuals you are involved with emotionally and/or sexually, and appreciate them for being open in that way to you. Take the time to acknowledge that you have a relationship with each of the people with whom you are intimate -- even if it's not exclusive -- and do some brutally honest DTR-ing.

Whether or not it's what your partner wants to hear, you'll feel good about expressing your true thoughts and feelings. Because it's not only about validating your partners. It's also about validating your own emotions, where you are in your life and the relationship you want that will make you happiest in the moment.