I've been seeing someone for a while but we haven't DTR'd. How do I start that conversation?


Hi Anonymous,

First, for those not keeping up with all the acronyms around relationships and hookups, DTR stands for Define The Relationship.  A difficult conversation, even for those of us who have had to define many relationships!

I want you to know that there is no right or wrong time to have this conversation.  What matters is that the people involved feel good about the parameters of the relationship.  For example, if you’re sleeping with other people, do you want to have conversations about protected sex or do you want to talk about making your relationship exclusive?  Sometimes it helps to start by figuring out what we want for ourselves.  What are you looking for right now?  What do you have time for?  Have you thought about your priorities?  Your boundaries?  The more digging you do yourself, the easier it will be to determine if this relationship is a good fit for you.  

Maybe it doesn’t need to be defined because you both feel okay about that (although you might want to check that they feel the same way rather than assuming).  Maybe you want to talk about it, but nothing changes, or maybe you both decide you want to take it to the next level, or maybe you realize you’re looking for different things.  I think this last one can feel prohibitive because it feels like we put ourselves at risk by asking for more, but one of the things I think helps is being able to understand that it doesn’t have to be personal. If I want to be serious and the person I am seeing doesn’t, then this isn’t a good fit.  It’s not because I’m too needy or they’re insensitive (although those things could be true, it’s just not relevant), it’s because we want different things at this point in our lives and relationship.

We all have things we’re willing to compromise on, but knowing your limits will make compromising a lot healthier and more successful.  Maybe I really like someone but they don’t want to be exclusive with me.  I might decide to keep seeing them casually because that sounds better than not seeing them at all.  And maybe in a few weeks that is no longer working for me and I need to bow out.  Relationships are not static and you always have choices about where they go next.  Taking a deep breath and talking it out is likely going to be worth it in the long run.  At least then you know!  My recommendation is to have this conversation in person because it’s an awful lot to chat or text or snap, but also, if that’s how you and the person you’ve been seeing communicate, who am I to tell you to change that up now.  Do what feels comfortable and safe for you while respecting the other person.  There are as many right answers to this question as there are people asking it!

We’re rooting for you!



Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (OSAPR)

STUDENT answer:

Hi Anonymous,

Such a good (and common!) question. DTR’ing is hard, and even if you’ve been seeing the person for a while, the conversation itself can feel forced or awkward. It’s really challenging to open up and be vulnerable about what you want in the relationship. Especially here at Harvard, so many of us are really good at keeping our lives incredibly organized and structured, and because DTR’ing requires all parties to be factored into the conversation, there’s a definite risk that the result won’t be exactly what you were planning or hoping for. And that loss of control can be tough.

On a small campus, there’s also always the reality that you will probably run into the person in the future (especially if you have the same friend group or live in the same house or are part of the same communities on campus). I totally get that you don’t want to make these encounters awkward or risk changing the dynamic of something that may seem like it’s going really well.

But I promise that long-term it’s better to make sure that the two of you are on the same page about the relationship. A lot of hurt and possible confusion can be avoided if you are clear about what your wants and needs are. As Alicia suggested, I’d recommend having this conversation in person. Chances are (especially if you’ve been seeing each other for a while) that they are also wondering about the terms and status of the relationship and that they’ll be thankful you brought it up.

Before you go into the conversation decide for yourself what you’re looking for - do you want a serious partner, a casual hook-up, a casual but exclusive hook-up? So many different types of relationships exist at Harvard and they can all be great, but it’s just important to understand what is going to be the right thing for you before the conversation itself. And then just try to be upfront and honest with the person you’re seeing. If you’re on the same page, that’s awesome! If not, then just be honest about what you’re comfortable compromising on and what you’re not - like Alicia said, it’s not about being too demanding, it’s about understanding whether or not you two are a good fit right now or not.

If DTR’ing doesn’t work out the way you wanted it too - I’m sorry! It can be really hard to feel like you’ve found this great person except that you want different things in a relationship. Just remember that things can change with time and that for now, there are definitely people out there looking for the same things you are!

Good luck!