Love and Learn – Define the relationship! (Part 1)

Today’s Love and Learn lesson is simple: don’t behave like the girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, or husband until you actually are. The best way to know where you stand is to have a conversation about it with the other person: define the relationship! When someone is serious about a relationship they’ll want to define it clearly because they don’t want to risk losing the person, due, for example, to a misunderstanding about the exclusivity of the relationship. (Men: tell me this is true!).

Why define the relationship

I mentioned a possible motivation for a man to define the relationship but what about the woman? Speaking for myself, a few of my friends, and maybe you, I know that some women are champs at getting emotionally attached. Oftentimes, with our emotions comes a willingness to act on those emotions and do things for the ones we love are liking more and more every day. I tend to give a “potential” a chunk of my spare time. There might be nothing wrong with that (after all, spare time can be used however the owner of the time wishes), but eventually you’ll probably want to receive validation that you’ve made a worthy investment time-wise: investing a lot of time into something, only for the other person to tell you or someone else that this thing is “nothing serious” could be crushing on an emotional level!

I’m not convinced that actions speak louder than words when it comes to defining the relationship: someone can treat you the way you think a boyfriend or girlfriend should be treated, yet hesitate to call you such, and that could be a hint that something’s not quite right. But before jumping to conclusions, ask about intentions and where things are going. It might be scary to ask someone what their intentions are for the relationship but you will not scare someone who’s serious about you away (though keep in mind there’s a difference between asking where he sees things going with you after you’ve been on several dates, and asking him on the first date if he sees the two of you marrying soon!).

If you don’t have a tendency to get emotionally attached, being in a well-defined relationship is still beneficial: it helps you give the appropriate amount of your time (and maybe even money) to the relationship in comparison to other priorities in your life, and helps you set your expectations of the other person at an appropriate level.

Defining the relationship reduces games

The concept of playing games in relationships has been around forever. Some play hard to get, and some find my decision to let the guy lead a form of game-playing. Defining your relationship is freeing, because both parties have an understanding and know where things stand. Every decision made in the relationship can be compared to the type of relationship you’ve defined. For example: I believe the man should pay for dates while he’s pursuing the woman, before the relationship is defined. To me, this is one way a man shows that he’s serious about a woman, by putting his money where his intentions are. (Disclaimer: every woman should go on a date prepared to pay her own way. Do not be the type of woman who enjoys dating because you want a break from spending your own money—that’s not cool in my books!). If a man never offers to pay for my bill, I wouldn’t make a big deal of it to him, but it would impact how seriously I think he’s taking the relationship and I would ask him what his intentions are in the relationship and explain why I’m asking. There’s a chance I’d receive an explanation that makes sense to me. And of course some men have no problem spending lavishly on someone they aren’t serious about. This is why it’s important to actually discuss where things are going.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that a man who doesn’t pay the bill on the first date is going to be a terrible boyfriend or spouse, just like I’m not saying that a woman who insists on paying the bill (or at least her half) is wrong. However, this idea of the man taking the lead is one that feels right to me: I’ve observed it in good relationships around me, it’s in tune with my belief (in God) system, and it’s been confirmed to me in what I’ve been coming across in reading and listening material recently (more on that another time).

So, let’s say before you define the relationship, the guy offers to pay, and you insist on paying or splitting the bill. Depending on how he was raised, he may see this as you not being serious about the relationship and wanting to keep things casual. By simply asking her how she views their relationship, he might find out that she’s just as serious as he is about the relationship, but she’s also a multi-millionaire, so she’s happy to pay, or maybe she actually gets to eat free at that particular restaurant, so that’s why she said she’ll take the bill (hehe).

Freedom in knowing where things stand

Once the relationship is defined you’re freed from wondering if your actions will be misinterpreted. What this means for me is I can foot the bill without him thinking it’s because I only consider him a friend, since we’re already on the same page about where things are going.

Next time I’ll talk about other aspects of a relationship that a couple should define so they avoid having a messy situation on their hands later on.

What’s your philosophy on defining relationships? Do you think an undefined, “go with the flow” relationship can work out?

Missed the other entries in the Love and Learn series? Catch them here:

  1. Love and Learn – Introduction
  2. Love and Learn – God-given roles in the relationship
  3. Love and Learn – Don’t ignore signs in a relationship
  4. Love and Learn – Don’t compromise on how you want to be treated

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