September 24, 2019

How To Define The Relationship You Want

Learn how to figure out what you want and advocate for your relationship needs with these DTR pro-tips.
Written by
Anna Laird-Barto
Published on
September 24, 2019
Updated on
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No matter what kind of relationship you’re looking for, it’s important to be upfront about your needs, desires, and expectations. If you want to go to Paris, you’re not going to board a plane for Tokyo, right? Before you invest precious time and emotional energy in a relationship, make sure that you and your partner are looking for the same things. Whether it’s a one night stand, a casual fling, a long-term monogamous partnership, or something else entirely, you have the right to ask for what you need and want. Otherwise, you might be halfway to Tokyo before you realize you’re on the wrong plane.

Whether it’s a one night stand, a casual fling, a long-term monogamous partnership, or something else entirely, you have the right to ask for what you need and want.

Figure Out The Kind Of Relationship You Want

The first person you need to be honest with is yourself. How much time do you have to dedicate to a relationship? How much emotional energy are you willing or able to invest? What is more important to you right now: physical, emotional, or intellectual connection? How do you feel about dating multiple partners? Listen to yourself.

Try not to worry about what others—friends, family, society—expect. Our culture is full of subtle and not-so-subtle messages about what relationships should be, and what we should want. This can can make it hard to get in touch with your own true desires—but it’s totally worth it!

Once you are clear on what kind of relationship you want, you can communicate this to your partner or potential partner.

Never Assume What Other People Want In A Relationship

Some dating apps allow you to define what you’re looking for upfront, or at least check a box. This is a useful screening tool, but it’s no substitute for direct communication. Not everyone reads the fine print before swiping right! So instead of assuming that someone is looking for exactly the kind of dating arrangement you are, ask them! This is especially true if your potential partner does not disclose what they’re looking for in their profile.

Not everyone reads the fine print before swiping right! Don’t assume, ask!

If you’ve been chatting with someone on a dating app, it’s totally legit to ask for clarification before meeting offline. Depending on your situation, you may not want to spend the time sorting it out in person. Clarifying expectations beforehand can also take some of the pressure off that first meeting, so you can get down to the fun part—discovering if there’s a spark!

Or, maybe you’ve already met someone. Maybe you’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks or a few months. Things are going really well. You enjoy your time together, you might even get butterflies in your stomach when you see them. You can’t help fantasizing about a future together... New relationship energy can be intoxicating. Enjoy it, but if you want these dreams to come true, you need to get real with your partner sooner rather than later.

Don’t Wait For The Perfect Moment To Talk

There is no perfect moment to broach the subject. If you wait for the “right” time you may put off the conversation forever. Remember that it’s okay if the conversation is awkward. It’s also okay to be nervous—that just means this is important to you. And it can definitely feel scary to ask for what you need, especially if you haven’t done so in the past. However, being vulnerable now will actually protect you from future pain and disappointment.

When you do talk, make sure to use “I”statements, i.e., “I want to have multiple partners,” instead of, “You can’t satisfy all of my relationship needs.”

It’s okay if the conversation is awkward. It’s okay to be nervous, that just means this is important to you.

And remember that the label you place on a relationship isn’t as important as agreeing on mutual language for communicating your needs and desires. For one person “dating” might mean hanging out once or twice a week indefinitely, and for another it might mean the first step toward marriage. Defining terms lets you know where you stand in the relationship right now, and what to ask for going forward.

Use Common Sense

Have the conversation in a place where you feel safe. Use common sense. For example, make sure you have a way to get home and aren’t relying on your partner for a ride. Have a trusted friend or confidant on call to debrief afterward. They can also help hold you accountable for broaching the topic in the first place!

Finally, remember that even if the outcome is not what you hoped for, by voicing your needs and desires you’ve taken a giant step toward advocating for yourself and getting the relationship you want—whether it’s this one or the next one.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Anna Laird Barto is a writer and human services professional based in western Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in online in The Establishment, Entropy, What We Seee and elsewhere. Visit her at and @annalairdbarto

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