When to DTR & Early-Stage Gifts
January 21, 2009 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Horrors-of-Dating-Filter: Defining the relationship: How soon is too soon? And what about early-relationship-stage gifts for birthday and Valentines?

I'm new to "dating." Which isn't to say I haven't had some pretty good previous relationships. The difference is that they just happened--a a quick and (relatively) smooth transition from acquaintance to official boyfriend/girlfriend status--while I haven't really known this girl much before we went out for the first time last week. The dinner went very well, I think.

We're set to get together again this weekend. Assuming it goes well and the pattern holds, how long should I wait before having the define-the-relationship conversation? Certainly two dates is too soon, but I hate not knowing where I stand with people, so I want to plan ahead. I was thinking that if everything is going smoothly by Valentines, then I would use the holiday as an excuse to bring it up. Make sense?

And then there's the question of GIFTS. Her birthday is next week--thank you, Facebook--so I thought I would get her something relatively small and nonthreatening like a book. (We spent a lot of time discussing books on our date.) If things continue through to Valentines, and I continue the strategy of having the DTR around then, I want to get something more romantic. But what?
posted by adjockey to Human Relations (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A book sounds like a perfect birthday gift for a date or a friend. It's thoughtful, but is the kind of gift that isn't at all just boyfriend territory.

If things keep going well, you may not have to have that conversation, it may just work itself out.

On Valentine's, you could always get her something typically Valentine's Dayish, like flowers or candy. These are good because they establish that you're her date for the holiday, but it's not a serious relationship-type gift.
posted by fructose at 6:48 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you have a good hold on the situation. Book is a great idea.

Is cooking for her on Valentine's Day an option?
posted by namesarehard at 6:59 AM on January 21, 2009

For valentine's, set up an un-date. Specifically say that at this point a few weeks out, you don't want to pressure her into committing to a *date* on valentine's, just doing something. As it gets closer, then suss out whether it's a date or not. It can be an ongoing inside joke, if you play it right.
posted by notsnot at 7:02 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems like you're overthinking this: you've been on one date and planned another. Plenty of relationships fall apart in these early stages, so you shouldn't get yourself worked up too much.

That said:

then I would use the holiday as an excuse to bring it up. Make sense?

It really depends on how many dates and how close you've gotten at that point. You have to play it by ear, unfortunately.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:03 AM on January 21, 2009

Re: cooking, I can make about three things well enough to serve her. I think that's a good idea.
posted by adjockey at 7:04 AM on January 21, 2009

For what it's worth, I did exactly what fructose describes last year. The first date was on Feb. 2, the second on Feb. 9, and the third on Feb. 16; her birthday is Feb. 6. I gave her a book for her birthday on her second date, and a small box of Vosges chocolates on the third. Both were a little belated, of course, but that's no big deal. We're still dating now, so make of that what you will.

As far as having The Talk goes, I'd wait until after Valentine's. My personal feeling is that less than a month is too soon, and waiting until weekend #4 or #5 gives you more time to suss out what her feelings are on exclusivity.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:04 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Empty photo frames work well here. There's the hopeful implication that there could be pictures of both of you some day, but even if the relationship doesn't work out, it's still a useful, not-too-personal gift.
posted by acorncup at 7:04 AM on January 21, 2009

Define the relationship? You barely know her. You've had 1 date and neither of you is ready for that discussion.

Give it a few weeks or months and decide if this is a relationship worth defining.
posted by 26.2 at 7:07 AM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

how long should I wait before having the define-the-relationship conversation? Certainly two dates is too soon, but I hate not knowing where I stand with people, so I want to plan ahead.

This sounds like it's more about you than about a dating norm. Are you sure it's necessary?

DTR scares some people off. I know that it can be frustrating to not know concretely where you stand, complete with verbal, positive confirmation from the other person... but are you willing to risk running this girl off, if she's one of those that gets uncomfortable at being asked to pin down the elusive?

Let me role-play from your new friend's shoes for a moment:

"First and second dates were excellent. Looking forward to continuing to hang out with adjockey . It would be cool if something is there, but since we don't really know each other yet, it could be weeks/months before I can tell. Ooh! It would be lovely to have a proper date on Valentines Day...

"Wait... what? What is my 'title in your life'? What is our 'official status'? Less than one month knowing each other and he's going there? I've had milk in the refrigerator longer than this. Yikes... this guy might be too serious/intense/fast for me."

I'm not your friend, of course, but barring any additional information about what kind of person she is and how she would react, all I can offer is an anecdotal data point that that's how *I* would react, and it's not far off from the reaction that would be had by most women I know (at least when we were all in our 20's. I have no idea how old y'all are. Now in our 30's, my single girlfriends are more tolerant of men who like to be blunt about their intentions and hopes.).

The one situation where I think anyone is allowed (encouraged) to ask DTR-style questions right up front is once sex gets into the picture. It is understood that sex brings health risks and emotional complications, and therefore there's nothing at all wrong with saying, "Since it's looking like we're not far from going down that road, I'd like to talk about sex. What are your prophylactic/contraceptive preferences? And, I think it's important for sexual partners to be exclusive... where do you stand on that?" etc. You might find yourself in a DTR at that point anyway, because it's a natural progression from there.

But if you're not just about to jump in the sack with her, I feel like you two have not been in each other's company nearly long enough for you to ask her to start setting boundaries. And, no matter how you frame the conversation, even if you aren't explicitly asking her to set boundaries, the fact remains that looking to define the relationship with someone you've only know a couple of weeks is going to feel like boundary-setting. In other words, "too soon" is now.

Now, the obvious flip side: if you are a person that needs those boundaries right away, no matter what, then ask her whenever you feel comfortable with it. But you'll have to acknowledge that you risk running her off, if she's not the type to rush into things.

Also, I like the idea of the book. For Valentine's, if you're still together, I think you should have flowers delivered to her place of work or home. It's a romantic gesture that happens far too rarely these days, and most women are delighted by it. Bonus: it can't be "too much" because ultimately it's "just flowers," not jewelry or something else major. The size of the bouquet would depend on the status of the relationship at that point.

Sliding away from topic, onto a question you didn't really ask, if you don't mind terribly: it sounds like your need for early confirmation and definition might be rooted in your past experiences, where you had that data conveniently early. But, having those clear concrete answers so early on is actually quite unusual... most dating is a whole lot more of not knowing, and trying to read the other person while also monitoring your own feelings toward her, and watching the interaction evolve to the point where you both want nothing more than to have that conversation, either way. It's part of the terrible, wild wonder of the whole process. You might consider just enjoying the ride... even if it means moving away from your preferred level of data. It can certainly be scary (see: every other AskMe viz. "is he/she the one? How do I know?"), but might ultimately be necessary.
posted by pineapple at 7:13 AM on January 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

I know exactly where you're coming from. I had a two-year run of "relationships" that lasted less than a month. It really sucked - like you, I had just sort of fallen into relationships previous to that, and they had all lasted for very extended periods of time. So, for each of these one-month stints I got too eager and excited too quickly, which was probably part of the demise of each one.

I think the best advice right now is to Take a Deep Breath. Calm down, and realize you're nowhere near relationship status just yet. Take the first month (at least) as a casual, getting-to-know-you friends-with-benefits sort of deal. Go on dates, make out, have sex if you're both inclined, and work towards making her feel comfortable with you. After that has happened, decide if you want to see if she's interested in getting more serious.

As for the gifts, I think you're spot on. One caveat, though - I might be a little weirded out if someone gave me a birthday present without me telling them that my birthday is coming up. If you just looked her up on facebook without being one of her contacts, I'd be wary.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:21 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Two dates is way too early to start worrying about where you stand. I've good on two excellent dates with girls, and then things only got worse. Or I never saw them again (sometimes my choice, sometimes not).

Since you say you're new to "dating", but that your past relationships evolved as a "smooth transition from acquaintance to official boyfriend/girlfriend status", let me suggest that dating is not much different at all. You go on a few dates, and then more frequently, and then you start planning weekends together, and then suddenly you are in a relationship.

A define-the-relationship conversation (DTR) seems like a weird idea. I had to google it to see if this was a common term. I guess it is, but it's for when one person is confused about the relationship. If there's no confusion, then I would say don't bother. If you are going on dates, talking openly, getting more physically intimate (whatever that means for you two), then just go with it. Making plans for Valentine's Day is a clear indicator of your progressing status.

Taking her out -or cooking- dinner is a good plan, along with getting her flowers. Find our if she even likes roses. They are a little cliche on that day, and if you find her favorite flowers instead, that would be better.
posted by yeti at 7:24 AM on January 21, 2009

Two dates is way, way too soon for a State Of The Union conversation. Two MONTHS may even be too soon.

When it comes to early-stage gifts, though -- some really good advice I saw once was to give the "gift" of a date. Whatever your usual speed of doing something may be -- say you usually go see a movie and have a low-key dinner -- just upgrade it a little, say to a live play and then a bit better dinner. Experiences are also gifts, after all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 AM on January 21, 2009

I'm going to be the voice of dissent here. My boyfriend had the DTR within about two weeks, definitely sooner than one month. We didn't have to face any significant gift-giving holidays or birthdays for more than six months, but we did establish exclusivity very early on. It might not have been "right" or "smart" in terms of how long you're "supposed" to wait, but it felt right for us and we are still going strong nine months later.

Pay attention to the cues she's giving you and if they're open and receptive, bring this talk up as soon as you feel it's right. Don't wait one or two months just because someone on the internet told you to.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

A book is a great gift for her birthday... and you know what? Why not add one beautiful flower to that, to keep it a little sweet and romantic, too?

As for The Question... my advice would be to sort of hang loose a bit, and see how it goes. If you are her date for Valentine's day, well, that is significant right there. You'll already know a little something about the status of the relationship just by that. And then (maybe on that date, but maybe later), well, I certainly can't speak for all women, but a whole bunch of us would definitely be leaving convenient little conversational openings for the kind of question you want to ask if we were also very into it. For example, if she says something like, "I can't believe we've only known each other for X-TIME, I feel so close to you" or somesuch... that's probably an opportunity to enter into a conversation that may end up defining the relationship. On the other hand, if she says something like, "Oh, wow! It's so nice to be with someone fun, and just be relaxed... I'm enjoying this so much!" - those words would (to me!) be somewhat coded language for how she wants the relationship to be at that stage... fun, relaxed, enjoyable - not ready to deal with a serious question like that just yet!

But don't tie yourself in knots trying to decipher hidden clues. You've already been successful in reading romantic intentions, just under different circumstances. If you find yourself uncertain, no need to rush ahead. Take your time and enjoy the now. If you are both on the same page, there is no chance that the moment won't come when the opportunity to clarify your mutual feelings doesn't present itself, big and bold.

but also agreeing with peanut_mcgillicuty; sometimes things are just clear and compelling from both sides... in which case going through some artificial wait-period is silly.
posted by taz at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

So Valentine's Day is four weeks after your first date? Yeah, that sounds like a fine time to have the "what are we?" talk. It may freak some people out, but some people get freaked out by split infinitives or cephalopods; all you can do is what feels natural to you, within the bounds of reason, and hope for the best. A month of dating is definitely within the bounds of reason.

To take any potential pressure off her, I would suggest you start that conversation (whenever you do decide to do it) by telling her what you want the relationship and asking for her feedback on it, rather than asking her what she wants in a more open-ended way; the latter approach can leave her in a hard-to-navigate place where she's simultaneously trying to gauge how she feels while she gauges how she thinks you might be feeling and how hurt you might be in the event that the two of you want something different. Just lay your cards on the table and hope for the best.

If I were in your shoes, I would NOT have the conversation on Valentine's Day though -- maybe a few days after, if everything's still peachy around that time. There's already so much artificial pressure to be romantic on that one day, there's no need to add to it.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:31 AM on January 21, 2009

Totally, totally agreed with peanut_mcgillicuty in dissent. Internet strangers can give you a nice, general survey of what a subset of the population thinks, but they're no replacement for the cues from her.

I'd also suggest that if you suddenly find yourself wanting the DTR badly, ask yourself why -- is it because you want to be in a relationship with her? Is it because you need to know how to much to continue to invest? Or because you worry that she isn't as into it as you are?
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:31 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

All of the responses have been very helpful. It's a little bracing to see my own (slightly?) pathological desire for absolute clarity so readily perceived by others. I will work to keep it in check while things develop, while looking for the sort of cues the dissenters bring up.

Good gift ideas, too! Thanks.
posted by adjockey at 9:56 AM on January 21, 2009

Oh man, I wish I knew more guys like you who want to know where they stand. I'm always the one overthinking these things and worrying about when it would be OK to bring up that conversation.

I'd wait a little longer - if you both like each other you'll naturally end up talking every day and hanging out more often until you might not even need a conversation about it!
But in the meantime, a book for the birthday is a great gift, and planning a nicer-than-average date for Vday sounds like the right thing to do. Good luck!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:46 AM on January 21, 2009

Oh man, I wish I knew more guys like you who want to know where they stand. I'm always the one overthinking these things and worrying about when it would be OK to bring up that conversation.

Seconded. Your girl is only lucky lady, adjockey. And fwiw, I think you should be with someone who appreciates said clarity, and isn't scared off by it.
posted by smallstatic at 11:00 AM on January 21, 2009

Getting clarity is a great thing, but I agree with many others above here...trying to DTR this early is a bad idea, and it's especially awkward on V-Day. If you ask her out for V-Day, it signifies that you hold the budding relationship in a certain regard, and that's saying enough. You really don't need to DTR unless there's a significant reason, and that's unlikely this early. It sounds like you've had some success with relationships that grow organically...do the same here and don't overthink things.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:03 AM on January 21, 2009

I probably should have mentioned in the opening post that we are in our twenties, but that hasn't affected the quality of the responses, as far as I can tell.

Oh, and thanks for the encouragement, KateHasQuestions and smallstatic. Glad I'm not the only obstinate fretter in the bunch.
posted by adjockey at 11:08 AM on January 21, 2009

I think the only DTR conversation I had with the Spousal Unit was, "Will you marry me?" Made things clear as crystal at that point.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:34 AM on January 21, 2009

I too have the compulsion to have this conversation in a relationship. Otherwise doubts and questions and incorrect inferences torture me at night.

Anyway, if you want a nice present that's romantic (but not-too), try the PostSecret books. At first glance they're a nice present for a friend -- they're very attractive and hefty -- but once your girl starts reading one, she will understand that this is a very thoughtful, heartfelt gift of human emotion.
posted by crickets at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2009

She may hate Valentine's Day.

Five years ago, I started dating Mr. M. at the end of December, and when February rolled around, I made a point of saying, "You know, unless VD is a particularly significant holiday to you and you particularly enjoy it, I honestly do not and you should not feel pressure to do anything. No, this is not a trick question."

There was a huge sigh of relief.

So please don't put a ton of emphasis on VD unless you know for sure she will feel okay with that.

The best gift would be the one you didn't think about. If you just turned up with a book out of the blue, it would probably freak me out. But if you see something somewhere that reminds you of her, then, well, get it, and present it to her with that preface. That is sweet and romantic and GENUINE. You're new to this, genuine is important. Even if you cut an article out of the New Yorker because it reminded you of something you discussed on a previous date, it's a sweet and considerate gesture.

Hope this helps.
posted by micawber at 12:57 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as valentine's goes, you seem like you're being extraordinarily reasonable, but let me throw in the always-useful advice to avoid stereotype behavior on the holiday. I mean the whole flowers-chocolates-teddy-bear-[insert other typical commercial gift] thing. Now, this girl might be one of those girls that loves getting these sorts of media-pushed tokens of affection, but she very well could not, and if so, there's nothing worse than having a guy give you a thoughtless gift on valentine's because that's what "he should do" or because it's what "all girls want". Honestly, it's completely thoughtless to get a girl flowers or candies for VD, it means you've not thought at all about what she wants and just gone with what hallmark says she should want.

For starters, don't get her flowers unless you know she's a flowers kind of girl (and don't listen to those jackasses that invariably state that you should never believe a girl that says she doesn't want flowers). I for one hate flowers (why do we give each other the severed sex organs of plants as a sign of love? And why do guys always try and use them as an easy out and get all pissy when I say I don't like them, or refuse to listen and buy them anyways?) and have reconsidered my opinions of dating partners when given them anyways. Plus, she could be allergic. Of course, she could love them, too, but make sure you find out and listen. And if you do go with flowers, try and be a little unique, aka, lilies over roses or something. And for god's sake don't have them sent to where she works. Romance is supposed to be about your paramour, not about making a public spectacle. Do you really want one of those girls that just loves to show off what boys get her?

The same measure applies to chocolates. You don't know about allergies, preferences, if she's trying to reduce sugar intake, or anything yet. My boy buys me chocolates, and by chocolates I mean M&Ms, because he's learned that I love those more than anything. But those boxes they always have on VD are full of things I don't like (caramel, white chocolate, cherries) and am even somewhat allergic to (peanuts). Sometimes the cheap, thoughtful option is the better one.

However, trying to do something on Valentine's is a good gesture to make your interest clear, and if you do do something, make it sweet (and not what hallmark says is "sweet") and tailored to her interests. It seems like you've got some good ideas here for how to treat her, and that's good. Plus, at the end of the date you can plan some sort of opportunity to talk, maybe taking a nice walk somewhere nice locally depending on weather (and what kind of shoes she's wearing), and then just let the conversation go where it might ("I've been having a great time with you, and I'd like to be your boyfriend*, if that's alright"), depending on how things go over the next few dates.

*You can even ask to make it "Facebook official".**

**You may not want to actually ask this, depending on maturity level. It's how I made my relationship official and exclusive, but it was also clear I was being somewhat ironic and joking, even though the sentiment stood.***

***People do really do this though.****

****Not even joking.

posted by internet!Hannah at 8:48 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

[comments removed - don't do that here. "help in finding an answer" does not equal "belligerent responses to other answers" presume good faith, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:58 PM on January 22, 2009

Yes, different girls like different things. I, for example, like flowers, but prefer to have them sent to my office because I'm never home to receive packages, and because I work 10-12 hours a day so I'd never get to enjoy them if they were at my apartment. You should do your best to figure out what she would like, and do that. And if you screw up and get something that isn't her first preference, that's okay too. If she's the right girl for you, she'll understand that you were trying to show affection and will not be pissed that it didn't come in the exact package she might have picked out in her wildest dreams.

You don't need to have a formal conversation to define your relationship. But it wouldn't be out of the question after a month or so to say something like (assuming this is true), "So, I'm not seeing anyone else. How about you?" Then, let things flow naturally from there.
posted by decathecting at 1:07 PM on January 22, 2009

My point was that some girls like different things (*gasp*) for different reasons (and I gave my own as an illustration), and that he should find out what that girl in particular likes, before going with the cliche.

As much as we're trying to avoid clich├ęs here, sometimes it is in fact the thought that counts; giving someone a gift is rarely a "pointless, superficial gesture". There's something to be said for the act of giving a gift in and of itself, regardless of whether or not it's perfectly tailored to your paramour's particular tastes. In the early stages of a relationship, when you're both getting a feel for each other, there needs to be some acceptance of the fact that both parties are going to do things that the other doesn't necessarily care for. What's important is that these actions be well-intentioned rather than self-centred or oblivious, and that mistakes are quickly learned from.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:09 PM on January 22, 2009

I think internet!Hannah is spot-on about the "severed sex organs of plants" thing. I've had relationships that seemed built on flowers, but my longest-term girlfriend actually used that exact phrase to discourage me from giving her roses again.
posted by adjockey at 1:26 PM on January 22, 2009

« Older Mechanical sculptures in mount prospect   |   How can I use my audio editing skills? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.