The other day, my friend was texting me asking for relationship advice. At one point, I said "These would all be great things to talk to him about. Do people still have DTR talks?"
I said this half-joking, because I had completely forgotten about DTR talks.
Naturally, she asked, "What's DTR?"
Define the Relationship. They were a big deal amongst woke-ass college students when Andrew and I started dating 🤣 Legitimately helpful though. Basically a boundaries and expectations discussion.
Later, I asked Andrew if he remembered "DTR Talks." He immediately rolled his eyes and gave an exhausted nod.
"Do you remember them being taken way too seriously?" I asked
"YES," he said.
Anyways, then my friend asked me how to have a DTR talk, which I found to be a funny question because of said history. At my uber-Christian university, they often stopped and started by disclosing sexual history and "boundaries" (hard 🍆 airquotes around that one).
Andrew and I didn't do it that way. He and I were both coming into our relationship from some pretty terrible situations so we approached our DTR conversations like this: “Here’s all our shit. You wanna deal with this? Cool."
After I got over how funny it was to me that I was suddenly remembering what 19 year old me did (and how the fuck did I know how to do this as a 19 y/o anyway??) I was able to give myself and us some credit. I think these conversations are a huge part of why Andrew and I are still together. They remain very grounding for me still today. In all seriousness, here's how I would define a DTR talk:
Interpersonal informed consent A discussion of, “Here’s what you’re getting into with me.”
After I explained how we did DTR talks, she told me I should teach a class on it. I don't want to do that, so instead I'm writing this article. Here we go!
How to Have the Conversation
“I would like to have a DTR conversation” (create the container or plan for it).
Questions to discuss
Ask how each of you would define exclusivity. What behaviors does that include/prohibit. Any gray areas?
What is your intention for being in a relationship? Not necessarily THIS relationship, but just why are you seeking relationship. Do your intentions/goals align? How do you want to handle mis-alignments?
Boundaries around plan making, communication (if you’re going to be unavailable, how will you communicate that?)
Create a safe word or phrase for opening dialogue when someone has been hurt or needs to have a difficult conversation
Define what qualifies as a relationship “not working.” What you will do to address that or exit the relationship if that happens
Discuss lifestyle factors that are important to have and not have (work/life balance, hobbies/together time, kids, travel, etc.)
Consider introversion/extroversion of each partner and how that impacts the way love is given and received. I think this interplays with love languages in an important way.
I don’t know if I would recommend this for everyone, but Andrew and I each disclosed our trauma history pretty early on.
Consider discussing any mental health challenges or neurodivergent characteristics or anything like that that might impact how you interact in the relationship. Discuss each person's abilities or limitations in supporting the other partner.
Are there any topics that are off-limits to talk about? How do you feel about secret keeping?
This is obviously not an exhaustive list and not one that has to be undertaken in one conversational sitting. It is one that could totally be had with the help of a therapist! In fact, the beginning of a relationship is probably one of the coolest times to go see a therapist. It's fun, you're setting up something good instead of trying to repair a hurt.
All right, that's my advice. Go out there and have great conversations!