Much has been made of how important it is to DTR, or "define the relationship," in which you and your prospective partner sit down and agree upon the terms for your relationship: Are you casually dating, are you exclusive? Have you spelled out and agreed upon all those other supposedly crucial details? The idea is, after this conversation, you are on the same page and understand what you mean to each other.
Honestly, DTR-ing sounds healthy and realistic and comforting. So, why didn't I do it?
My bae (whose name is Denis) and I met in college. I thought he was cool and aloof. He thought I needed to get out more. In the first year or so of knowing each other, we danced and made out more than we talked. Due to the itty bitty size of our woods-bound liberal arts school, we ended up having quite a few friends in common — and found ourselves in settings where we actually had to interact outside of a sweaty barn party.
As we got to know each other better (and continued to make out a whole bunch), I realized that Denis wasn't just a fun guy to hang out with and smooch. He was the only guy I wanted to hang out with and smooch.
I can only assume he had a similar breakthrough around the same time, because the following summer saw us booking bus tickets and bumming rides to spend the weekends with each other. And all that time, not a word was spoken of what we meant to each other.
It'd be several more months before I dropped the L-bomb, and even then I said it in the heat of the moment. I didn't say it the second it dawned on me (truth be told, I'd known for some time) and I didn't say it just to hear it back. I told him I loved him because it felt like it needed to be said. And not everything needs to be said.
Aside from swapping "I love you"s, the only other time it would have felt natural to define our relationship was before I started my senior year of school. It was the first entire school year we'd have to spend apart and more than a few people asked me if we were staying together. I fielded those questions with an eloquent "Um, yeah?" before swiftly changing the topic.
Becoming a (temporarily) long-distance couple would have been a great opportunity to talk maturely about the future of our relationship, but we passed that up in exchange for more time to, well, hang out and smooch. Maybe we were just really confident. Maybe we didn't want to acknowledge the fact that we'd be apart for nine months.
We made it through my senior year with a lot of texting, visits, and the occasional drunk cry on my part. When I graduated, we silently agreed that we'd live together. I mean that literally. There wasn't a conversation about our living arrangement — one day in May, we just started browsing Craiglist for open rooms in Brooklyn together. (I was very silent about that decision around my parents, too.)
If you've been squirming with dread and discomfort for the last several paragraphs, I hear you. Two people in a committed, long-term relationship should love nothing more than waxing poetic about said committed LTR, right? Not in our case.
More than a few people have let me know that communication and boundaries are key elements in any relationship, and that Denis and I might be doing something wrong in forgoing a lot of the Big Talks. I don't disagree! But, I have four-ish years' worth of evidence that shows that, where we struggle with free expressions of emotions, we excel in small actions that remind each other how much we care.
I write a letter to Denis on his birthday every year because there's nothing quite like speaking from the heart when you don't have to make eye contact. Denis has never given me flowers, but he was by my side when I was hit with two massive gut infections (seriously, hearing a man tell you he'd happily administer an enema for you is worth a million long-stemmed roses). Reading each other's actions isn't a perfect system for couples who need to touch base often but it's what works for us.
And as of today, Denis and I still live together. We have shared interests, know each other's families, and (like all couples in NYC) dream of one day adopting a dog. We don't have a cute first date story but we have admitted we're each other's best friends. We've found ourselves in a pretty great relationship simply because that's what we both wanted. And if not DTR-ing helped us get here, so be it. Just don't ask us when our anniversary is.