The gray area between casual hookups and official labels can be a terrifying purgatory for relationships. We sometimes describe this point as a "thing" or a "situationship." But how can we tell when it's more than that? POPSUGAR spoke to experts about why we might be hesitant to solidify our relationships, and how we can tell it's time to put a label on it.
"It seems to me the younger generation is much more cynical about love," says Larry Josephs, PsyD, a professor at Adelphi University who specializes in relationship science and infidelity. He has witnessed the trend of relationship hesitancy, and describes some underlying psychological factors that could be at play, such as a person's attachment style.
Those who are securely attached might feel comfortable with and ready for something more serious. "Securely attached adults seem to be good at relationships, they're more monogamous," Dr. Josephs tells POPSUGAR, "They are more reflective, they have better communication skills, they have happier sex lives. So secure attachment seems good for sexual exclusivity." Whether you find yourself in this category or your attachment style is more anxious or avoidant and you're wondering if it's time to DTR, here are 27 telltale signs that your relationship could be ready for labels.
Signs You're Unofficially Dating
- You're spending every day together, and there are many aspects of your lives that overlap. If this is the case, you might be developing what Maxwell Mikelic describes as a "shared reality." Mikelic is a doctoral student in clinical psychology who studies relationship initiation and development; he also has clinical experience in couples counseling and is a former matchmaker. Mikelic says it can be beneficial for couples to have common opinions and experiences: "When two people, for example, go on a date, if there's a shared reality that's created, it can be extremely powerful."
- You leave random items at each other's places (i.e. toothbrushes or phone chargers). This implies that you are comfortable at each other's homes and are expecting to come back.
- You run errands together. Even small tasks are better when you're with each other.
- You have tried and experienced new things together. Mikelic recommends "one totally new experience per month, because you need to have opportunities to create the shared reality. So if you see the world in similar ways, or have similar opinions on little things, and then it makes you feel closer, that's the shared part. I think that's a good sign you're ready to have the talk."
- You cook meals together. If you aren't put off by the allusion to something steady like living together and eating meals at home together, it might be a sign that you're ready to make things serious.
- You've told your siblings about them. If they are significant enough to tell your sister about them, there must be something there.
- You talk about them when you're drunk. Alcohol is a truth serum, and if they're all you can think about when you're intoxicated, you're obviously into them.
- You have photos together in your camera roll.
- You have inside jokes. Having enough memories together to make inside jokes out of them is a sign that your lives mesh well together and your senses of humor coincide.
- You're exclusive. This commitment can be the scariest part, and if you've gotten there, a label could be the natural next step.
- You go out on actual dates, not just hookups. Want to be together outside of a late-night sneaky link? This person's company obviously means something to you.
- Their friends know you by name. Your partner is actively discussing you with their friends enough for them to know who you are.
- You refer to them by their name and not a code name or nickname to your friends. All hookups start with some sort of nickname defined by a memorable moment. When this s/o is now known to your friends by their real name, they are significant enough to you to be known outside of a strictly sexual relationship.
- You see each other in the light of day. Again, you aren't just confining your time spent with them to a "you up?" text.
- You visit spontaneously, because you know you can feel comfortable surprising them with your presence. It means that you feel confident that they enjoy you and will want to see you.
- You're beginning to see yourselves as a unit. "The goal is to transition from a 'me and you' kind of language to say 'we,'" Mikelic says, "and that's something that can happen over a longer period of time."
- You know where they keep things in their kitchen. You don't have to ask where they keep the whisk. You've spent quite a bit of time there and have made yourself at home.
- You have fought and made up successfully at least once. Mikelic says that in his own practice, "Couples who don't fight at all might both be withdrawers, or both be avoidantly attached." It's important to have proven to each other that whatever is going on between you can withstand troubled waters. "Conflicts are not only inevitable, but necessary, because the repairs are so important," Mikelic stresses.
- You're sleeping over but not having sex. Just falling asleep and waking up next to them is enough.
- If you are having sex, you are both comfortable in that vulnerability. "For people who do have sex, are you sexually compatible? That can be a good sign of a budding security, but it also relates just as much, maybe even more, to our own self-concept than it does to how we feel about our relationship with that person," Mikelic says.
- On the other side of the spectrum, something about your sex feels significant and personal. "If you have an avoidant attachment style, you have a wall up, and you don't get close to people," Dr. Josephs explains. "People with avoidant attachment styles tend to split love and lust, so they're more oriented towards casual sex without as much of an emotional connection." If you're experiencing an emotional connection during sex, it could be a good time to discuss the relationship.
- You feel obligated to invite them to your birthday events. This means you're close enough that they know your birthday and would be offended if they weren't included in the celebration, and that you want them to be present on special occasions.
- Instead of Snapchat, you text or even call each other. And leaving voicemails? It could be love.
- You start making long-term plans and talking about a future that involves each other. "When you start seeing yourselves as life partners, then you start talking about your future," Dr. Josephs says.
- They have introduced you to people who mean a lot to them, like their parents and friends. This can be a scary step, but very significant in a relationship and implies that these people would be seeing you again.
- You've deleted dating apps and lost interest in potential flings. Suddenly this person is the only one you want to be talking to, and you feel fulfilled enough by them to start forgetting about other "things."
- You are confident that, if you were to bring up the concept of labels, your partner would be open to it. In Mikelic's opinion, "If you want to have the talk, and you know your partner is going to say yes and agree, that's a good sign that you have built a secure attachment." Knowing someone well enough that you are comfortable initiating a conversation like that means a lot in how close you've gotten and how strong the relationship is.
Oftentimes, putting an end to the gray area has to do with listening to your gut instincts, both about yourself and your partner. "There's a grace period where we don't have to define what this [relationship] is, but once you've been in it for six months, or a year or longer, and it hasn't been defined, you don't want to waste your time spending years in a relationship with somebody that isn't going to go anywhere," says Dr. Josephs.
If both of you are putting effort into integrating your lives, and that integration process is going smoothly, it might be time to try out being committed to this person; however, so much of the process is subjective. Ultimately, being mindful of your emotions, and supporting your partner in doing the same, will allow you to take the healthiest next steps for your relationship.