Expert-Backed Tips to Go from a Casual to Committed Relationship — If That's What You Want
Despite what your (and, TBH, my) mom seem to think, long gone are the days when dating was as simple as asking your crush to "go steady," and just because you went on a few dinner dates doesn't mean you and whats-their-name are official. Let's face it: Going from a casual to a committed relationship in the Wild, Wild West that is dating in the 21st century is a bit more, err, complicated.
Still, you've been seeing this person at least once a week for a few months now. You get butterflies whenever they text, you laugh at the same scenes while watching The Office, and you're both taco enthusiasts. It's great — except that you have no idea where things stand. They have yet to introduce you as their girlfriend or bring up being exclusive, and for better or for worse, you're craving that "couple" title and the security that comes with it. So, what are you supposed to do, if anything, when you want to turn this casual coupling into a committed relationship?
"Every person and relationship is different, and there's no magic phrase or action that can get her or him to commit," says Terri Trespicio, a lifestyle and relationship expert based in New York City. However, you can use these communication tips to make sure you're being clear about what you want and to find out if they are on the same page or on another planet.
How to Go From Casual to Committed Relationship
1. Make sure you want this.
So, you think (keyword!) you want something serious with this special someone—but before you do anything else, make sure you actually want to go from casual to a committed relationship. Trespeicio suggests stepping back and asking yourself the following questions: Do I have fun with them? Is my mood elevated when I'm with them? Do I feel good about myself after we part ways? Do they improve my life? Do I feel respected? (Related: How Your Relationship Changes In the Fall)
In addition to asking yourself those important questions, you should also think about the j-word: jealousy. If they're acting extremely jealous or policing your every move, you need to really reevaluate things before officially going from casual dating to committed relationship (if at all, btw). And, this is also important!, you shouldn't tell yourself, "Well, they're a nice person and haven't done anything that wrong, so I guess I should be with them."
Why? "That's convincing yourself of something that's probably not right," says Trespicio. Bottom line: Be in a committed relationship where you feel good when you're without them, but you feel even better with them.
2. Don't rush to DTR immediately.
It seems counterintuitive, but when going from casual dating to committed relationship, experts' number top piece of advice is don't bring up the DTR (aka define the relationship, or "what are we?") conversation. "It's like going to a party, turning off the music, turning on the lights, and asking, 'Are we all having a good time here?'" says Trespicio. "A good relationship is built on momentum, and putting a stop to the fun to 'check-in' is a surefire way to kill the romance." (Related: Why Your Anxiety Disorder Makes Online Dating So Damn Hard)
Let things progress naturally and look at the evidence: Do they try to see you whenever they're free? Do they seem genuinely interested in what you have to say? Do they have as much fun on dates as you do? Yes, yes, and yes? Well, great: These are likely signs they're in it for real, so enjoy being with them and relax about making things "official."
"People who are wary of commitment want to feel like they're the one choosing to be with you—they don't want to feel like they're being coaxed into a cage," adds Trespicio.
3. Bring it up lightly.
You don't have to stay in the dark forever, though. If it's been about six months and they haven't dropped one hint about where they see this ~fling~ going, speak up, says Jennifer Kelman, L.C.S.W., relationship expert and certified personal coach For example, if you'd like them to meet your parents, ask if they'd be up for going out to dinner, but let them know there's no harm if they're not quite ready for that yet. Above all, keep the tone light and maintain open lines of communication. (Related: How Soon Is Too Soon to Get Engaged?)
If you feel confident at this point that you want things to be serious, go ahead and tell them that you're ready to move from a casual to a committed relationship, says Trespicio: "Explain what kind of relationship you want and why, defining what commitment means for you without giving an ultimatum." If they aren't open to a discussion, let them mull it over for a couple of weeks. But if they still don't respond when you bring it up again, it may be time to rethink the relationship. "You have to decide which you want more: someone who's committed or this person, even if he won't ever be," says Trespicio.
4. Unplug to connect.
Think beyond dinner and after-drinks for your next date. "The best type of date allows you to stop texting, put the phone down, and really foster a deep connection," says Kelman. Restaurants can be nice, but try something a little outside your comfort zone from time to time. Check out a craft beer festival, see a local band at some hole-in-the-wall, or challenge them to a mountain bike race. A new adventure can fortify your relationship since it gives you shared memories to reminiscence about later, and that stronger bond can help both parties progress from ~cool and casual~ to a committed relationship. (Here are more active date ideas for any season.)
Plus, the dates your partner comes up with can also give you some insight into how they feel. "If they suggest seeing the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit because they remember you like her art, that's a sure sign of romance," says Trespicio.
5. Let your selfless side shine.
Spending Saturday morning in the soup kitchen or helping an elderly person carry his groceries may help your partner see you in a more serious light (not to mention, doing good deads like such are the right things to do as a citizen). In a recent British study, people rated potential sexual partners to be more attractive for a long-term relationship if they had altruistic qualities. "Giving back to others shows your good heart and integrity, and although they may not consciously think that far in the future, partners are subconsciously assessing maternal traits in a woman to see what kind of mother she'd be," says Kelman. (See also: The Surprisingly Sweet Quality That Makes You More Attractive)
That's not to say you should be fixated on finding opportunities and acting in specific ways just to impress your partner. Rather, a worthy s.o. should (and hopefully will) be able to see you for all of your ah-mazing qualities and, thus, be down to go steady — whether or not you volunteer every week, every month, or a few times a year. Still, seeing you in the midst of even the smallest acts of kindness — walking your neighbor's dog or buying coffee for the woman in line behind you — can boost your own mood (seriously, studies say so!) *and* make s.o. straight-up swoon. When you're a kind and gracious person, people are more likely to want to be around you — both consciously and subconsciously.
6. Maintain your autonomy — and theirs too.
It's easy to let parts of yourself go when you meet someone you think is the partner of your dreams. But don't. "Trying to be someone you're not is so transparent," says Kelman. Not to mention—and this is important! — a deserving partner (and you too, for that matter) should celebrate your personality, quirks and all. So, if you'd rather go to the gynecologist than watch football or hit an art museum, don't pretend to love the Steelers or understand abstract art just because the person you're seeing is a fan.
Passionate about puzzling? Can't get enough of gardening? Own it girl. Not only is it important to stay true to yourself but maintaining your own interests can also help demonstrate how exciting your life is, with or without bae. "You want to be the fast-moving car that they want to jump into, not the one sitting in the parking lot, waiting around," says Trespicio. Keep up your long runs on the weekends even if they want to hang out and don't expect (or nag) them to skip weekly basketball games in favor of seeing you. "The most appealing thing to a partner is someone who has her own autonomy and strength," says Kelman. The more they see that you have a fantastic life of your own, the more likely they'll want to jump in and be a part of it. And, violá, committed relationship. (Related: What Happens When You're Dating Your Workout Buddy-and You Break Up)
7. Show you care.
There's a fine line between playing a little hard to get and acting totally indifferent. When you're out to dinner, make sure not to constantly check your phone or dart your eyes around the room. To be clear, this is the standard your partner should be held to as well! It's dating 101, but show you're interested in what they have to say and ask about their life. "People appreciate and want to be with someone who makes them feel amazing," says Trespicio.
Note if they're showing you the same interest and affection, though. If not, you may be dealing with a narcissist—and, in that case, you might want to, err, run.