How to steer your friends-with-benefits fling into more serious territory.

By By Locke Hughes
Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

You've been seeing this guy or girl at least once a week for a few months now. You're both sushi aficionados, his or her big brown eyes make you melt, or they even laugh out loud at The Mindy Project with you. 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 you're craving that "couple" title and the security that comes with it. Talk about blurred lines.

But what if you want to turn this casual relationship 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 tips to subtly up the chances that they'll want to turn casual dating into a relationship.

Make Sure You Want This

You think you desire something serious with this particular person-but before you do anything else, be sure you actually want to commit to him or her. Step back and ask yourself the following questions, Trespicio suggests: 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?

One thing to look out for: If they're acting extremely jealous or policing your every move, you need to really reevaluate things. And never tell yourself, "He/she's a nice guy/girl and has done nothing wrong, so I guess I should be with him." (Related: How Your Relationship Changes In the Fall)

"That's convincing yourself of something that's probably not right," Trespicio says. Bottom line: Be in a relationship where you feel good when you're without them, but you feel even better with them.

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Avoid the "Are We Dating" Talk

It seems counterintuitive, but experts' No. 1 piece of advice is to never to bring up the DTR (a.k.a. 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?'" Trespicio says. "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? Does they have as much fun on dates as you do? 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," Trespicio adds.

Bring It Up Lightly

You don't have to stay in the dark forever, though. If it's been about six months and they hasn't dropped one hint about where they see this going, casually speak up, says Jennifer Kelman, a licensed social worker and relationship expert at Pearl.com. 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, Trespicio says. "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 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," Trespicio says.

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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," Kelman says. 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 will increase the likelihood they'll want to keep seeing you, exclusively. (Here are more active date ideas for any season.)

As a bonus, the dates your partner comes up with will 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," Trespicio says.

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. 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," Kelman says. (Related: How to Use Social Media to Benefit Your Relationships)

No need to sign up at the homeless shelter only to impress them. Little things in your everyday life, from buying coffee for the woman in line behind you to walking your neighbor's dog, count too. Make an effort to do these things on a regular basis, but also make sure you're showing your selfless side when you're with them. When you're a kind and gracious person, people are more likely to want to be around you-both consciously and subconsciously.

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Create a Little Mystery

Even if you're anxiously awaiting their call, you shouldn't be available every time they want to see you. "You want to create something worth investing in and make them realize your value," Trespicio says. "If you're always waiting around, they won't feel the need to try that hard." (That's also one of the skills you can learn from open relationships-even if you're monogamous.)

Build some intrigue into your schedule that keeps him wanting more. Wait a few minutes to text back, or if they ask if you're free Tuesday, say that you have other plans but you'd love to meet up on Wednesday. This helps them to realize that your time is valuable and that they'll have to go out of their way to see you. Just remember: No one likes playing games. "Don't move dates around too much-that can get frustrating for someone who also has a busy schedule like you," Trespicio says.

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," Kelman says. 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.

Instead, have your own interests to demonstrate how exciting your life is, with or without them. "You want to be the fast-moving car that they want to jump into, not the one sitting in the parking lot, waiting around," Trespicio says. 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," Kelman says. 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. (Related: What Happens When You're Dating Your Workout Buddy-and You Break Up)

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. 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," Trespicio says. "If you rock their world and they love being with you, why would they ever want to be with anyone else?"

Note if they're showing you the same interest and affection, though. If not, you may be dealing with a narcissist-run!

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