DTR or GTFO: On Relationships, Grey Areas, and Donuts

26 Sep

by Brownout Betty

A few weeks ago, I was told that me and a guy I had gone out with a few times needed to “DTR.” I’ll be honest, Betty was unfamiliar with this term. Was it a fried chicken and doughnut place in Dupont? Was it an upscale spinoff of a Jewish deli in Dupont? Was it another kitschy concept restaurant catering to 20-something young professionals in Dupont?

To my disappointment (because I was already getting hungry), it was not a restaurant at all. No, I was told, DTR refers to “define the relationship,” and it’s an acronym that perfectly encapsulates a problem particular to our generation.

The idea of the nebulous non-relationship relationship that needs definition isn’t new. Indeed, we hear a lot about hookup culture and how young people are turning to casual sex instead of relationships, mostly from the ever-insightful New York Times Styles section. But what our friends at the Grey Lady never quite seem to capture is, ironically, the grey areas. We never hear about the question marks, the blurred lines that the shifting nature of relationships creates, the confusing “what-are-we” questions that have given rise to an acronym like DTR. As I’m learning myself, the grey areas have serious implications for the way modern women think about their love lives.

The first and most obvious issue: the idea of casual hookups versus relationships is, of course, a false dichotomy. Everyone can relate to being in that no-man’s-land where it’s clearly more than just a casual thing, but it’s not ‘official’ yet. We’ve added ‘being exclusive’ as one understood point on the weird spectrum between casual and official, but even that doesn’t provide a ton of clarity about where you are. The R still needs to be D’ed, as it were.  That sounds dirty.

By the way, NYT style writers:  I’d also point out that things are not THAT different today than they were a generation ago. Back in the day, there was obviously a nebulous ‘we’re together but he’s not my boyfriend’ point in any blossoming relationship, as there is today. However, what’s different today, I think, is that you can stay on autopilot in a ‘casual hookup’ scenario for longer, because that’s an accepted category. Before, that grey area was understood as just a natural stop on the trajectory toward a relationship.

Now – and this is the key point – when you’re with someone casually, you don’t know if you’re on a trajectory at all. You might be on your way to being in a relationship, but you certainly can’t assume that, which means you have to watch how often you text and make sure you’re not overstaying your welcome in the morning. Alternatively, you might just be in a casual sex situation, but that lends itself to tons of overanalyzing when he asks if you want to “grab dinner.” Is that a date? Are we dating? What if he said “have dinner”? Isn’t that way more serious?

I’ve had all of these thoughts about the guy I’m currently ‘seeing’ (another convenient descriptor of a casual relationship that doesn’t actually tell you anything) and one thing strikes me: it is a goddamn waste of time. Not to go all Miss Independent on you, but I think of myself as a girl who has better things to do than sit around in the office and try and calculate how many hours it’s been since we talked and how that may or may not correlate to how long it took him to come last time or how many minutes over the socially acceptable limit I talked about my job or whatever. Why am I letting a guy do this to me? Especially a guy who doesn’t have the balls to commit and DTfuckingR?

I know, I know. And I feel like I’m setting feminism back 20 years every time I look at my phone.

That’s an exaggeration, obviously, but in all seriousness: aren’t confusion and ambiguity the price we pay for having more options? We’re not locked into rigid categories of relationships, and that’s theoretically a good thing. Historically, men have always had more choices when it comes to relationships. Now, we have choices too. But – and here’s the kicker – we don’t want to make them.  For whatever reasons, a lot of women don’t want to DTR, and so they tacitly choose to be in the no-man’s-land that they’re complaining about. Case in point: I could call up this guy right now and ask him ‘what are we?’ But am I going to do that? Fuck no. I prefer the ambiguity, the frantic Gchats to coworkers and girlfriends asking them what they think the last text means, all of it.

Bottom line: having choices makes things difficult, because you have to think, and you have to make tradeoffs. If you choose not to choose, which is essentially what  you’re doing if you’re in an undefined relationship, your payback for forgoing a tough decision is confusion about grabbing dinner vs. getting dinner vs. having dinner vs. going to dinner. If, on the other hand, you choose to have the ‘what are we’ conversation, you risk pushing him away or closing off options, but your reward is clarity.

Maybe you don’t want these choices. Maybe you prefer the olden days when either you were in a relationship or you weren’t, and hey, I don’t blame you for that. But I think that much of the story of young women defining their roles in the modern world of dating will be learning that we have these choices, and learning to make them work.

So am I going to DTR? Not yet. But I sure as hell am going to GBD. Come split a doughnut with me, ladies.

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