How to talk about relationships without talking about relationships

By Juliet O

You know in those beginning stages of getting to know someone (whether in real life or online) when you know you like this person but you’re trying to figure out if they like you? You don’t really know how they feel 100% (plus you’re shy) so you don’t really want to start talking about being “in a relationship”, plus you don’t know how to bring up the topic in the first place without being the weirdo who brings up the topic in the first place. Right? How existential and circular. I feel like I’m in a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. But seriously, how do you talk about relationships without talking about relationships? Specifically, how do you say things like “I want to be in a relationship with you but let’s talk about it” without sending out total creep or stalker or crazy person vibes?

Through my extensive first person research and years spent analyzing this very topic exactly, I know of some great methods for talking about relationships without talking about relationships. There are ways, as counterintuitive as it seems, to bring up the relationship chat without explicitly bringing it up. I suppose some people would view this as a failure of communication, but I think of it more as “communicating subtly” (i.e. self preservation). For the shy ones out there, here’s how you do it.

Talk about love, vaguely and generally.

What better way to segue into the relationship chat than to talk about love? Rather than being all “So what are we?” you can simply talk about your feelings and hopes and desires. This is an ingenious way to talk about a potential relationship, because you can give very concrete and specific opinions you have on love and then ask for affirmation or denial. If you get affirmation, great, perhaps you have more courage now to move forward and explicitly state your wants. If you get denied, then you know that you should probably stop wearing your heart on your sleeve and move on. Like? “They say that the moment you meet someone you realize you could love, you know it. Do you agree?” Hint.

Bring up a scenario in a movie/novel/play/music video that mirrors your situation.

There are millions of instances in popular culture where this very emotional conundrum appears. Uncertain love is everywhere, so find a situation that sort of mirrors your own and bring it up and see what your person has to say. For instance, if I was totally in love with my friend but he didn’t realize it, I’d bring up the movie Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) and say something to the effect of, “I feel sort of like Mary Stuart Masterson’s character in that movie.” And then I’d look at my guy and see if he starts shying away uncomfortably or if he looks into my eyes and tells me that he wants to be with me forever.

Make your person listen to a really romantic love song, inch closer to them, and see how they respond.

This one works every time. So you are feeling crazy romantic toward someone but you’re sort of getting mixed signals and you want to see once and for all if they’re into you that way or just want to be friends? Pop a love song (something super cheesy like “True” by Spandau Ballet) while you’re alone together, sitting on the couch maybe, and then move closer to them and see what happens. Maybe you should make an entire playlist in case things start going really, really well. If they’re not into you, they’ll get awkward and move away. If they’re into you, they’ll put up with your advances, and then who knows what will happen.

Talk about past relationships, but not in a nostalgic way.

If you really want this thing you have with someone to turn into a relationship, another way to bring up the relationship chat is to talk about past relationships. Talk about how your relationships developed, how you knew it was love, what you did in the beginning of that relationship when things were uncertain, and then cautiously move the conversation toward your situation with this new person. Again, if they’re not having it, they’ll change the subject and you can move on with your life. If they start talking to you about their relationships in return, this is perfect timing to bridge the topic of the possibility of a new relationship, between the two of you.

Talk about how you want to avoid dating people who aren’t on the same page as you.

If none of the above approaches sound like they’ll work for you (like if your person is totally dense and doesn’t respond well to hints), then maybe you need to be more direct. How can you be more direct without being entirely direct? Why not just bring up how you hate people who string you along or lead you on and then look at them accusingly? This approach might not work for everyone, but it’s sure to bring the skeletons tumbling out of the closer if your person is really, in fact, leading you on. Who, if they are leading someone on, can stand there innocently as someone is essentially going off on people who lead people on, and then staring accusingly?

I hope these tips help. Obviously the best advice is just to be direct, but I understand that it’s not always easy and sometimes we need a temporary crutch before we go back to being the honest, earnest people we are.

Photo credit: zabara_tango