Washington - "Do you want to be my boyfriend?" my friend says, lying on my bed and tossing her hair back in mock seduction. This, she claims, is the most direct method of asking the person you're dating whether he wants to be exclusive.
The talk is also known by a three-letter acronym: DTR, short for Define the Relationship - fittingly, also the name of Tinder's official podcast.
I decided to consult dating coaches about how, when and where to DTR. While every relationship is different, here are some general guidelines:
The talk can start before you even meet the person
"In my profile online or in my first meeting of a person, I want them to know I'm looking for a relationship," says author Susan Winter. "That eliminates 90 percent of the nonsense that we go through."
To her, dating is a little like hitchhiking: You may get sick of the driver along the way, but you at least want to know that he's heading in the same direction as you, taking as few detours as possible.
Often the lack of communication stems from a fear of "getting kicked off the ride," says Winter. "Men and women have been so afraid to say what they want. Saying what you want is more powerful than asking them what they want."
Don't assume you're in a relationship without talking about it (people do this)
"What's really interesting about the relationship talk is that a lot of people these days, especially online and app daters, don't feel that they need to do it," says Laurel House, a dating coach who worked with celebrities on E!'s Famously Single. "That leads to a lot of confusion."
At least partly to blame, says House, are online dating apps, which have created a more casual dynamic riddled with guesswork. She cites clients who assumed they were in a committed monogamous relationship for months or even years, only to find out their partner was still dating other people.
Think of "the talk" as a series of talks
If you're using an online dating app, you might want to bring up a preliminary discussion with your partner: Should we delete our dating profiles?
"That doesn't mean that we're putting a label on this," says House. "That just means we like each other enough to explore this without being distracted by other love interests."
Laurie Davis Edwards, who founded the coaching service The Worthy One, suggests one way to bring up the topic is to frame it as a personal assertion rather than a question for your partner. "Mention that you are going off the app or the site that you're on, and just make it a statement and get their reaction to that statement," says the author of Love At First Click: The Ultimate Guide To Online Dating.
When you actually get to "the talk," there's no one right time or way to do it
"There's something called the three-month rule," says Winter, referring to the assumption that the talk happens around then. Winter believes this so-called rule is total garbage.
"Sometimes it happens after a good first date. Sometimes it happens after a third or fourth date," says House. "Sometimes it happens after several months. It totally depends on the couple and it depends on the types of conversations you're having on your dates."
So now you've started the talk. When in doubt, ask questions. "Are you open to the possibility of a relationship?" is a good one to start with, says Winter. "If they say no, 'Are you dating casually?' 'Are you looking to have a good time?'" Of course, not every conversation will end in exclusivity; nor is that the goal of every relationship.
Don't force things
Not all dating coaches agree that "the talk" needs to happen at all. Edwards' husband, Thomas Edwards, who founded the coaching service The Professional Wingman, says there are more subtle ways to define a relationship that don't involve having a three-hour conversation. One client, he says, "was introduced to (his girlfriend's) friends as her boyfriend but they never really had the talk about it," he says. "His reaction to that was basically the beginning and the end of the talk."