Defining the Relationship

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships recently. What sorts of relationships I want to build, and how I can structure my life to effectively be able to build those relationships.

One pattern that I’ve noticed is that it is common in romantic relationships to have a “defining the relationship” talk, but this is something that people essentially never do with friends or acquaintances. But I think that my relationships with my friends are in many ways more important than romantic relationships, so it makes me sad that these conversations are not common, since it can be really valuable to have an explicit understanding of what your relationship with someone is.

In an attempt to begin having these conversation, I posted an invitation on a social network inviting my friends and acquaintances to have this conversation with me. I’ve had about a dozen of these conversations now, and have found them pretty useful, so I figured I’d write about my experiences, and what tips I have for making these conversations useful.

I usually split up a “defining the relationship” conversation into three sections:

Things we value about each other

This is my favorite part of these interactions - it’s really validating to hear what people value about you, and it can be useful to think about what you value in other people.

I find that for myself, the things that I value about other people tend to be the specific ways that they bring kindness, curiosity, and playfulness to our interactions. However, you might find that you value different things, or want different sorts of interactions.

It can be useful during this part of the conversation to remind people of specific things that they’ve done or specific activities that you’ve enjoyed - it’s fun to reflect on your past adventures and interactions with your friends, and it can give people a better idea of what you specifically enjoy about them.

Activities we’re interested in doing together

There are a few ways in which this has been useful to me:

Frequency and schedule of interaction

I find that I get a lot of value out of scheduling interactions with people, since if it takes energy to plan things, I won’t plan things as often as I’d like - because of this, it can be nice to have a recurring weekly/bi-weekly/monthly thing with friends who I want to stay in touch with, but don’t necessarily tend to see unless I plan it. However, other people prefer more spontaneous interactions, or are willing to put more energy into planning, so it’s useful to get an idea of what frequency of interactions people want, and how much they want those interactions to be scheduled.

I’ve found a few things helpful in these conversations:

This can be a scary thing to do, but I think that it’s worth it. Particularly, it’s scary that you might care about a relationship more than the other person in it, or vice-versa. While this is scary, I find that it’s better to explicitly discuss that, and come to an agreement about what you want your relationship to look like - it’s almost always better to have explicitly discussed these dynamics, and talking about that can provide more closure than not having the conversation.

I want to build relationships where everyone involved is able to explicitly talk about what they want to get out of it, and how we can work together to make each other happy. I’ve found that having defining the relationship discussions has been an effective way to do this.

I think that one of the hardest parts of these conversations is making them happen in the first place. The most effective way that I’ve found to do this is to share widely that you’re interested in having defining the relationship conversations, and let people who are interested approach you about it. So, if you want to more explicitly define the relationships that you have with your friends, feel free to share this post and let people know that you’re open to having these conversations. It’s emotional work, but it more than pays off in realizing what you value about your relationships and configuring them in a way that is maximally happy.