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‘So what are we?’: Exploring Labels and Self-Advocacy in Relationships

labels in relationships
words by: Sarah Mason

New people are exciting, new sex is exciting, and new relationships are perhaps the most exciting. Not only do you get to discover another person, but through your experiences, you also learn about yourself, your desires, your needs, and your boundaries. In the midst of these blooming connections, you’ll eventually reach the infamous point of ‘the talk’. Maybe scary, but oh how necessary, let me guide you through the steps to a successful talk, based on my experience.

What Actually is the Talk? 

It can be so much more than the awkward ‘so what are we’ conversation that often results in an unwanted and somewhat embarrassing moment. 

The talk is a self-advocacy exercise in which you express what you are looking for in a relationship (whether romantic or sexual) and try to reach a common ground with the person you’re engaging with.

Many people do not see the importance of sharing personal feelings with people they’ve just become involved with. After all, it seems much simpler to assume both partners are on the same page. However, being honest about how you feel can not only allow this new relationship to reach its full potential – whatever that is – but it will also establish immediate boundaries that favour respect and trust between the partners. 

Not only that, but it is also the best way to guarantee you are not wasting your time with somebody who won’t fulfil your needs, therefore protecting yourself and anybody you choose to be intimate with. There’s nothing wrong with only wanting casual sex, committed relationships, or whatever you want, but you have no right to assume the person in front of you will be on the same page. It’s your duty to protect people you’re involved with from potential emotional turmoil, as well as protect your own mental health.

For those reasons, self-advocacy is not only vital but can also be incredibly beneficial. While there isn’t a single way to have the talk, and discussing certain feelings can be difficult, here are some of my tips to help you approach it in the best mindset.

Tips to Have the Talk

1. Timing is Key

There’s no need to rush, what matters is you feel ready. Ideally, express your boundaries clearly before anyone begins to form any sort of attachment – yourself included. The discussion may seem upfront and uncalled for, but by mentioning your intentions before a relationship gets off the ground, you clear out any possible confusion and eliminate people who won’t meet your needs from the get-go. If it’s the right person for you and your situation, they’ll appreciate the honesty.

2. Offer your Own Thoughts

Expressing your own needs can be a struggle. Particularly if, like many people, you struggle with self-advocacy. But beware, this may lead you to accept things you’re not actually comfortable with, sometimes with the hope you’ll be able to change the other person along the way. An exercise to help you express your own thoughts is to try and act as if you were standing up for your best friend. 

3. Be Open

You may find that the topics of past relationships and personal experiences arise naturally within your conversations, but these can be daunting subjects to discuss for some people. However, they are an easy way to establish the partner’s mindset and therefore lead to the eventual question of what they really want. If this happens, avoid shying away! Never fear sharing personal information when it feels comfortable just because it is with somebody knew. Developing the conversation will be an easier way to communicate how you currently feel since you will be able to work it into the conversation without anything feeling forced or unnatural.  

4. Respect

It must be said: the answer you’ll receive may not be the one you hoped for. Expressing emotions is not easy for all, particularly around new people, so every conversation should be considerate and avoid negative confrontation. Ultimately, you have to respect whatever your partner views in this connection, even if you don’t feel the same. 

Ultimately: Don’t Try to Change People

There’s no point trying to convince someone who has clearly expressed what they are looking for that they are wrong. No amount of self-convincing through supposed-evidence will change the way they feel nor the boundaries they’ve established. By that, I mean that no, the fact they used a heart emoji or complimented you like no one else doesn’t mean they want a committed relationship with you. Stop trying to read into their every word. The only thing that matters is what they tell you they want. To avoid your some heartbreaks, there are some clear signs to evaluate if someone might be emotionally unavailable:

Finally, be gentle with yourself. Like everyone, you will make mistakes. There will be times when you overlook your own boundaries or mistakenly step on someone else’s. But those experiences will shape and inform your future connections with people, in a way that hopefully leads you to what you want and need. Communication is not always easy, but the talk is one of the many steps towards fulfilling relationships that you should not overlook. University is the ideal time to figure out more about yourself and what you’re looking for. Experiment, enjoy, but don’t forget everyone is due respect and empathy, even if you don’t agree with their needs in relationships.


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