How To Have the “What Are We” Conversation

what are we conversation

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

In today’s world of dating, I feel like more people then ever are “hooking up” and they don’t really define their relationship or what they are. Friends with benefits is perfectly fine, but what happens when one or both partners wants to know what exactly they are doing?  Maybe one or both want more than a casual connection. That’s when they need to have the “what are we?” conversation.

How to Have The “What Are We” Conversation

“Honey, we need to talk…” That phrase is usually the start of a relationship conversation both partners know is going to be brutal. I’m talking about one of those awkward, dreadful, uncomfortable chats that boil down to statements like, “I need space” or “I met someone else,” or perhaps the one that feels most like a punch in the stomach, “I’m not in love with you anymore.”

Then there’s the “What are we?” conversation, in which couples have a heart-to-heart to define exactly what their relationship is, and to determine one of two things: are they committed to a future together, or are they just friends having fun?


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Online Dating Coach and Stylist


Dr. Victor Harris is a relationship expert at the University of Florida, who teaches courses on the topics of dating and healthy romantic and familial relationships. Harris said more and more couples are finding it necessary to have the “What are we?” talk because of the “hooking up and hanging out” culture.

“The way people get involved currently in relationships is that they get physical way too soon,” said Harris, who holds a Ph.D. in family consumer and human development with a focus on close relationships. “So, then they have to figure out, ‘Do we have a friendship here?’ ‘Do we have trust and should I commit to the relationship?’ It’s risky because they don’t know since they might not have the foundation of friendship, trust and commitment.”

How do you start the “what are we?” conversation? Harris said healthy ways include asking, “How do you think we are doing?” or saying “I would really like to talk about what we both want from this relationship.” Also, make sure to bring up the subject in a gentle, non-confrontational way versus acting defensive, aggressive, resentful or bitter.


Joanne Litman - Eagle Strategies LLC - Financial Solutions for Women


Having asked a few men in my life the question, “What are we?”, I can say with certainty that there are only two possible outcomes when it comes to the response: you’ll either hear what you want or you won’t.



Possible responses to “What are we?”:

• We’re friends.

• We’re having fun.

• I don’t want a long-term relationship.

• I really don’t know.

• I don’t want to get married.

• I like you, but I don’t think you’re the one.

• What do you think we are?

• I love you.

• We’re a couple.

• We’re in a committed, monogamous relationship.

• I see a future with you.

• I want to marry you.

• I want to spend the rest of our lives together.

What you hear could surprise you, and it could cause you to feel ecstatic, excited, happy or relieved. Then again, a response you didn’t want to hear could cause you to feel upset, devastated, disappointed, frustrated, angry or sad.


Shannon Lindstrom, Realtor, Certified Divorce Real Estate Expert (CDRE), RE/MAX Results, Minnesota, St. Paul


When I was in my 30s, I had the “what are we?” conversation with a boyfriend. His response: “I feel like I should be in love with you right now, and I’m just not.” It killed me. But, I have to say, I’m glad I found out how he felt because I didn’t have to wonder anymore. It helped me to end the relationship and move on.

Another time I asked “what are we?” it turned out great. The response was short and sweet. Said my current boyfriend, “Do you even have to ask? We’re on the same page.”

But be careful. According to Harris, timing is everything. If you ask “what are we?” too soon, it could scare off your partner. That said, if you wait too long, you could be wasting time and becoming emotionally attached when your partner just isn’t.

“You can go 5, 10 even 20 years without the person committing to you, and it’s harder to get over because of the length of time you’ve invested in the relationship,” said Harris, who has been married for 34 years and who has worked in the field of relationships for two decades. “Having the conversation early on will save you a lot of time and heartache and investment in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, and you can then begin to focus on another relationship that is based on friendship and trust and commitment with someone who wants that with you.”


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It takes courage and vulnerability to ask someone “what are we?” It’s no small thing. But I know that personally, I’d rather learn where I stand in a relationship than continue to see the person, wonder what he’s thinking, and possibly harbor resentment for him not expressing his feelings either way.

Think of it this way. If you get crushed by a response (like I did),you’ll survive. Because even more important than the answer to “what are we?” in a relationship is “what am I?” That answer is: strong, beautiful and worthy of joy and of course, true love.

Like this article? Check out, “There are No Buts in a Healthy Romantic Relationship”

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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

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