Why Labels Are Important In Relationships: Have You DTR’d?

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During a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom’s commitment to each other is 1) verbally affirmed by a mutual, “I do;” 2) symbolically labeled with two rings; and 3) lovingly sealed with a kiss.

It’s an official DTR moment.

What does “DTR” mean?

It was the month before I started my freshman year at Baylor University.  My brand-new sister-in-law and her friend were giving me the “low down” on all the hip college lingo so that I was well-versed and prepared to start my year off right.

After all, I had just arrived from Argentina, from the other side of the hemisphere, where I had spent my entire childhood as an MK (missionary kid).  Case in point, I recall one trip to the U.S. (a trip we missionary families call “furlough” or stateside assignment) when I was a freshman in high school just four years earlier.

I was sitting among a group of youth at a church, and they were talking about how much they loved Jack in the Box (the fast food restaurant).  Not being familiar with Jack in the Box, I thought they were talking about some new music group I had never heard of before.  “Jack in the what?”  I was clueless.

Fast-forward four years later, I was now a freshman at college, and my sister-in-law and her friend wanted to be sure and spare me from any repeated embarrassment and social blunders.

One of the terms they taught me was “DTR.”

“What is DTR,” you ask?  If you don’t know, the Urban Dictionary defines “DTR” (Define the Relationship) as, “When two people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic relationship (casual dating, serious boyfriend, etc).”

Are you just friends?  Are you dating?  Are you interested in dating?  Are you dating exclusively?

In Argentina, there’s a very distinct word called “amigovios.”  It is a combination of the Spanish words “amigos” (friends) and “novios” (boyfriend and girlfriend).  “Amigovios” is considered to be the in-between stage of friendship and dating.  They’re more than friends but not quite exclusively boyfriend and girlfriend yet.  It’s the gray area.

My own DTR story

dating pic

(Danny & I, “just dating,” Spring 2004)

I vividly remember when my husband and I first “DTR’d.”  We were dating at the time, but we hadn’t “declared” each other as boyfriend and girlfriend yet.  I was completing my senior year social work internship at Meals on Wheels, and Danny picked me up for a quick lunch date one day.  The receptionist casually and innocently asked us if we were boyfriend and girlfriend.

We both looked at each other, frozen, like two wide-eyed deer caught in bright headlights.  The receptionist immediately realized her “faux pas” and apologized for putting us on the spot.

We hadn’t really defined the relationship yet.  No DTR’ing had occurred up to that point.

I looked at her, looked at Danny, looked back at her, nervously laughed it off, and then told her that we hadn’t had “that conversation” yet and that we were “just dating.”  It was a very awkward moment— one that led to a long phone call later that night, where Danny sweetly acknowledged the nervous tension that transpired earlier that day.

As a true gentleman, he told me over the phone that while he would like to be my boyfriend, he would patiently wait for me if I wasn’t ready to be “exclusive” yet.  No rush.  No pressure.

It’s not like I had tons of guys lined up (or any for that matter) knocking on my door asking for dates, but he was sweet to bring it up and to declare his true feelings.  It was a bold, honest move on his part.  We DTR’d.  Feelings and expectations were laid out for our relationship.

Shortly after that night, maybe a couple of weeks later, I asked him to be my boyfriend.  Another DTR moment.

One of my favorite DTR moments came on April 24, 2005, when Danny proposed, asking me to marry him.  That’s another fun story I’ll have to share for a different day.  Let’s just say it involved a boating accident, soaking wet clothes, and a nearly lost ring….

And how can I forget the DTR moment that occurred in front of God and all of our family and friends just six months later, when we exchanged marriage vows and promised to honor, love, and cherish one another in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.  We defined the boundaries, sanctity, and exclusivity of our relationship that day.

wedding pic

(Danny & I on our wedding day, Nov. 5, 2005)

Over the past twelve years, especially during the lows and difficult times, Danny and I have had to continually DTR with each other.  We’ve asked ourselves, “What does our relationship look like and feel like now?”  “How has our relationship changed, now that we’re parents?”  “How can we strengthen our commitment to each other?”  “How can we improve our marriage?”

By continually defining our relationship, it helps us to label our feelings, recognize our strengths and weaknesses, establish mutual understanding, and ultimately renew our commitment to each other. 

Have you DTR’d recently?

I’ve been talking about “DTR” in terms of dating relationships, but what happens when we apply it to our relationship with God?  Have you DTR’d with God?  Have you defined and labeled your relationship with Him?

If someone were to ask you, right now, point-blank, “Who is God to you,” or “What is your relationship like with God?”  Do you have a prepared answer?  Would you proclaim it honestly and boldly?  Or would you be like a deer caught in the headlights, like Danny and I were thirteen years ago…

Who is God to you?

Is He someone you visit daily, once a week, or just on the holidays?

Do you see God as an aloof, stern ruler?  Or a loving, grace-filled Father?

Are you exclusive with Him?  Or do you serve other idols— career, wealth, social recognition, etc.

Who is God to you?


We can’t label God, but we can (and should) label our relationship with Him.

In the Bible, there are many different names and characterizations listed for God and Jesus:  Jehovah, Elohim, El-Shaddai, Adonai, Abba, Alpha and Omega, Immanuel, Messiah, Comforter, Healer, King of Kings, Light of the World, etc.

The way we perceive God (and Jesus) can change over time, even from day to day.  He (as God the Father and Jesus the Son) meets our every need by sharing the side of Him that we need most for that day.

One day He may be our Comforter.  Another day our Healer.  Another day our Providence and Deliverer.  Another day our Light and Shepherd.  In a sense, God wears lots of hats and carries many “labels,” but we ourselves can’t restrict Him to just one or two labels, nor can we place Him in a neat, little box to fit our own needs.

We must accept ALL of Him.  We can’t say, I accept “God the Comforter,” but I won’t accept the “King of Kings” whose authority is over me.  Or, I’ll turn to God when I need Him but not when He calls me to obey Him.

There is no gray area when it comes to following God and accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.  There’s only black and white— all or nothing.  We are either a follower of Christ or we’re not.

Have you DTR’d with God?

When you deeply examine and honestly define your relationship with God, He can show you what you’ve been missing out on.  He can show you other attributes of Himself that you haven’t seen or experienced before.

God asks for exclusivity— always.  And the more exclusive we are with Him, the more we’ll get to see and experience Him since the other idols of this world won’t be blocking our view.

ring pic

(my parents’ wedding day, June 26, 1971)

When you’re married, people can usually tell that you’re married if you wear a wedding band.  The wedding band “labels” you.  They know you exclusively belong to another human being and that you have pledged your love and devotion to that person.

As Christians, we have no rings to tangibly show that we exclusively belong to Christ and that we are His bride and He is our bridegroom (Ephesians 5:22-25).  We can, however, publicly proclaim our exclusivity through our actions and our words.

Most brides-to-be frequently and excitedly show off their wedding rings.  The couple announces their engagement with great fanfare through wedding invitations, newspaper announcements, bridal showers, etc.  It’s a celebration!  They want the whole world to know!

But then there are married couples who have sadly lost their sense of commitment and excitement, and they try to hide their exclusivity.  They might wear their wedding ring at home, but they take it off outside, and they focus their devotion towards other idols or other people.

Are you like that with God?  Do you only love Him on Sundays at church or within your circle of Christian friends?  Or do you commit your ways to Him every day, everywhere, and with everyone.

Think about that today.  Are you ready to DTR with God?  Are you ready to be exclusive with Him?  The ring has been bought and paid for— bought with the blood of Christ— He’s just waiting for you to say, “I do.”

– Amy

Related Resources:


    • I completely agree, Christina! It’s always good for us to re-evaluate our priorities and to make a daily, conscious effort to put God first. It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely a spiritual discipline worth developing. Thank you for reading! 🙂


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