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My feet naturally run cold. By that, I mean sometimes it can be really hard for me to take the step from dating, to full-on relationship. It takes me a while to feel comfortable calling someone my partner, so I often take a long time to define the relationship. It’s not that I don’t want to take steps forward, I just find it, well… intimidating. So I hold back my heart a bit, which just happens to be one of the classic signs you’re afraid to define the relationship.

For some people, progressing a relationship quickly and easily is no big deal. That’s the speed that feels right for them, so, good for them. (No, I really do I mean that.) But, for some of us, it’s going to take a little extra push to go from calling your love interest “someone you’re seeing” to full-on SO status. And that’s OK too.

But sometimes, those cold feet aren’t just because you’re slow to DTR. It could be your gut warning you this isn’t the right person for you. Since both of those things come from subconscious fear and concern, it can be hard to tell them apart. To help with that, I reached out to NYC relationship expert and love coach Susan Winter to get her insight. That way, next time you feel uncertain, you’ll know if it’s just fear of the DTR convo, or something more serious.

You keep referring to them as your “friend.”

For some reason, it’s really hard for me to go from calling someone a friend to calling them my partner. I just get all nervous and uncomfortable, so I tend to hold off until it starts to get weird. Eventually, I get over it and it’s no big deal, but I definitely use my discomfort with changing terms to slow-walk my DTR conversation. According to Winter, this tactic is actually pretty common. She explains you do this because, “you’re playing safe in front of others, as well as your lover. The minute you call this person your girlfriend, boyfriend, or partner, you’re officially committed to be that for them.”

You’re stingy with your personal time.

One way to hold off on defining the relationship, Winter says, is by holding back your personal time. One of the ways that a relationship grows is by simply spending time together and integrating one another into your personal time and space. So, of course, the opposite is true as well. For example, Winter says, “You may be following the old-school code of leaving after sex (rather than staying overnight), or you relegate the person you’re seeing to a midweek date.” She explains that the point of that is to compartmentalize them in your life. “This technique is used to stall for time because you know you don’t want them, or you’re still undecided,” she says.

You’re holding back your heart.

OK, so stay with me here. The logic is a bit… cyclical, but hey, in matters of the heart, what else would you expect? Winter says one of the reasons why people avoid defining the relationship is to protect their heart, because they think if they DTR, they’ll get hurt. Dizzying, I know.

“You’re afraid they’ll break your heart,” Winter explains. “If you never admit you’re in a relationship, then technically— you can’t be hurt. This backwards rationale is an attempt to fool oneself. It’s a self-imposed guard gate that’s supposed to protect you from emotional involvement.” On paper, that doesn’t make much sense, but it has a ring of truth to it. You can’t get hurt if you don’t allow yourself to, right?

You just have a gut feeling you shouldn’t DTR.

OK, this last sign that you’re afraid to DTR is one that you should always take seriously. If something in your gut is holding you back because you fear for your safety, listen!

“Never deny a gut instinct that tells you you’re unsafe,” says Winter, and she is absolutely correct. “Our instincts are our internal radar. Their accuracy can save our life. This innate accounting system racks up every shred of known and unknown information, and spits out a spot-on analysis. If that analysis tells us we’re not safe with the person we’re seeing, we need to heed its advice.”

So, if this scenario feels the most right, then it’s time to listen to that voice in your head and GTFO, ASAP. If you feel unsafe, talk to the person you’re seeing in a public place, and with the support of friends and family. Or, if it’s really early, this is a situation where ghosting is totally acceptable. Safety first, always.

What To Do If Fear Is Holding You Back

Now you know the signs you afraid to define the relationship (and when you should definitely pay attention), but now what? What if being afraid of taking this next step is something you want to get over? In that case, Winter says it’s time to ask yourself the big question: Why don’t you want to define the relationship? Because, according to Winter, “knowing your reason why is vitally important.” If it comes down to an issue of you realizing they aren’t the right fit, but you don’t want to hurt their feelings, then it’s time to do the kind thing and let them go.

However, if it’s more about your feelings and fear of commitment, Winter offers this last bit advice: “If you’re afraid to be involved in a relationship for fear of being hurt, then you can acknowledge that and work on establishing courage and resilience. Why exclude yourself from the realm of love? Being aware of this fact enables you to make a positive change so that you can experience all of life’s wonders.”

And who doesn’t want to experience all of life’s wonders, am I right?! Because you deserve to. You deserve all of the wonders, so don’t let your fear of defining the relationship and being more vulnerable hold you back anymore.