You know the saying, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

But when does a casual series of drinks and meeting up at parties become a deeper entanglement of feelings, fascinating discussions about the origin of childhood scars and trips to the grocery store for toilet paper and dish detergent? To use the parlance of our times, when does a hook-up evolve into a relationship?

Let's face it: Sometimes you need to know just what's going on here. And sometimes you need to know when you should fess up and let Loverboy know his is not the only clock you're cleaning. How should a classy gal like you broach the topic with sensitivity, respect and courtesy?

Relationship expert Tristan Coopersmith, whose website, Menu Dating, has spawned the book "Menu Dating: Taste Test Your Way to the Main Course," believes that a the dreaded "commitment" conversation may not be needed at all.

"In many relationships 'the talk' isn't even needed because one day the commitment is just understood, or it happens accidentally," she explains. "He's introducing you to someone and out comes the word 'girlfriend.' You exchange a knowing smile and maybe seal it with a kiss and just like that, you are exclusive."

Sometimes a more direct approach is needed. You've both been drifting along in the "friend zone," doing quasi-committed relationship things like going to Ikea, but you don't know where you stand. Assuming that the woman in a heterosexual relationship is the one with a burning desire to define the parameters of the involvement, Coopersmith has a warning.

"Women first should understand that most men perceive commitment differently than they do," she says. "Women hear ['commitment'] and they think security, a perma-date to weddings, no more lonely Friday nights, fairies and butterflies." In contrast to this Hello Kitty / Technicolor vision of dreaminess, says Coopersmith, "Guys [think of their] depleting bank account [and] the end of nights out with the boys in exchange for romantic comedy marathons and lose-lose questions like 'Does this make me look fat?'" Therefore, positing an exclusive commitment arrangement to him in a positive light is crucial, as is timing your talk appropriately. (I.e., don't try bringing it up during a "Dirty Jobs" marathon.)

Remember, if you're asking the question, you need to be prepared for the answer, even if it doesn't jibe with your fantasy. Tackle the subject matter-of-factly, and discuss it with dignity, regardless of the outcome.

If said shoe is on the other foot, invoke the Golden Rule and let him down easy, but in a straightforward way. Weaseling out of answering the question or trying to devise some cockamamie scheme where you can keep dating him while seeing other dudes on the sly isn't exactly polite and will just end up making you look and feel like a jerk. Because, after all, that's what you'd think of him if on the receiving end.