What Is Casual Dating, And How Do You Remain Healthy In A Casual Relationship?
Casual dating often refers to quasi-romantic interactions where the people involved do not expect a commitment from each other and instead might be dating multiple people simultaneously. However, this form of dating can be subjective and determined by the rules of each couple.
When it involves proper communication and respect, casual dating can be a healthy, enjoyable way to socialize and meet new people. Understanding casual dating and how you can navigate it to ensure you (and potential dates) have a positive experience may be essential in promoting healthy relationships.
What is casual dating?
Casual dating is often characterized by an emotional or sexual connection with someone without commitment. Casual daters may be seeing other people in addition to dating each other or could decide to be exclusive despite the nature of their arrangement. This form of dating might seem less pressuring for some people due to the lack of expectations that might come with a serious romantic relationship.
Though many people pursue casual dating to develop an intimate relationship, sex is not necessarily part of the equation. For some people, casual dating is a way to get back into the dating world after getting out of a relationship. Others may be too busy with work, travel, or other aspects of their lives to commit to one person. In addition, some casual daters want a serious relationship down the road but would prefer the freedom to meet many people while they work on other areas of their lives.
Tips for a positive casual dating experience
While casual dating can be enjoyable, it might hurt feelings and damage relationships if individuals aren't communicating or committing to the same dynamic. The following tips might help you set boundaries, communicate expectations, and have fun in casual relationships.
Remember to communicate
When starting a casual relationship, develop an understanding of the type of relationship each individual is seeking. A lack of open communication may lead to misinterpretation of intentions and crossed boundaries. For example, if one person thought that a sexual relationship with another was off the table, but the other did not and was intimate with someone else, conflict might arise.
Discuss rules or intentions before you date. If you want your partner to be exclusive to you, let them know. If you want to practice relationship anarchy, let them know. It might also be helpful not to date people who aren't fully invested in a casual dynamic who are "trying it" for your benefit.
In addition to talking when the relationship is formed, try to check in throughout your relationship. At times, people develop deeper feelings or have a change in desires. If this occurs, it can be beneficial for both partners to state their needs and decide whether to part or stay together. Developing feelings for someone you have been casual with can be normal. However, if they're uncomfortable pursuing a further relationship, you might want to end the relationship instead of trying to change their mind or wait for them to feel the same. It can be helpful to listen to what people say and not read into their actions.
Respect the other person's feelings
Empathy and respect for the person you're dating can be vital to a healthy casual dating situation. For example, your partner may not want to hear the details of your other dates. Thoughtfulness and respect can help you and the other person avoid anger, jealousy, sadness, and other painful emotions.
If you discover that you are no longer interested in pursuing a casual dating arrangement, consider ending the relationship with compassion and grace or having a serious conversation about your needs. If the relationship ends, you may be able to remain friends.
Know the potential pitfalls
Casual dating can be challenging at times. With fewer rules in a relationship, you might be unsure whether you're hurting your casual partner's feelings. You might wonder which of you should text first or how long you should wait before another encounter. You may also wonder whether you should introduce them to your friends or discuss the future. Making plans with them for the future might also seem confusing.
In these situations, use communication. If you are concerned about a rule or expectation, an honest discussion may ensure both parties are heard and respected. During these conversations, stay true to yourself and only do, say, or commit to what you are comfortable with. If the complexities of a casual relationship seem too distressing or confusing, it might be worth considering whether casual dating is proper for you.
Don't expect sex
It can be normal and healthy to have a casual relationship that does not involve sex. Try not to assume that your partner will want to have sex with you or that you are entitled to it because you're in a casual relationship. Consent is vital to any relationship, including those with limited rules.
For some people, sex can feel too serious or uncomfortable for a casual connection. They might be looking for someone to go to the movies with, cuddle, or kiss occasionally. A casual relationship can be designed by you and tailored to your desires. If you're uncomfortable with the arrangement, casual dating does not have to include intimacy.
Keep the dates casual
A few date ideas that might foster casual energy between you and your dating partner could include:
- Going to get coffee
- Going to the movies
- Going out to dinner
- Going shopping together
- Taking your dogs for walks together
- Going to concerts
- A movie night at home
- An art night or going to an art bar
Activities that may stretch boundaries in a casual dating relationship are those that are particularly intimate. For example, you might not want to bring your date to meet your parents, have dinner with your friends, or learn about your childhood home. If you find yourself in situations that may be more indicative of a traditional committed relationship, check in with the person you're dating regarding expectations and boundaries.
Contrarily, some people have intimate, casual relationships but don't progress to marriage, parenting, or significant commitments. If you and your partner are comfortable with being in love, spending significant amounts of time together, or making each other a priority, it might not be unhealthy. However, ensure you're on the same page about these topics.
Be true to yourself
Consider your intentions when casually dating. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you want to have a casual relationship?
- Do you feel emotionally ready for non-monogamy or a casual dynamic?
- Do you feel your communication skills are on par with what's often healthy for a casual relationship?
- Would you be disappointed if the person you've been dating for a while doesn't want to become intimate or make your relationship more serious?
- Would you be comfortable not talking about the future?
- Are you considering a casual relationship because it's the only variety of relationships offered by the person you are interested in?
- Are you "waiting" for the other person to change their mind?
- Does the person you're interested in want a casual relationship?
Being honest with yourself about what you're looking for can help you determine the best way to proceed. Suppose you're not ready for a casual relationship. In that case, it might be beneficial to let the other person know you'd prefer to be friends unless they change their mind about the dynamic they're interested in.
Casual dating can be fun and exciting for many couples but may also come with conflict, confusion, and heartbreak. Consider contacting a therapist if you're looking for advice about a casual relationship or dynamic. Anyone can try therapy, and there are more casual formats for talking to someone if you don't want to see an in-person therapist.
For example, studies show that online therapy can be an effective tool when dealing with relationship challenges and potentially difficult emotions related to dating. One study looked at a type of cognitive therapy for couples experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression and found that online therapy showed positive changes in relationship satisfaction and decreased distress. In addition, the study concluded that online therapy was as effective as in-person therapy.
Through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples, you can speak with a licensed therapist from anywhere you have an internet connection. You can also refer to messages sent between you and your therapist to remember previous points made during therapy and track your progress on your treatment goals.
What to expect when dating casually?
Casual dating has no consistent definition, and its meaning can vary from person to person. However, two definitions of casual dating tend to appear in day-to-day conversation. One definition defines casual dating as dating multiple people without intending to engage in a committed relationship. The other definition asserts that casual dating involves engaging in dating activity with an agreed-upon boundary not to fall in love or “catch feelings.”
No matter how casual dating is defined, it is important that you establish your expectations and boundaries early. Casual dating is right for some people but not for everybody. Your definition of casual dating might differ from others, and it is often distressing to desire or anticipate a more serious relationship than what the other person is interested in. Communicating your thoughts and feelings in advance will likely help avoid confusion and hurt feelings later on.
Does casual dating involve feelings?
Casual dating can sometimes involve feelings, but those feelings don’t typically include the same feelings that are associated with committed relationships. A person may care for someone they casually date and likely enjoy spending time with them, but that does not mean that a relationship is implied. When many people talk about “feelings” in a casual relationship, they typically refer to developing feelings that indicate they want the casual relationship to become serious.
How do you act when dating casually?
How you act when dating casually is a personal choice based on the boundaries that you establish. Casual dating often begins with an up-front discussion of what the relationship entails. Generally, casual dating implies non-exclusivity and is not a serious romantic relationship, but different people have different definitions of what constitutes dating casually.
You may also want to set specific ground rules for your casual relationship (sometimes called a “situationship”), which should be discussed early. You may insist on regular testing for sexually transmitted infections if the relationship is not exclusive or establish that you do not want a serious relationship at this time.
Why is casual dating important?
Casual dating is an important category of relationships that represents an emerging and ongoing trend within the United States. Although casual dating does not have a consistent definition, it is often included in a category of interactions known as “casual sexual relationships and experiences” (CSREs). Many researchers theorize that CSREs represent an important intermediary step between a casual hookup - generally based only on sexual attraction - and a more serious romantic relationship.
The specifics of the relationship are decided between the casual partners. They may have an emotional connection, or they may set a boundary that neither “catch feelings” for the other. A casual relationship can be an emotional relationship but is generally at a level of commitment below couples who are “official” and use terms like boyfriend and girlfriend. Casual dating allows people to explore and understand each other without the pressure of a committed relationship. It may help avoid intense romantic feelings that both partners may not show.
How do you prepare for a casual date?
Preparing for a casual date is much like preparing for any other. Choose clothing that makes you feel confident, decide some topics to discuss in advance, and prepare for casual sex if it is a desired outcome of the date. There are no set criteria for preparing for a casual date, and depending on your expectations and boundaries, it won’t be any different than preparing for a traditional date.
However, one major difference comes at the beginning of the casual relationship. Successful casual dating usually requires that all participants make their boundaries known in advance. It can be emotionally challenging to develop feelings for someone who does not reciprocate them, and knowing what the expected outcomes of the date may be can help avoid unpleasant interactions and broken expectations later on.
What is the difference between dating and casual dating?
While there is no consistent definition of casual dating, many people consider “dating” to mean a serious or long-term relationship. In contrast, casual dating often refers to a spectrum of less committed relationship dynamics. Some people consider casual dating akin to hookups and one-night stands. Others consider it to mean a friends-with-benefits arrangement, wherein two people engage in an ongoing sexual relationship without added emotional commitment.
Some people may also consider casual dating a necessary part of an early romantic relationship. Often called the “seeing each other” stage, many serious relationships begin through casual interactions while emotions develop. When the couple becomes “official,” they transition from casual dating to a more serious romantic relationship that is generally exclusive and long-term.
What are the side effects of casual relationships?
While casual relationships can have a negative impact and potential consequences, they are generally better received than other forms of casual sexual relationships and experiences (CSREs). Casual dating is considered to be more rewarding than other types of CSREs, such as one-night stands and ongoing relationships based only on sex. Many people may feel a casual relationship to be a necessary precursor to a serious romantic one, and casual dating may play an important role in how many modern relationships form.
Despite the relative positivity of casual relationships, there are some caveats to consider that may have an adverse impact on a person’s life. One person may want a physical and emotional relationship that prepares the couple to move on to a serious commitment, while the other person may not desire that path. Clearly communicating expectations and boundaries in the early days of the casual relationship will likely mitigate some of the worse side effects, which are most likely to appear when one casual partner holds different expectations than the other.
Is casual dating an open relationship?
Casual dating is often non-exclusive, which means that two people who are casually dating may engage in sexual encounters with more than one person without risking the integrity of the relationship. Dating usually becomes exclusive - meaning partners only have sex with each other - once they agree to enter a committed romantic relationship.
However, there is a difference between non-exclusive casual dating and an open relationship. An open relationship, often referred to as consensual nonmonogamy, refers to a relationship wherein both partners have agreed to remain committed romantically, but each is free to engage sexually with others. Open relationships often have ground rules that sometimes appear in casual dating, such as requiring STI testing, but casual relationships lack the ongoing emotional commitment of open relationships.
How does casual dating end?
Casual dating commonly ends one of two ways, with a dissolution of the casual dating arrangement or progression to a serious romantic relationship. Casual dating is likely an important stage of developing a romantic relationship, a time for potential partners to get to know each other before committing to serious attachment. However, serious relationships can begin without a casual dating or courtship phase, though this is likely rarer. Whether or not those who are casually dating consider the termination of the relationship a “breakup” comes down to how each person defined the boundaries and expectations of their casual encounter.
What are the characteristics of a casual relationship?
Casual relationships are generally characterized in one of two ways: either as a non-monogamous dating relationship where partners engage in dating activities without committing to each other exclusively or a sexually-driven relationship wherein each partner agrees not to “catch feelings” or develop romantic emotions about the relationship.
The first arrangement is often a precursor to a serious romantic relationship, while the second is indicative of a “friend-with-benefits” relationship that is primarily motivated by physical intimacy. There isn’t a consistent definition of what constitutes a casual relationship, meaning people can choose to define the structure of their casual arrangement however they please.
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