What Is Casual Dating?

Updated January 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may have heard the term casual dating and wondered what, exactly, it means. Typically, it refers to quasi-romantic interactions wherein the people involved do not expect a commitment from each other and instead might be dating multiple people at once. Casual dating can mean a lot of different things, depending on the context and the specific relationship. When it involves proper communication and respect, casual dating can be a healthy, enjoyable way to socialize and meet new people. Below, we’re going to cover the ins and outs of casual dating and how you can navigate it to ensure you (and potential dates) have a positive experience. 

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What Is Casual Dating?

Casual dating is ordinarily characterized by an emotional and/or sexual connection with someone without a commitment. Casual daters may be seeing other people in addition to dating each other or could decide to be exclusive despite the relaxed nature of their arrangement. This form of dating can take the pressure off due to the lack of expectations that often come with a serious romantic relationship. 

Though many people pursue casual dating in order to develop an intimate relationship, sex is not always 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. And some casual daters want a serious relationship down the road, but would prefer the freedom to play the field right now so they can find someone who is a good fit. 

Tips For A Positive Casual Dating Experience

While casual dating can be enjoyable, it can also result in hurt feelings and damaged relationships if the individuals aren’t on the same page. The following tips can help you set boundaries, communicate expectations, and have fun while dating casually.   

Communication Is Everything

One key to enjoying a casual dating situation is the development of an understanding of the kind of relationship each individual is seeking. A lack of open communication can lead to misinterpretations of intentions and crossed boundaries. For example, if one person thought that a sexual relationship with others was off the table, but the other did not and became intimate with someone else, this can create conflict and uncomfortable emotions. Because of this, it can be important for both parties to discuss their intentions for the relationship right from the beginning.

In addition to talking at the outset of the relationship, it can also help to continue communicating through the duration of the casual dating arrangement. For example, sometimes one person in a casual relationship will develop feelings and want to pursue a more serious relationship. In this situation, it can help to bring up these feelings so that both individuals are on the same page and can proceed without complicating things.

Respect The Other Person's Feelings

Having empathy and respect for the person you’re dating can be vital to a healthy casual dating situation. For example, the person you’re seeing may not want to hear the details of how things are going with other dates. Thoughtfulness and respect can help you and the other person avoid anger, jealousy, sadness, and other emotions that may end up damaging your relationship. 

If you discover that you are no longer interested in pursuing a casual dating arrangement, it may be time to end the relationship with compassion and grace. This allows you to stay friends and move on in a healthy, constructive way. 

Know The Potential Pitfalls

Casual dating can be  at times. Even when there are fewer expectations in a relationship, you might still worry that there are certain guidelines you are breaking. Answers to questions like, Who should text who first after the first date? and How long should I wait for their call? can be difficult to ascertain. You may wonder whether you should introduce them to your friends or talk about the future. Even making plans for the weekend may feel like it's venturing into more serious territory.

Again, the best course of action is usually communication. If you are concerned about something, an honest discussion is often the best way to ensure that both parties are heard and respected. It is important to stay true to yourself and only do, say, or commit to things that you are comfortable with. If the complexities of a casual relationship prove to be too distressing or confusing, it might be worth considering whether casual dating is a good fit for you.

Casual Dating Does Not Guarantee Casual Sex

It is worth noting that it is perfectly acceptable to start up a casual relationship that does not involve sex. Maybe sex feels too serious or uncomfortable right now, and that's perfectly alright. Maybe all you're looking for is someone to go to the movies with or to cuddle with after a long walk on the beach. Maybe you're into meeting up for coffee or enjoying a board game night. A casual relationship can be designed by you and tailored to your desires. Casual dating does not have to include intimacy if you’re not comfortable with that arrangement.  

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Keep The Dates Casual

There are several date ideas that could help foster a casual dating relationship, including:

  • Going to coffee bars

  • Going to the movies

  • Going out to dinner

  • Going shopping together

  • Taking your dogs for walks together

  • Going to concerts

Activities that may stretch boundaries in a casual dating relationship are those that are particularly intimate in nature (e.g., meeting the other person’s parents). If you find yourself in situations that may be more indicative of a traditional committed relationship, it might be time to have a check-in with the person you’re dating regarding expectations and boundaries.

Engaging in emotionally intimate activities could muddy the formerly clear waters and change the scope of the relationship. It can be helpful for you and the person you’re dating to be upfront about boundaries regarding activities that you’ll participate in together.

Be True to Yourself

What is most important when deciding whether to date casually is that you are true to your authentic intentions. Do you want to have a casual relationship? Do you feel like you're ready for it? Do you think you would be disappointed if the person you've been dating for a while never wants to take it to the next level? Would you be comfortable not talking about the future? Are you considering a casual relationship because it's the only variety of relationship being offered by the person you are interested in? Being honest with yourself about what you’re looking for can help you determine the best way to proceed. 

When Casual Dating Becomes Serious

Many people who began their relationship as casual daters or friends with benefits develop serious feelings and get into a relationship with each other down the road. While this can be a great way to start a committed romantic relationship, you may want to avoid going into a casual arrangement expecting something serious. Expecting future commitment while casual dating can lead to hurt feelings and tension between you and the person you’re seeing.

Navigating Casual Dating With BetterHelp

Studies show that online therapy can be an effective tool when dealing with relationship challenges and potentially difficult emotions related to dating. A study examining the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on the quality of relationships  with their relationships after treatment. The report specifically notes that CBT was effective in the long term in increasing satisfaction in sexual relationships. Online CBT helps people navigate relationships by reframing certain negative or unhelpful thoughts, and allowing the participant to better connect and interact with friends and partners.

Casual dating can be tricky to navigate, but online therapy can help. If you are uncomfortable meeting face to face to discuss these topics, with online therapy through BetterHelp, you can speak with a licensed therapist from anywhere you have an internet connection. You can also refer back to messages sent between you and your therapist so that you can remember previous points made during therapy and track your progress when it comes to relationships and similar mental health-related concerns. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from people who have dealt with similar issues.

Therapist Reviews

“He’s not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”

“It was great working with Victoria. We covered dating, body image, and family relationships. Sometimes we got more serious but she had the ability to keep things light when I preferred that. Thanks Victoria!”


Casual dating is not for everyone, and that's okay. It all depends on what you want and what you are comfortable with. When it comes to successful casual relationships, there are a few key ingredients: communication, honesty, boundaries and respect. For help with understanding all of the relationships in your life, consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional online. You deserve to have healthy, fulfilling relationships and the emotional wellness that can come with them. 

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