What Is Casual Dating, And How Do You Remain Healthy In A Casual Relationship?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

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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. 

In some polyamorous dynamics, people identify as "relationship anarchists," which refers to those who do not assign hierarchies or rules to relationships and may not commit to one or more people in traditional aspects. They might instead keep their own home, items, and commitments and have casual dates, connections, or intentions with others while living an independent life.

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. 

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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. 

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Try counseling 

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.  

Takeaway

Casual dating is not for everyone. However, many people find it a preferable dynamic. When dating casually, try to keep communication, honesty, boundaries, and respect in mind. Contact a licensed mental health professional for support in understanding a casual dynamic or coping with pain. You're not alone, and finding healthy, fulfilling relationships is often possible.

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