At first blush, casual dating can seem like an effortless way to forge new connections and ease loneliness without having to get too attached.
All fun, no harm, right?
While casual dating can certainly proceed smoothly for all involved, it’s not always quite that simple. Things can get pretty complicated, especially if you don’t have a clear idea of why you’re dating casually or what you want out of it.
Thinking of giving casual dating a try? Keep the following in mind.
If you’re not sure exactly what “casual” dating means, you’re not alone. Not everyone defines it in the same way, and often the “line” separating serious and casual dating is more of a smudged blur.
For example, are you still casually dating someone if you’ve introduced them to your family? What if you take a short trip together?
Here are a few other FAQs to consider.
What does a casual relationship look like?
Casual dating is often (but not always) nonexclusive.
People commonly assume it’s fine to see other people unless there’s been an explicit discussion about exclusivity. Still, it’s always wise to have a convo about exclusivity at some point just to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Generally speaking, casual dating describes:
- something more defined than “friends with benefits” or hookups
- connections that involve some degree of emotional attachment
- situations that lack relationship labels
- attachments you pursue for fun, not commitment
What does a serious relationship look like?
People often date seriously in the hopes of finding a partner to settle down with long-term.
Serious relationships usually involve:
- strong emotional attachment
- relationship labels like “boyfriend,” “partner,” or “significant other”
- firm commitment
- some discussion of your future together
Okay, so casual dating = polyamory, right?
Many people commit to one partner exclusively (or monogamously) once things get serious. But you can develop serious relationships even if you practice nonmonogamy. Plus, casually dating multiple people isn’t the same thing as polyamory.
Polyamorous dating can involve both casual and serious relationships. Many polyamorous people maintain a serious, committed relationship with one person (their primary partner) and see other partners casually. Others might have a few committed partners, many casual attachments, or some other combination of relationships.
As with all other relationship styles, the success of polyamory depends on frequent, honest communication and clearly defined boundaries.
Plenty of people believe casual dating is just another way of saying casual sex, but that’s not always the case.
Unlike FWB and hookup situations, casual dating generally operates with relationship-like parameters, even if they’re loosely defined.
People who are casually dating typically:
- say “dates,” not “hangouts” or “chilling”
- text or call each other fairly regularly
- make firm plans and communicate when you need to cancel
- enjoy spending nonsexual time together
Sure, you might have sex. For many people, that’s part of the fun of casual dating. But you can certainly date without sex.
What matters most is what you want to get out of dating. Not everyone desires a sexual relationship, and that’s absolutely fine. Maybe you’re down for heavy make-out sessions, as long as clothes stay on. You might even feel comfortable spending the night and sleeping together without sex.
Talking to your partner(s) about boundaries can help give them a better picture of what you want from your dates and give them the opportunity to decide if your goals align.
If casual dating doesn’t necessarily involve sex, you might wonder what purpose it serves. Plus, people primarily motivated to have sex often get those needs met through hookups or FWB relationships, anyway.
So, why bother with casual dating at all?
It can help you get used to dating
Casual dating can serve as a transitional step between hookups and more serious connections. Not everyone feels comfortable dating seriously (or dating at all).
You might find relationships particularly difficult if you:
- fear rejection
- struggle with intimacy
- have experienced toxic relationships or relationship pain
Dating casually can help you warm up to the idea of connecting intimately with people before you dive into a long-term relationship. Even if you do want a relationship, the very idea might terrify you and keep you from attempting to date at all.
It can help you figure out what you want (and don’t want)
Casual dating is a great way to narrow down what really matters to you in a relationship.
For example, you might learn that what you really want is someone who:
- has a similar schedule
- wants to have sex regularly
- enjoys waking up early
- isn’t diet-conscious
Alternately, you might find that these things aren’t really deal breakers for you.
It gives you the chance to enjoy dating without pressure
Finally, casual dating creates an opportunity for people who want to stay single to enjoy dates and similar interactions with like-minded people. You can still enjoy activities like dancing, seeing a movie, or going wine tasting without wanting to have sex or embark on a relationship.
It’s perfectly possible to enjoy those activities with friends, of course, but dating also allows you to enjoy the thrill of attraction and anticipate the possibility of a kiss or other intimate contact.
It’s not for everyone, though
Casual dating has its uses, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
- tend to develop strong romantic feelings once you get involved
- want to date someone who’s willing to consider a future together
- need a clearly labeled relationship
- prefer to form strong emotional connections
These things may or may not lend themselves to successful casual dating. At the end of the day, if casual dating feels “bleh” to you, that’s a good enough reason to skip it.
When spending time with a lot of people, you’ll probably encounter different relationship styles, attitudes, and behaviors. People don’t always treat others with kindness, and they may do some pretty inconsiderate things.
Unfortunately, you can’t change other people. However, the following etiquette tips can help you commit to respect and compassion in your own behavior.
Dating boundaries can range from emotional to physical to sexual.
When dating multiple people, keep in mind they may not want to talk about their other partners or hear about yours. So, ask before telling a story about your most recent date or sharing how excited you are for the next one.
You’ll probably want to have a conversation early on about sexual boundaries, too. If they don’t want to have sex, respect that decision.
Not everyone’s needs are compatible, so if that doesn’t work for you, it’s perfectly all right to say so (politely).
Casual doesn’t mean insignificant.
Dropping a partner without a word is not only rude and unkind, but it can also cause them a lot of stress and confusion. They might agonize over what they did wrong or wonder if something happened to you.
If you don’t want to keep dating someone, tell them so in person. You can keep it brief and honest without going into extreme detail. If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to do this, a phone call or text is better than nothing.
Think of it this way: You cared about them enough to go on a few dates, so they deserve to know you’re no longer interested.
Honesty is always important. When dating, if you don’t disclose your intentions upfront, either intentionally or because you feel unsure about what you want, things can get awkward and confusing.
When you start seeing someone new, mention what you’re looking for. Some people won’t share their own feelings until asked, so ask about their dating goals, too.
Make sure to check back in with the other person if these goals change.
Casual involvements can sometimes feel like they’re lower in priority.
You might make plans with someone but lose interest before the date, especially if someone else asks you out. It’s common to feel tempted by a “better offer,” but consider how you’d feel if the same thing happened to you.
If you feel comfortable, be honest with them and ask if they mind rescheduling. Otherwise, stick with the plans you made unless you have a good reason not to. Either way, make sure you don’t leave them hanging.
If you’re really just not interested in seeing them again, it’s better to be honest than make plans and cancel them, especially if this becomes a habit.
Boredom, loneliness, anxiety about your future, sexual frustration, stress —dating often seems like a good solution to these problems. It can certainly help if these concerns are minor or temporary.
When something more serious underlies your feelings, dating may not do much to address the real problem. You’ll generally need support from a therapist to work through anxiety or depression, for example.
Even if you’re having a great time and feeling secure in your dating life, it’s still crucial to make sure you aren’t neglecting your relationship with yourself.
Take time for yourself
Everyone needs alone time. Going on dates regularly can seem like a lot of fun, at first. They can also burn you out and make you dread your next date.
Make sure to set aside time to rest and relax by yourself. If dating limits your time for hobbies or other things you enjoy, consider cutting back on dates for a bit.
Don’t neglect other relationships
Connecting with new people can help you expand your life and try things you wouldn’t usually do. Don’t forget to continue spending time with your friends and loved ones. These relationships are important, too.
Take health precautions
It’s always wise to take steps to stay on top of your sexual health, whether you’re dating seriously or casually.
If you’re casually dating and having sex, get in the habit of using condoms and other barrier methods. It’s also a good idea to get regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Despite your intention of keeping things casual, your feelings might take an unexpected turn. You might feel hesitant to bring it up out of fear that you’ll wreck the good thing you’ve got going.
It’s important to tell the truth, though. For all you know, they’ve developed similar feelings. Even if they don’t feel the same way, keeping your interest a secret can eventually hurt you when the relationship never progresses.
Worst case scenario, they turn you down or decide to end your current involvement. Accepting this can be tough, but just as you want them to honor your needs and boundaries, you have to grant them the same respect.
Casual dating may not be for everyone, and it’s not always as simple as it seems. For plenty of people, though, it offers a low-pressure way to enjoy the company of someone you’re attracted to without worrying about commitments or your possible future together.
If you’re throwing your hat into the casual dating ring, don’t forget to be upfront about boundaries and your dating goals.