What Does “Casual Dating” Mean And Can You Handle It?

When you’re tired of relationship drama, casual dating may seem like the best of both worlds: you can have fun dates and hookups, without the labels and emotional attachment. But casual dating isn’t always as casual as it seems. Find out how to be a pro at situationships and how to know it’s time to give up on casual dating.

  1. Know what you’re getting into. If you’re diving into the casual dating pool, it’s important to know what casual dating really is first. Casual dating can include friends with benefits, hookups, or relationships without the labels and expectations generally put on “real” relationships. That means there’s no commitment or plan to continue dating in the future. Casual dating gives you an opportunity to connect with someone else while maintaining your own life and independence. But many of the other terms and conditions of casual dating are up for debate, which is why it’s important to proceed with some caution.
  2. Be clear about your intentions. One of the best ways to protect yourself when dating casually is to be super clear about your intentions. This way, you eliminate all confusion. Know what you want from casual dates and dating partners, and be clear about what you can and can’t offer. There’s nothing wrong with being up-front about your desire to keep things casual.
  3. Set boundaries. Just because you don’t have a committed relationship doesn’t mean you and your dating partner can’t commit to boundaries. Boundaries are like the oil keeping your casual hookups and situationships running smoothly. Set boundaries around your not-a-relationship relationship. For example, if you’re seeing the same person repeatedly, discuss whether or not it’s okay to hook up with other people too. And it might seem like it goes without saying, but set boundaries around sex. No matter how casual a relationship is, you deserve nothing less than safe and respectful sex.
  4. Get your needs met elsewhere. The quickest way to spoil the fun of casual dating is to depend on casual partners to meet all your needs. Even in serious relationships, it’s not healthy to expect one person to give you everything. And especially in casual relationships, putting too much pressure on the other person can quickly become disappointing. Be sure to not put too much time and energy into your casual dates. And limit the friendly chatting or deep dives on your life. Save those conversations for time spent with friends.
  5. Even if it’s casual, have standards. Your standards might be different than if you were seriously dating. But even if it’s casual, you need to have some standards. If you’re spending time together, they have to actually be worth your time. So remember to watch for red flags, and move on if a date is ever disrespectful or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  6. Have a plan if you catch feelings. If you plan to date only casually, catching feelings is one of the biggest risks that could derail your plans. Know what to do if you (or they) catch feelings. Being honest about your feelings can be one of the best options, even if it might lead to the end of your situationship. Also, have an idea of what would make you want to pursue a more serious relationship in the future. For example, you might be recovering from a breakup now and want to keep things casual. But after you’ve moved on from your ex, you may desire something more than a casual partner. Be prepared for your feelings and needs to change over time, and plan accordingly.
  7. Check in with yourself. Casual dating might be less involved than having a committed relationship, but it can still trigger a lot of feelings. That’s why self-reflection is so important. Check in with yourself regularly to gauge how you’re feeling. Be honest with yourself if you’re feeling uncomfortable or unsatisfied while dating casually. And if something needs to change, decide if that’s something that can be discussed with dating partners. Remember, casual dating should be a fun, low-stress way to connect with others. Check in with yourself to make sure casual dating is still working for you.
  8. Admit if casual dating isn’t for you. The idea of casual dating is just that: casual. But if it’s becoming more complicated than casual, it might be time to take a break. If you’re feeling jealous, used, or neglected, it’s likely that you actually want something more committed. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a clearly defined relationship. Some people’s attachment styles require more intimacy than others. Be honest with yourself about what you want.
  9. End things respectfully. While there’s nothing wrong with becoming a card-carrying casual dater for the rest of your life, most of our casual flings must eventually come to an end. Whether you’ve decided to stop casual dating entirely, or just want to end things with the wrong person, let them go respectfully. This isn’t an excuse for ghosting, even if ghosting is common. Take the high road and let them know you’re looking for something else.
Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo