What Does "Casual Dating" Really Mean, Anyway? A Dater's Guide (2022)



February 3, 2021

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

By Kelly Gonsalves

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

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How to know if it's right for you

February 3, 2021

(Video) Casual | Meaning of casual

Like many relationship labels people use these days, the term "casual dating" often gets thrown around a little...well, casually. So let's get the facts straight here for a second. What exactly does it mean to be casually dating someone?

What is casual dating?

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Casual dating is a type of relationship between people who go on dates and spend time together in an ongoing way without the expectation of entering into a long-term, committed relationship. Casually dating someone usually means you like them enough to want to hang out with them regularly but are either not ready for a serious relationship or just don't want one, whether that's in general or just with this person in particular.

"There is no commitment and possibly a lack of interest in establishing a serious, meaningful relationship," couples' therapistRacine Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, tells mbg. "The bottom line is a hard-and-fast boundary around the depth of emotional intimacy and attachment."

People might be casually dating each other exclusively, meaning they are not dating other people, though usually the term "casual dating" implies that it isn't exclusive.


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(Video) What Does a Casual Relationship Mean to a Guy?

What is the point of casual dating?

Casual dating can sometimes lead to a serious relationship and can be one of the early stages of a relationship. But in other situations, people choose to keep things casual because they specifically don't want further emotional attachment with the other person.

"There are a lot of reasons people date casually, ranging from wanting to gain more interpersonal experience with people to whom you're attracted, to avoiding the emotional attachment that comes with deeper levels of commitment, to just wanting to have fun," sex and dating coachMyisha Battle, M.S., tells mbg. "A lot of my clients are casually dating until someone presents themselves as a viable long-term partner, so sometimes it's a stopgap between relationships."

Casual dating vs. hooking up vs. friends with benefits.

Casual dating, hooking up, and friends with benefits are all related concepts but distinct in certain ways. Casual dating may or may not involve having sex, Battle notes, though some people use the terms "casual dating" and "casual sex" interchangeably. But "hooking up" and "friends with benefits" both definitively involve some form of physical intimacy.

Being friends with benefits usually involves hanging out regularly in a nonromantic way with sex as a main feature of your get-togethers, whereas "hooking up" is a more general term to describe any two people who are engaging in any form of physical intimacy.

Benefits of casual dating:

  1. You get to have romance and touch in your life without the commitments of a serious or long-term relationship.
  2. You have someone to hang out with in your downtime.
  3. You have someone to do "couple" and "relationship" things with, without the commitment.
  4. You can get to know someone in a laid-back, pressure-free way.
  5. You can potentially date multiple people at the same time.
  6. You can have sex with a regular partner.
  7. You get to spend time with someone you like who likes you back.
  8. You can get to know someone in a casual way while deciding whether you want to pursue a serious relationship with them.
  9. You can determine if someone isn't a good fit for a long-term relationship with you before actually entering into a long-term relationship with them.
  10. You can enjoy spending time with someone you like even though you know you two wouldn't make a great couple in the long. term.
  11. You can enjoy dating someone without having to share your whole life with them.
  12. You can enjoy the fun parts of dating without a lot of the more mundane or difficult parts of maintaining a long-term partnership.
  13. Things aren't purely sexual usually—you and the other person genuinely like spending time with each other, even when you're not having sex.
  14. You have more independence and flexibility since you don't need to totally sync your life up with the other person's life.
  15. You don't need to find the "perfect" partner—you can enjoy spending time with anyone whom you find fun to be around, even if they're not the "perfect" fit for you.
  16. You might find out you really like each other and decide to enter into a more serious relationship.

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(Video) Doja Cat - Casual (Audio)

Risks of casual dating:

  1. One person may start to form real romantic feelings or emotional attachment to the other person, and the other person may not feel the same way.
  2. If you develop feelings for the other person and they don't feel the same, you can end up getting hurt.
  3. If the other person develops feelings for you and you don't feel the same way, you may end up feeling guilty about hurting that person.
  4. Some people may not communicate clearly about what they want from casual dating, causing misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  5. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to avoid communicating about needs and boundaries.
  6. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to be careless, selfish, or dismissive of the other person's needs.
  7. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to lie to the other person.
  8. Some people may say they want to casually date, when in reality they are hoping for a serious relationship.
  9. If your relationship isn't exclusive, there may be a higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections.
  10. There's a possibility for jealousy if one or both parties is also dating other people.

Tips for successful casual dating:


Know what you want and why you want it.

"It's a good idea to think about what you want from your dating experiences so you can communicate that with casual partners," Battle says. "Not everyone you meet will be down with your vision, so if you are clear, you will save everyone some time and energy. Plus, putting what you're really looking for out there first is the best way to attract people who are on a similar path."


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Tell your partners exactly what you want from the relationship.

Just because you're keeping things casual doesn't mean you don't need to define the relationship. On the contrary, both Battle and Henry stress the importance of communicating very clearly about what you want from your casual relationships.

"Be as explicit in your communication as possible," Henry recommends. "What are the boundaries? What actions or expectations would be crossing the line? What kind of veto power is allowed?"


Be honest with yourself.

People sometimes like the idea of a casual relationship but don't actually enjoy it once they're in it. Or you might agree to casually dating someone just because you like them, they used the term, and you just went along with it. To avoid getting hurt or any other kinds of misunderstandings, it's important to be real with yourself about whether casual dating really meets your needs. It's OK if the answer is no.

"Be honest with yourself about why you're pursuing this kind of relationship, especially if you're a serial monogamist or serious dater," Henry says. "Check in with yourself often about whether this relationship is meeting your needs. If not, speak up and let your partner know."


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Check in often.

After you establish a casual dating relationship with someone, it's helpful to periodically check in and make sure everyone's feeling good about the dynamic. It can be as simple as asking over dinner or in bed while cuddling: Hey, how are you feeling about the time we're spending together? I'm enjoying it, and I like keeping things casual. How about you?

Give each other space to voice any needs, any discomfort, or any suggested changes to the dynamic. Just because things are casual doesn't mean you shouldn't care about each other's feelings and needs.

(Video) Why Men Only Want Casual Relationships


Communicate if things aren't going as planned.

If you realize you're not getting what you want from a casual dating experience, you can say something. Maybe you've actually developed more serious romantic feelings, or maybe you just feel like your casual partner is being a little too flaky and disrespectful of your time. Or perhaps your casual partner is asking for too much of your time and attention than you're able to give.

"Initiate a conversation about what you're feeling and where you stand," Henry says. "It doesn't have to mean you want something serious, but just because the relationship is casual doesn't mean you should be unsatisfied."


Stay true to yourself.

"There is still a stigma against casual dating, so be prepared for that," Battle warns. "Whatever your reasons for keeping it casual, you may run across people who judge you for not wanting to take things to the next level. That's why being super clear on your 'why' and communicating it can be really helpful."

Not everyone may align with your definition of casual dating, and that's OK. Find the people who are down to have the type of casual relationship you're looking for, and be OK with saying goodbye to the people who aren't on the same page.

Is a casual relationship worth it?

"Any relationship experience is 'worth it' as long as it reflects what a person really wants and is a comfortable and safe space. Dating doesn't have to lead to a long-term relationship or marriage," Henry says. "A person can be a serial casual dater in a very healthy and positive way."

A casual relationship is totally worth it if what you want is something noncommittal and short-term. It may not be worth it for someone who really is holding out hope for something more serious or for someone who tends to want a lot of commitment and exclusivity in a relationship.

How to know if casual dating is right for you.

If the benefits described above sound worth the risks, casual dating might be a good fit for you. In general, casual dating requires someone who can enjoy an open-ended, nonexclusive relationship.

"You have to be really honest with yourself about what you want and what your motivation for a particular kind of relationship is," Henry says. "If you truly believe you can handle the lack of commitment and openness of casual dating, it might be for you."

Henry recommends exercising caution around casual dating if you:

  • have been hurt in past relationships and are just trying something different to protect yourself.
  • have to keep convincing yourself that it's "fine."
  • feel bothered or hurt by the idea of your casual partner being casual with someone else.

In such cases, Henry says, "You probably want a more serious, committed arrangement, and you deserve that. Just be patient enough to find it with the right person who wants the same thing."


What does casual dating mean? ›

Casual dating implies a relaxed and not serious relationship, where two people spend time together, sometimes going on dates and prioritizing physical intimacy. College students and people using dating apps often engage in casual relationships.

Can you be casual with someone you have feelings for? ›

Remember: There's nothing wrong with you. Developing feelings for someone, even if you have a casual understanding from the get-go, is totally natural and understandable. In fact, it's a great sign. And if the person you're seeing now isn't able to return those feelings, someone else will.

How long should you date someone casually? ›

Around 1-3 months is considered “normal” for most couples.

If you've been dating someone for a week or two and you're wondering when most couples have the exclusivity talk, don't worry. Many long-term couples made it official after a few months of casual dating.

Why do people like casual dating? ›

"There are a lot of reasons people date casually, ranging from wanting to gain more interpersonal experience with people to whom you're attracted, to avoiding the emotional attachment that comes with deeper levels of commitment, to just wanting to have fun," sex and dating coach Myisha Battle, M.S., tells mbg.

How long can a casual relationship last? ›

Some casual relationships can persist for months, because they suit both partners. But in general, data shows that these relationships can be as short as two weeks to as long as three or more months.

Do you text everyday in a casual relationship? ›

Don't text too much in the beginning. Texting your casual future partner 2-3 times a week is optimal. If you start texting more frequently, you might want to consider having a deep conversation about where you are going. That might signify a more intense connection than just a casual relationship.

What does casual dating mean to a guy? ›

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 are the rules of a casual relationship? ›

Casual Dating “Rules”
  • Establish what the relationship is from the get-go. ...
  • Be honest and upfront with your casual partner and yourself. ...
  • Be respectful of each other's boundaries. ...
  • Regularly check in with each other. ...
  • Communicate changes and be willing to re-examine the relationship as needed.
23 May 2022

How often should you see someone you're casually dating? ›

For best results, meeting her one to three times a week is a great idea. This will ensure she doesn't feel suffocated and will maintain her interest in you. The biggest upside to this strategy is that your relationship will progress naturally and as quickly or as slowly as you both want it to.

Can casual dating lead to more? ›

It's absolutely possible—and not uncommon—for the relationship to become something more. Like all matters of the heart, starting a new relationship doesn't happen instantly. Thankfully, it's easier when you're already on close terms with the person occupying your thoughts.

Why do men want casual relationships? ›

However, many guys want a casual relationship because they just don't want anything more at that stage. They're either not ready, they don't want another relationship because they've been hurt before, or they're just scared of commitment/totally against it.

Is casual dating considered a relationship? ›

Casual dating or is a physical and emotional relationship between people who go on dates without necessarily demanding or expecting the extra commitments of a more serious romantic relationship.

Is casual dating the same as friends with benefits? ›

What is the difference between a casual relationship and friends with benefits? A casual relationship is romantic yet non monogamous and can have sexual intercourse. A friends with benefits relationship has friendship at it's core as opposed to romance with sexual intercourse.

Can you be friends after a casual relationship? ›

Be sure you actually *can* be friends.

Often, the problem with post-dating friendship after a casual break-up is hard for the same reason it is for long-term couples splitting up: If a spark was there to ignite a relationship in the first place, then you really weren't friends in the first place.

How do you set boundaries on casual dating? ›

You can set temporal boundaries before the date and say that you'll have to leave in an hour or two. Or you can be clear about when it's time to leave, by casually mentioning that you've had a great time and that it's time for you to head home now.

What are the 2 types of casual relationships? ›

The 4 Types of Casual Relationships
  • One-night stand.
  • Booty call.
  • Sex buddies (the study uses a more colloquial term for "sex")
  • Friends with benefits (FWB)
31 Jan 2020

Can a man sleep with a woman without developing feelings? ›

Men can definitely sleep with a woman without developing feelings. In fact, that's what they do every single day.

How do you tell if he likes you or just wants a fling? ›

17 Subtle Signs Your Relationship Is Just a Fling
  • They avoid eye contact. ...
  • You're never alone with each other. ...
  • Their phone is always out. ...
  • Their contact with you is inconsistent. ...
  • You never go out on actual dates. ...
  • You have a hard time getting them to make plans. ...
  • The dates they plan lack creativity.
25 Dec 2019

How do you keep things casual with a guy? ›

Keeping It Casual: 9 Ways To Ensure Things Don't Get Too Serious
  1. Avoid Weeknights. ...
  2. Talk Over The First “Serious” Hurdle. ...
  3. Remain Unpredictable. ...
  4. Don't Base Too Much Of Your Weekend Plans Around Them. ...
  5. Don't Drag them To Events You Wouldn't Want To Go To If You Were In Their Position. ...
  6. Be Comfortable, But Don't Get Comfortable.
4 Feb 2014

What to say when he wants to keep it casual? ›

How To Tell Someone You Want To Keep It Casual
  1. “I like you and like spending time with you, but right now I'm not in a place where I feel comfortable in a formal or super committed relationship. ...
  2. “I think you're amazing, and I'd love to keep hanging out.
19 May 2022

Do guys catch feelings in casual relationship? ›

Unfortunately, gender stereotypes can cloud our judgment of who “should” feel what in a casual FWB relationship. Women tend to be labeled as more clingy and emotionally dependent than men, but the truth is that guys can catch feelings after hooking up, too.

How do you not get attached to a guy you are sleeping with? ›

Here are nine ways to protect your feelings when you're trying out casual sex — without being a jerk to yourself, or your partner.
  1. Keep Letting Yourself Get Swept Up. ...
  2. Consider Whether Casual Sex Is Right For You. ...
  3. Check Yourself. ...
  4. Set Some Ground Rules. ...
  5. Be Clear With Your Partners. ...
  6. Try “Everything But” ...
  7. Shy Away From Regularity.
26 Feb 2015

What is casual intimacy? ›

People may define casual sex as sexual interactions that take place outside a committed relationship. Often, these encounters occur between individuals without any expectation of a future romantic relationship. Casual sex may cover a variety of sexual and intimate behaviors, up to and including sexual intercourse.

What is casual dating vs dating? ›

Probably the biggest difference between casual dating and serious dating is the level of commitment and exclusivity. In casual dating, there is little to no commitment. No expectation of consistent texting, no expectation of anything at all. Especially monogamy.

What is an example of a casual relationship? ›

The easiest way I can put it is: a casual relationship is one that involves casual sex (with no feelings attached) or a near-sexual relationship without the typical commitments that tag along with being in a relationship. Oh! There's also little to no romance involved.

Can casual dating lead to a relationship? ›

It's absolutely possible—and not uncommon—for the relationship to become something more. Like all matters of the heart, starting a new relationship doesn't happen instantly. Thankfully, it's easier when you're already on close terms with the person occupying your thoughts.

What is the difference between hookup and casual dating? ›

"A causal relationship is a physical and emotional relationship without the commitment, labels, or demands of a committed relationship. A casual hookup is a sexual relationship that only exists for fulfilling sexual needs."

Why do guys want casual relationships? ›

For busy men, a casual relationship can be more convenient than a committed one. That's because there's no need to make time for the other person. If he's only seeing someone for sex, for example, he can easily fit her into his schedule without having to rearrange his life.

What are 3 types of casual relationships? ›

The 4 Types of Casual Relationships
  • One-night stand.
  • Booty call.
  • Sex buddies (the study uses a more colloquial term for "sex")
  • Friends with benefits (FWB)
31 Jan 2020

What are 3 types of causal relationships? ›

Types of causal relationships

Several types of causal models are developed as a result of observing causal relationships: common-cause relationships, common-effect relationships, causal chains and causal homeostasis.


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3. Is Casual Sex Bad For You? | Dr. Zhana Vrangalova | TEDxCollegeofWilliam&Mary
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4. What does "Casual Dating" mean to a woman? | Why Being Too Serious Scares Her Away
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