What Is Casual Dating & When It Turns Serious

By: Joy Youell

Updated July 29, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Cessel Boyd

Casual dating may start as a fling. People who are in a casual dating relationship probably don't have standing weekend plans or invite each other to everything. These can be fun relationships that meet a need for occasional intimacy and someone to pal around with. But, what do you do when this relationship shifts? Sometimes, you can see a change coming as you plug into each other's lives in a more meaningful way. In other words, how can you tell when a relationship moves from just sex, just dinner or once in a while to something more permanent?

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What Is Casual Dating?

It turns out that casual relationships like this are fairly common. According to a survey published in The Journal of Sex Research, 18.6% of male college students and 7.4% of female college students reported having casual sex in the last month. An article published by the American Psychological Association found that 82% of men and 57% of women were glad they had a casual hookup, or sexual encounter. When these encounters become regular with the same person, they typically turn into a casual dating relationship, where you also do non-sexual things together.

When a couple is casually dating, this may mean that they aren't exclusive. Casual is just that: not buttoned up, not committed, just enjoying a simple relationship. Sometimes, both people are still dating around. There aren't long-term, commitment-oriented conversations. This season predates the "where are we going?" conversation. The extent of the relationship is usually sex, dates, outings and hanging out. There isn't an expectation for more.

It's important that both people get the terms of this kind of relationship. Before you even flirt with the idea of a casual relationship, you have to communicate to avoid any misunderstandings. Without mutual understanding, one person may feel like the other person was leading them on. If there are different expectations, someone is going to get hurt. This means that both people in this kind of dating relationship have to be upfront and honest from the start.

The same is true if the relationship is turning into something unexpected. For instance, maybe you thought you could handle a casual relationship. After trying it out, you realized that it's not your cup of tea. You could start feeling more deeply for the person you're casually dating and need to have that conversation. On the other hand, this casual relationship may be the full extent of anything you ever want from this person, in which case that should be clear to them.

Just because the relationship is casual does not mean that you can't be honest with that person about your feelings at any point in the relationship. Honesty does not equal seriousness if that isn't what you want. You're simply being respectful of the other person's feelings and giving that person the opportunity to change course if it turns out your feelings have changed.

Can A Casual Relationship Become Serious?

There are times when a couple who is casually dating decide to take things to the next level. Maybe they've spent so much time together that they've realized that they don't need or want anyone else, or that no one else measures up to that person. Maybe they've realized that, despite the parameters they set for their relationship, they broke the rules and fell in love.

For this reason, some people may ask "what is a casual relationship?" because it can be argued that no relationship is ever truly casual. There is always the risk that the couple will become just that - a couple - and will fall in love with each other despite their best intentions. On a sadder note, some couples decide that their casual relationship can no longer continue because they are becoming possessive and jealous. They don't want to spend forever with that person, but they don't want to see that person happy with anyone else either.

How To Know If Casual Dating Is Right For You

Casual dating may be ideal for some people and impossible for others. A great deal depends on the stage you are at in your life when determining whether to pursue a casual relationship. For instance, a young woman who is entering college and who has her whole future ahead of her may not feel a pressing need to pursue a more serious relationship for years to come and may have more fun just playing the field for a while.

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There are other points in a person's life when it makes sense for them to date casually, as opposed to seriously. For instance, a divorcee who is getting back into the dating game is advised to keep things light for a while, to avoid dealing with another serious commitment right away. Widowers may also want to dip a toe in the water, so to speak, and keep things casual until they feel they are emotionally ready to commit to another person.

When To Take Things More Seriously

Maybe you've been in a casual relationship for a while now, and you find yourself falling for the other person. Maybe you're the one who wants to take things to the next level and announce your intentions to make this relationship more serious. How should you go about doing that? What are the best steps to take? And are you sure this is what you want?

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you may want something entirely different from what the other person wants. Maybe you have fallen in love, but the other person is at a different point in his or her life where a casual relationship makes the most sense right now. For instance, a male student may feel he has found "the one," while his female friend is more interested in finishing school and establishing a career for herself before settling down and having a family.

Evaluating The Relationship

The first thing you should do is to evaluate your situation. Are you dating anyone else? If not, then you may already have the answer to one of your questions. This may indeed be what you want if you simply haven't found anyone who measures up to the person you're supposed to be casually dating. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were dating this person exclusively. Do you get butterflies at the idea of being this person's one and only, or does the idea have you running for the door?

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Delving a bit deeper, have you both gone through one or many struggles together, and you're still dating? This is perhaps one of the surest signs that you might both be ready to take things to the next level. With casual dating, there's always that fear that perhaps the other person isn't on the same page as you. Couples who make it through trying times together have a better shot at staying together because it shows that they want to be with each other. If this describes your relationship, then it sounds like you may not be turned down if you proposed the idea of taking the relationship more seriously.

Other signs that you should turn the relationship into a more serious one may be staring you in the face. Look around your house or apartment. Is a majority of this person's stuff already there? Is the person essentially living with you without living with you? If so, then it sounds like the only thing left to move in is the person.

Checking In

A good practice in casual relationships is to regularly check in with the other person to ensure that you both are still on the same page, especially if you've been involved in a casual relationship for a while. Perhaps the other person has fallen for you and didn't want to ruin a good thing by saying anything about it, but you may not want the relationship to head in that direction.

Asking the other person if they're still okay with being in a casual relationship after all this time gives them the chance to talk about something they might otherwise not have brought up on their own. This allows you both to agree to end things if you're no longer on the same page. Or, if you suddenly realize that you too have fallen for that person, then you can ramp things up instead of getting stuck in a rut, doing the same thing day in and day out simply because it's routine when you could instead be working toward something that would make both of you happier in the end.

Are you struggling with the idea of being in a casual relationship? Are you not sure if casual dating is right for you? Our counselors can help give you the advice and support you need to help you take the next steps that are appropriate for you and that will help you lead your happiest life.

Talk therapy and other forms of psychotherapy can be highly beneficial in any kind of romantic relationship. Couples who work through communication issues and other challenges come out the other end stronger and happier. Whether you are casual or serious with a partner, it's important to address any issues head-on. One great way to do this is with talk therapy. Whether you access this kind of therapy in an office or online, it has numerous benefits that will help you. Some of the ways you will benefit from couples counseling include:

  • Satisfaction in your relationship
  • Commitment to your relationship
  • Easing depression or anxiety

ReGain has a wide variety of highly qualified, licensed therapists who specialize in helping couples improve their relationships. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar relationship issues.

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"Lauren is very compassionate and understanding. She wants both people in the relationship to be happy and healthy. She is understanding that people make mistakes and can overcome them."

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Our mental health professionals are committed to helping you succeed and can help you navigate casual dating. They can also help you figure out how to move forward if things turn serious or your feelings change.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the point of casual dating?

Many people assume that casual dating implies casual sex with others, but that isn’t the point of casual dating. For people who aren’t looking for a commitment casual dating allows them to still enjoy a romantic relationship, without the expectations or rules that a serious relationship comes with. People who are casually dating are simply in it for the fun, without the intention of seeking someone to marry or settle down with. A casual dating relationship can either be exclusive, or it can be an open relationship that still allows both partners to date other people. Many people enjoy the freedom that this type of relationship allows, especially if they are at a place in their life where they want to focus on other things, like school or their career.

Is casual dating a good idea?

Just as with any approach to dating, casual dating isn’t for everyone, but it can be a good idea for some people. Here are some instances in which casual dating may be a good idea for you:

  • You have a very busy work life.

If your work schedule leaves you with very little free time, it can be difficult to invest the time that a serious relationship requires. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed to date, as most people crave the connection of a romantic relationship. Casual dating can allow you to still make a romantic connection with someone, without the complexities of trying to balance it with your work and home life.

  • You’ve just come out of a serious relationship.

Getting back into the dating world after a serious relationship can feel overwhelming if you immediately start trying to find another long-term partner. Often people need time to heal and move past their failed relationship before they can be serious again. This can be especially true if you have been in a relationship for many years, and are going to be dating in your 40s or older for the first time. Chances are the landscape of dating has changed quite a bit since the last time you were single. This may be a good time for you to consider casual dating instead. You can still enjoy the company of another person, without bringing them into any lingering relationship issues you may have.

  • You have a lot of responsibilities that take up much of your time.

Even if your work schedule isn’t hectic, there are many other things that can take up a lot of your time, from caring for an elderly relative to raising your children. Casual dating gives you the chance to get away and enjoy yourself, without having to worry about introducing someone new to your family. Being able to have a health distraction from your responsibilities can allow you to be a better caregiver, as you get a chance to be yourself and blow off some steam in the process.

  • You need practice.

If your dating life has been lackluster, or if you’ve taken a long break from dating, casual dating can be a way for you to gain knowledge on dating and the opposite sex. Then when you are ready to move on to a more serious relationship, you can be more confident in your abilities to build a strong, lasting relationship.

  • You’re looking to focus on yourself.

There are always points in our lives when we need to focus on ourselves more than on a relationship. Maybe you’ve just had a career change, finally finished college, or overcome an addiction or mental health crisis. Choosing casual dating means that you still get the chance for companionship, while still being able to focus on yourself for a period of time.

Can casual dating lead to a relationship?

While some casual relationships end up flourishing into serious ones, this is more the exception than the rule. If you are dating someone that has made it clear they want to keep it casual, trying to change their minds isn’t a healthy approach to the relationship. If you want more than the other person is willing to give you, it is time to move on to someone who instead desires something more serious.

How do you keep casual dating?

If you’re looking into casual dating, and aren’t sure how to keep things casual, we have some tips for dating casually to keep your expectations clear and your relationship casual:

  • Be honest with yourself about what you want.
  • Be honest with the other person about your expectations for the relationship.
  • Avoiding spending time together with friend groups.
  • Keep your usual routine.
  • Always practice safe sex.

Is casual dating the same as friends with benefits?

While casual dating and friends with benefits may seem similar, they are actually two very different things. Casual dating implies a definite end to the relationship, as you are spending time together with the intention of having fun for only a temporary period of time. Casual dating doesn’t have to mean sex, either; it can simply mean spending time on romantic dates with someone whose company you enjoy. Friends with benefits, however, is supposed to be more based on friendship. This is a person whom you already know and enjoy spending time with, that you occasionally have casual sex with. In a friends with benefits situation, the hope is that the friendship continues even after you quit having a sexual relationship, and you’re both still likely out living a normal dating life as well.

Is casual dating exclusive?

There is no such thing as just one approach to a casual dating relationship, and exclusivity is a factor that is different for everyone. When you’re casually dating, you can choose to either be exclusive with one partner at a time, or have an open relationship that allows both parties to date other people as well. The choice is up to you.

What is casual dating vs relationship?

When you’re dating someone, defining the relationship is an important part of ensuring that you’re both on the same page. This helps to avoid any potential confusion – or worse yet, heartache – that not communicating your intentions can lead to. It is important to decide if you’re looking for casual dating, or if you’re looking for a relationship.

A relationship implies commitment, as well as exclusivity. That means both parties agree to only see each other, and that they are treating the relationship as something that could potentially blossom into marriage one day. The rules of casual dating, on the other hand, are a little bit different. Instead, both parties agree that they are just dating for fun, and may still be open to dating someone else. Whereas relationships are meant to last, casual dating is just temporary.

How do you casually date without getting attached?

For some people dating casually comes easily, but others may worry about becoming too attached to the other person. Here are some tips for dating casually that you may consider using to avoid getting attached:

  • Make sure you’re ready for this kind of relationship.

If you aren’t ready for casual, chances are you’ll end up getting attached.

  • Be open and honest about your intentions.

Never approach a relationship with casual intentions without telling the other person first.

  • Don’t overthink things.

What did they mean by that? Why haven’t they called? Overthinking a casual relationship can lead to not only hurt feelings, but a feeling of attachment that doesn’t meet up with the causal relationship limits.

  • Set meet-up limits.

You can’t stay unattached if you’re seeing a person almost every day of the week. If you truly want to keep it casual, limit the number of times you meet up with them.

  • Don’t spend too much time talking to your dating partner between meet-ups.

As with seeing them too much, talking to your dating partner a lot between meet-ups can start feelings of attachment. It doesn’t matter what they are doing between your dates, what matters is that you enjoy the time you do spend together.

  • Keep things light and fun.

Discussing your past relationships or traumas is deeply personal, and something that is best done with good friends or future serious partners.

  • Set boundaries.

When participating in a casual dating relationship, one of the best ways to prevent getting too attached is to make sure you set boundaries. Are you going to allow sleepovers? Are you allowed to date other people? Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions in advance helps keep things casual.

Is casual dating wrong?

When you’re in a casual relationship, you may find many people trying to give you dating advice encouraging you to make it serious instead. Some people take the words casual dating to mean promiscuity, and try to discourage you; but there is nothing wrong with being a casual dater if that is what works for you.

How long should casual dating last?

When it comes to asking for casual dating advice, many people wonder if there is a certain amount of time that a casual relationship should last. But the fact is that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on your individual situation, desires, and needs. If you’re happy with your casual relationship, there is no reason to end it simply because a certain amount of time has passed. If, however, you find that you aren’t happy, or are becoming more attached than you’d like to be, it is probably time to end the relationship and move on.

What are the rules of casual dating?

If you’re new to the idea of casual dating, you may be wondering if there are rules for casual dating that you should know about before deciding if it’s right for you. While there isn’t a handbook of rules for casual dating, there are some common-sense boundaries that you should be aware of. This helps to ensure that no one gets hurt by having unclear expectations or boundaries.

  • Communication matters.

No matter if you’re seeing other people or exclusive, having an open line of communication with the person you are seeing is one of the biggest rules for casual dating. This prevents misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disappointment.

  • Don’t be possessive.

Being casual means that there you are both agreeing to not be in a committed relationship. This means that you aren’t allowed to be possessive, or get jealous. If you’re feeling either of these emotions, you should take a step back and reconsider whether or not a casual relationship is right for you.

  • Respect the other person’s feelings.

Perhaps the most important rule of casual dating is to respect the other person’s feelings. Just because you’re being casual doesn’t mean the other person isn’t entitled to respect. You should be just as considerate of their feelings and wishes as you would be with a friend, which ensures that, when things do end, you can both part on good terms.

  • Sex is not guaranteed.

Some people confuse casual dating with casual sex, but casual dating does not guarantee sex. Some people are just looking for someone to spend time with on dates, but aren’t ready for sex or a commitment. Respect the boundaries that the other person puts on physical contact, and if you aren’t on the same page, perhaps it's best to find someone else to spend time with.

  • Don’t go outside of your comfort zone.

Just as you shouldn’t push someone you’re casually dating for sex, you also shouldn’t be pressured for sex if you aren’t interested. Your boundaries are your own to set, and just because you go on a few dates doesn’t mean the other person is entitled to more than you’re comfortable with. If the other person is trying to push things outside of your comfort zone, you should move on.

How do you know if a guy just wants something casual?

In an ideal situation, you and your current dating partner would have already discussed the terms of your relationship, but sometimes people feel too awkward or unsure to bring this up. When it comes to casual dating, men are more likely than women to report participating in casual relationships and casual sex, which can make many women feel unsure of a man’s intentions toward her. The easiest way to clear this up is to simply ask; while it may feel a little awkward, as long as you approach it in a genuine and non-judgemental way, there is no reason for a guy to react badly. If you’re too shy to ask, look for these signs: they don’t always answer or return your calls; you’ve never met any of their family or friends; they steer clear of deep or emotional conversations; you’ve been seeing each other for more than a few weeks, and things haven’t progressed past occasional dates. Any of these signs may indicate that he’s looking for something casual.

What is the point of casual dating?

The point of casual dating is to diversify your dating life and to meet new people! Casual dating means you’re no longer bound by the confines of a long term relationship and that you’re dating for fun.

Can casual dating lead to a relationship?

Casual dating can lead to a relationship, depending on who you are dating. If there is great chemistry (such as your senses of humor match and you have many related stories with each other) and relationship labels are being brought up, do not be afraid to enter into a long term relationship with someone. Don’t forget, however, that respect is key in any relationship and interaction!
Is casual dating healthy?

Casual dating is very healthy as long as you are enjoying yourself, you are respected, and you are being respectful. Successful casual relationships tend to be no strings attached. If this sounds like something you are interested in, pursuing a casual relationship would be great for you!

What does a casual relationship mean to a guy?

For guys, casual relationships are exactly that... casual. There are no strings attached and they do not take anything too seriously. When either party is no longer interested,

then that is it.  Relationship labels are probably not on their mind because casual dating generally doesn’t breach the boundaries of a serious relationship.   

What are the rules for casual dating? 

There are no hard and fast rules for casual dating, but some general ones are to keep your sexual health in check, keep respect in the equation, and don’t forget that casual dating doesn’t entail much seriousness.  If you’re casually dating multiple people, and if multiple of the relationships involve sex, it’s important that you share your sexual health and any sexual health news (contraction of STIs, etc.) with partners.  It’s important that you keep yourself healthy with routine STI checks.   

It’s also important since casual dating doesn’t entail exclusivity, that you keep in mind that your partner may also be seeing multiple people.  Don’t' forget this or you could end up in and awkward or potentially hurtful situation. 

Is casual dating the same as friends with benefits? 

Depending on the relationship styles of the people in the casual relationship, it could potentially be friends with benefits.  People don’t always structure their casual relationship this way, though. Casual dating doesn’t have to be only about sex.  You can simply have fun going out with different people and expanding your dating life while you’re at it. 

How do you date casually without getting attached? 

The first and most important rule of not getting attached is don’t forget that you’re not in a serious relationship with this person, and that things are most likely not going to progress in that direction.  If you keep that at the forefront of your mind, it becomes much easier to stay relatively unattached and to be content with whichever one of the particular relationship styles that you are in. 

Why does he only want a casual relationship? 

Many men only want casual relationships because they are more low maintenance than serious or long- term relationships.  Men tend to become attached after they commit to a serious relationship, so if they are only going on casual dates and having sex with someone, they are most likely going to remain unattached and not put any further thought into it. 

Can a casual relationship be exclusive? 

Casual relationships can be exclusive, however, if this is something that you are interested in, it is important to be honest with your partner and have that conversation.  You are in control of your dating life, so it’s good to be able to have open communication with whomever you are going out with. 

How do you know if you're casually dating? 

The best way to know if you are casually dating is to talk about it with the person you are seeing!  Having open conversations from the beginning will lead to the best outcomes for you in the long run.  Other good indicators are if you do not see each other often and are not constantly in touch. 

How do I tell a casual partner I want more? 

It’s important to have conversations with your partner about what you want and any changing in feelings that you have (such as you want to be more serious about the relationship, or even the converse, you want to see them less).  It’s a good idea to bring it up to them and ask if they would be open to making the relationship more serious or exclusive. 

How long do casual relationships usually last? 

Casual relationships usually last anywhere from a few weeks to about three months.  It is often that at about three months' time you will usually know where you want to go in the relationship from there.  However, there are really no rules for casual dating relationships.  They can even be longer as long as you and the person you’re seeing are having a good time.  

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