What Is Casual Dating & When It Turns Serious
By Joy Youell
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer 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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
"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."
"Adeola is a wonderful counselor! After each conversation I feel much more confident about my life and myself. Besides, it's important for me to be able to speak to someone about my problems and she always helps me with understanding the problem and what can I do about. She helps me see things not only from my perspective but from professional view as well…"
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.