Is casual dating the best thing for your love life?

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What is casual dating? Experts weigh inMarko Geber - Getty Images

Whether you're figuring out what you want after a breakup or having the single summer of your life, sometimes, you just want to date without strings attached. Sound familiar? Well, casual dating might be for you.

But first: What is a casual relationship, exactly? 'Casual dating, in this day and age, is not as clear cut as it used to be,' says Yumnah Syed-Swift, LCSW, a licensed therapist and owner of Sufiyana Counseling Services. 'Some people consider casual dating to include dating multiple people without the intention of settling down into a relationship. Others consider it an agreed-upon boundary [against] "catching feelings."'

Meet the Experts:
Yumnah Syed-Swift, LCSW, is a licensed therapist and owner of Sufiyana Counseling Services.

Lindsey Metselaar is a relationship expert specializing in millennial dating and the host of We Met at Acme podcast.

Rosalind Sedacca is a dating and relationship coach and author of 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50, & Yes, 60!.

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free.

In other words, before flirting with a potential fling, you need to define what dating casually is on your terms. Whether that means entering into short-term situationships or dating multiple people, the trick is making sure everyone is on the same page and shares similar expectations.

Once you and your date(s) have a set definition, it's also important to set clear boundaries from the get-go. If you leave things up for interpretation, it’s all too easy for those boundaries to get crossed and for one or more people to feel burned.

That said, there are plenty of benefits to seeing someone casually—it doesn’t have to get complicated as long as you set some ground rules and keep your expectations firm.

So, how do you keep things easy-breezy while bolstering boundaries? Ahead, relationship experts break down the pros and cons of casual dating, offer some rules you might want to follow for successful not-so-serious relationships, and explain how to know if casual dating is right for you. (Psst, it is.)

What are the pros and cons of casual dating?

Navigating something as complex and personal as relationship styles is often difficult, and pros and cons can vary based on individual life experiences. That said, as an intimacy educator and professional dating coach, I’ve seen many common themes emerge surrounding the benefits and challenges of casual relationships over the years. So, without further ado, these are some pros and cons of casual dating, according to Syed-Swift and myself:


  • Casual dating can remove the pressure of monogamy and the demands of an exclusive relationship, such as being expected to meet all of a partner’s needs.

  • Casual dating may give you the freedom to discover what you want and don’t want from a relationship before getting serious.

  • It can help you figure out your sexual wants and needs.

  • Staying casual can mean you have more time to focus on other things in your life, like your friends, family, and career.

  • Casual dating allows for more variety, including the opportunity to meet and experience multiple different people.

  • Casual dating may provide a buffer against the emotional turmoil that can happen in more serious relationships.


  • Carving out time in your schedule to go on dates with multiple people is time-consuming.

  • Casual dating doesn’t always allow for the opportunity to explore a deeper connection, especially if one of your rules is to not 'catch feelings.'

  • It’s not always appropriate to bring someone you’re casually seeing as your plus one to big events like weddings.

  • It may get repetitive, impersonal, and even boring.

How often should you see someone you’re casually dating?

While it would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, dating experts can’t seem to agree on a specific schedule for how often you should see someone you’re dating casually.

Simply, there’s no 'magic formula on how much or how little you should see someone,' says Syed-Swift. '...Listen to your gut and go with what feels right for you. Different people have different boundaries.' How often you see someone will come down to the agreements you’ve made with each other, plus your overall dating and relationship goals.

In polyamory circles, one term for a casual or occasional partner is a 'comet.' Basically, someone you cross paths with now and then—perhaps when you’re in the same city—but with whom you’re not closely connected to between dates. In this case, you might see a casual partner once or twice a month, or, hey, even a whole year.

On the other end of that spectrum, some people choose to see a casual partner a few times a week. But if you’re seeing someone multiple times in the span of seven days, it can get easier to start relying on that connection and developing feelings. So it’s important to know how quickly you get attached—and whether that’s something you’re trying to avoid.

What are some other tips for successful casual dating?

Casual dating doesn’t have to be complicated—it can be quite simple, actually. Yet, these kinds of relationships may easier to manage if you keep these expert-informed tips in mind:

1. Make sure everybody involved knows the score.

If you don’t want anything serious, it’s important that the person (or people) you’re dating know that. 'Make it clear that you’re not looking for something serious from the beginning,' says Lindsey Metselaar, a relationship expert specializing in millennial dating and the host of the We Met at Acme podcast. 'The other person then has the opportunity to say they aren’t interested in that, or to think it over and decide that they are.'

You don’t need to make a huge declaration or even bring it up on the first date, but clearly saying something like, 'I like spending time with you, but I want to make sure you know that I’m not looking for anything serious right now,' will help you articulate your goals and establish your boundaries.

2. Keep checking in.

When it comes to relationships, you can’t just set it and forget it. Even if everyone was in agreement at the beginning of the arrangement, things change. So you’ll want to have regular conversations to make sure staying casual still feels good to all partners, and ensure no unspoken expectations are creeping in. It’s also a good idea to refresh safer sex agreements every so often, especially if someone decides to add new partners into the mix. (More on this later.)

3. Be honest with yourself.

Check-ins and renegotiations only work if you’re being honest with yourself first. Sometimes, it’s tempting to agree to a situation that’s really not the best fit for you—whether that’s because you feel compelled to take whatever a hot crush is offering, or because it’s what you think you should want. But compromising on your own needs and boundaries isn’t sustainable, and can lead to drama and hurt feelings all around.

4. Make your safety a constant priority.

Safety is a must in all relationships, but especially when engaging with newer and more casual partners—because you just don’t know as much about them. Safety can mean a lot of different things, including 'sharing locations and information with friends and family, not letting a date pick you up at your home, and practicing safe sex if a date gets to that point,' says Syed-Swift.

Before meeting someone for the first time, take a screenshot of their dating profile or social media to send to a trusted friend. Also, let that person know when and where you’re meeting your date. Even better, give your friend a deadline for when you plan to check in, so they’ll have a heads-up if something goes awry. You may want to consider sharing your phone’s location and tracking info with at least one person, too.

Another no-go: Giving out too much personal information, such as where you live, to a potential suitor. Make sure you meet in public so you can do a gut check before bringing a new person home with you.

Safety matters in the bedroom, too. Talk about safe sex practices, like using protection and sharing STI testing results information, before you even get alone with a date. It's important to know your safe sex dealbreakers, so you can feel confident standing your ground if a potential sexual partner suggests something you're not comfortable with.

Moreover, it’s always good idea to make sure you and everyone you're casually dating is regularly tested for STIs before getting carnal. And once you're ready to get hot and heavy, it's best to use protection, like condoms and birth control, to prevent STIs and an unplanned pregnancy. Even when engaging in non-penetrative sex, be sure to use protection as STIs can be transmitted through unprotected oral sex, too. (Hello, dental dam!)

Turns out, casual sex can be just as intimate as sex in a committed relationship:

5. Share mutual respect.

Although not 'serious,' casual dating still involves having a relationship with someone, so respect is a must. That means treating the person with the same kindness you’d treat any other human being—just without the commitment, says Metselaar.

6. Do what you damn well please…respectfully.

Being in a relationship means you need to be willing to compromise, check in often, and generally spend a lot of your time caring about what your S.O. needs. But with casual dating, some of those expectations may be more relaxed. 'You can come and go as you please with little accountability,' says Rosalind Sedacca, a dating and relationship coach, and author of 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50, & Yes, 60!. Just make sure you’re holding up any agreements you have made with your casual dating partners.

7. Keep a few people in the mix.

You can casually date just one person at a time if that’s all you feel like you can handle, but one of the perks of dating this way is that you’re not tied to conventional relationship standards, says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, PhD.

So don’t be afraid to see a few people at once. 'It’s okay to casually date more than one person,' she says. 'Expectations are minimal.'

8. Focus on other stuff in your life.

Relationships take up a ton of mental energy and, oh yeah, you’re not dealing with one right now! Use that energy you would have spent on a relationship and put it toward work, school, or just doing whatever else you’re into. 'Casual dating gives you a social, and perhaps sexual outlet, without creating demands on your time and emotions,' says Tessina.

9. Think hard before taking them as your plus one.

Going to a party or another big event alone can make even the most confident person feel self-conscious, so it’s tempting to bring a date. But social occasions are great for meeting new people to casually (or not-so casually) date, so consider going solo. 'This way, your friends and family won’t begin identifying you as a committed couple, and your date won’t get the idea that you’re intending to incorporate them into your friends and family,' says Tessina.

10. End it like a grownup.

If you’re no longer into someone you’re casually dating, you can do one of two things: Stop asking them to do stuff and hope they go away (and they might), or tell them you’re just not feeling it anymore when they say they want to hang out. 'Honesty is the best policy,' says Tessina. Given that this wasn’t a huge thing, you can even respond to an invite with a text that says something along the lines of, 'I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you lately, but I think this has run its course.' Anything is better than ghosting someone—that’s just mean.

Is casual dating right for you?

Ultimately, only you can decide what kind of relationship is best for you. So rather than cave into pressure from friends, family, or mainstream media, check in with yourself about what you’re really looking to get out of your dating life.

If you’re at a time in your life where exploration feels exciting—whether you’ve just gone off to college or you’re fresh out of a divorce—casual dating might be the perfect opportunity to try new things on your own terms. Or, maybe something else in your life is a top priority right now, and you don’t want to let a serious relationship cramp your style.

But if you find yourself craving something deeper, or start to resent sharing your casual partner with other people, take a pause. 'When it stops being fun, then it’s time to step back and reevaluate,' says Syed-Swift.

Because, if nothing else, dating should be fun—no strings attached.

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