‘Casual dating’ is on an upward trend right now. Unlike hooking up, it implies a desire to form some level of emotional connection—even though on the surface both parties maintain that things are ‘just casual’. Confused? Basically, you can think of casual dating as halfway along the spectrum between hooking up and making things official.

Singles engage in casual dating for various reasons. They might be getting a feel for one another before committing, or else just generally ‘practising’ dating to see what they like and what works for them. For others, casual dating is a way to have some fun and affection but nothing more serious after having just finished a long-term relationship. It can be great if you want to spend time with someone you like without worrying about labels or any big decisions. But there can be downsides, too.

Casual dating may prove tricky if nature takes over and one of you starts developing stronger feelings than the other. Perhaps you find yourself wanting to be exclusive, whereas they want to continue seeing other people. Or perhaps you’re happy to keep things casual emotionally but want to be exclusive sexually—and then get hurt when you realise they’ve been sleeping with other people. For some, this is where casual dating falls down as a concept: dating without a label might sound good in theory, but when you find yourself wanting to label your ‘casual’ relationship as sexually exclusive, that would seem to negate much of the apparently ‘casual’ nature of the dynamic. If it’s got to the stage where one person wants to be more exclusive, it might be best to either have The Conversation or go your separate ways. Otherwise, you may just be wasting your time.

Of course, it’s easy to get emotional in the moment, so here are some key conversation topics you may want to raise with your casual partner:

  • Are we free to date other people?
  • Are we free to sleep with other people?
  • Are you happy with how things are between us?
  • Where do you see this going?

Casual dating as a concept is fascinating. I wonder if it represents a greater pattern across society of people generally just committing less—not only to relationships, but also to their friends, families, career, even themselves. As a matchmaker, every day I’m presented with the fact that strong, committed, exclusive relationships bring people immense and unparallelled benefits, and in some instances I wonder why they might want less. People deserve to be happy—and as far as I can see, most people are (or would be) far happier in a long-term relationship with someone they can build their life with than in a casual relationship in which they’re never totally sure where they stand. This is especially the case if it seems like one person is becoming more emotionally involved than the other.

Of course, casual dating can be great as an early step towards something long-term. I’ve seen so many relationships that have begun with both parties assuming this was purely ‘casual’, a bit of fun, only to see their feelings blossom beyond their control. After all, sexual compatibility is foundational to a strong and healthy relationship, and if two people also enjoy spending time together because of shared values and interests, well—it just wouldn’t make much sense for such a rare dynamic to stay casual forever.

If you’re going to try casual dating, be sure to maintain open and honest communication. You’re not looking to hurt anyone or lead them on, and you too need to protect yourself from having those things happen to you. If you find yourself uncertain about the future or exactly ‘what this is’—have the conversation. Your casual partner should respect you enough to want to listen and set things straight. If you or they want exclusivity, whether sexual or emotional (the latter of course being pretty hard to actually define), it’s always best you’re both on the same page. If one wants something the other doesn’t, that’s fine, that’s their prerogative—but disharmony that way lies. And if that does happen—and if you feel you’ve ‘done’ casual dating and now want the real thing—we can help.

Maclynn is a boutique, multi-award-winning introductions agency with offices in London, New York, New Jersey, and California. We’re world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles within our vast network of attractive, intelligent professionals, and our matchmakers are relationship experts in their own right. Get in touch today, and prepare for genuinely meaningful dating—just like you deserve.