The Difference Between Being Friends With Benefits And Just Casually Dating

by Annie Foskett
Stocksy/Nabi Tang

If you, like me, have ever been in a "halfsie" — aka the confounding modern dating ritual where you go on romantic dates for upwards of six months, definitely bang, but aren't meeting each others' parents — you may have wondered what the F you were doing. Are we dating or are we friends with benefits? (Additionally, can we start saying "halfsie"?) An "ex" of mine (because can you even call someone you casually dated, but for a year, an ex without air quotes?) told me in a moment of reflection on our past time spent together: "I think I liked feeling like I was in a relationship with you, but I didn't want a relationship."

Well, you can't take a swim and not get wet (that's how they say "have your cake and eat it too" in Albania), you can't catch two rabbits at the same time (Korea), and you can't reconcile the goat and the cabbage (Romania). The lack of relationship was my fault; I should've acted less "down for whatever." Still, if you are not in a serious relationship, but you are putting the P in the V, or putting the V with the V, or honestly whatever floats your boat, what the hell are you even doing?

Within the world of non-relationships, there are distinctions because alas, we are millennials and we can't stop disrupting industries, relationships included. Can I get an eye roll?

So if I were to try to explain to my dad, who is consistently flabbergasted by the dating habits of our generation, what the difference is between being friends with benefits and casually dating, here are some litmus tests I would propose:

1. Do You Hold Hands?

And not just in the throes of passion. (OK, yeah, I definitely wouldn't talk about any of this to my dad.) Hand holding? Yes? You're casually dating. No? You're probably f*cking. Have you not even taken a walk down a street next to each other? You're definitely f*cking. But hey, that's fun, too!

2. Do You Text Things Other Than "You Up?"

If you are texting like normal human beings who care about what each others' days are like, you're casually dating. If you are solely sending those "come over?" type texts, you f*ckin'.

3. Do You Go Out To Dinner?

Or to the movies, or to drinks (not like sports bar drinks, but romantic, Speakeasy-style drinks)? You are casually dating. That is because you are literally going on dates, and that is dating. Neither of you has to be in it for keeps, but this is more significant than ringing each other up to watch "Twin Peaks" and then bone. That would be friends with benefits (friends with good taste in TV, though).

4. Do You Hang In Public?

See above. This should be obvious, but I'll confirm it for you: If this is a hard no, you are friends with benefits. Actually, you might not even be friends...

5. Do You Know Each Others' People?

Not actual fam, but fam fam? Do you know this person's friends (outside of their roomie), and do they hang with yours? You're casually dating. If their friends know you, know about you, or even just know your name, you're doing more than just friend-with-benefitting. Unless, of course, you originated in the same friend circle before you started sleeping together. In that case, disregard this rule.

6. Do You Talk Real Talk?

Families. Fears. Divorce. Death. Love. Goals. The greatest slice of pizza you've ever had. These are all things that you're probably only talking about if you are connecting on some sort of emotional level. (OK, forget the slice.) Still, while you could talk about all of these things with someone you casually get it on with, you can feel in your bones when you are actually connecting and a little bit falling for each other outside of the bedroom. Bae may still be moving away soon, but this constitutes casual dating, not just friends with benefits.

7. Did You Talk About "What You Are"?

Here's the thing: You can do all of the postulating, Spotify-playlist stalking, and straight up "find your friends" stalking you want, but if you aren't able to ask the person you are getting intimate with what you are up to, you aren't treating yourself right. Yes, if you love the casual vibe of friends with benefits that you and this person have going, that's awesome. However, it's great to make sure that they are on the same page because physical intimacy has never not complicated things, no matter how truly chill you are.

If you are wondering if you are "friends with benefits" or "casually dating," which honestly, are just two different ways of saying non-exclusive, so, "no strings attached," then you should have a quick chat with your "partner" about it. You don't need to be aggressive or needy; you can just be like, "You're cool with us just sleeping together, right?" or you can ask, "Do you see this going anywhere?" Just don't do ask these things in the middle of hooking up if you want a straightforward answer. Postcoital is rough, too. Ask in a truly sober moment, no hormones blazing around. Clarity will make whatever you're doing together so much more enjoyable.