Regular check-ins? Respecting boundaries? Check and check.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: There are no hard-and-fast rules to dating or relationships. Every relationship is different, and the guidelines and expectations should be defined and set by those involved. So rather than thinking of these as casual dating “rules” (notice the quotes), take them more as suggestions or tips.
If you do happen to be casually dating or seeing someone, there are just a few actions and behaviors that might be helpful for maintaining the relationship dynamic you want and making sure you and your FWB stay on the same page (yes, that does mean having regular check-ins).
How do you make sure your boundaries don’t get crossed and there is no miscommunication? How do you keep your casual partner safe — emotionally and physically — if you (or both of you) are sleeping with other people outside of the relationship? How do you make sure there are no hard feelings if your casual partner starts to develop a serious crush but you don’t feel the same way? Hint: Keep reading for answers to these Qs.
Elite Daily tapped a few relationship experts to get you the oh-so-secret (not really) deets on how to make a casual relationship work. Here are five casual dating “rules” to follow so you’re always on the same page with your casual boo(s) — you’re welcome in advance.
Casual Dating “Rules”
1. Establish what the relationship is from the get-go.
The first “rule” of casual dating is: You do not talk about casual dating (JK). Establish upfront what the relationship is and isn’t. What will the relationship look like? What are you and your partner’s expectations and boundaries? It’s important to make sure you and your casual partner are on the same page about what it is you really want, because if you’re not, things can get a little rocky (read: hurt feelings and miscommunication).
“For example, if one of you is ultimately hoping this turns into a full-fledged romantic relationship but the other isn’t, that can get messy,” Lovehoney scientific advisor, social psychologist, and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute Dr. Justin Lehmiller tells Elite Daily.
So before getting too deep into the relationship (and your feels), be sure that both of you know what you’re signing up for.
2. Be honest and upfront with your casual partner and yourself.
“Casual relationships work when they are founded upon mutual respect and honesty,” explains licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri. “Deception, even in favor of sparing someone’s feelings, and compromised consent often hurt worse in the long run.”
In order for your casual relationship to work, you and your partner have to get really clear on what you’re both OK with. Where are you willing to go sexually, and what’s off the table? If you and your partner have agreed to continue dating other people, how will you navigate those outside relationships?
Keeping it consensual when casually dating requires you to fill in your casual partner about what your boundaries are, how they might change in the future, and what the purpose of those boundaries are. This will ensure that everyone in the relationship is aware of what they’re signing up for and what the “ceiling” of that relationship looks like, says Yana Tallon-Hicks, couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want.
3. Be respectful of each other’s boundaries.
Just because you’re casually dating this person doesn’t mean regular dating “rules” and common courtesy goes out the window.
“A casual relationship is still a relationship, and not a carte blanche invitation to disregard the feelings of the person you are hanging out with,” affirms Dr. Balestrieri.
“Dating or sleeping with somebody regularly, even if casually, is a human relationship that involves human feelings, flaws, and connection, so treat people accordingly with kindness, consideration, and respect,” adds Tallon-Hicks.
That means being respectful of not only your casual partner’s feelings, but their overall wellbeing as well. If you’re sleeping together, you should be courteous of your partner’s sexual health, especially if you’re having sex with other people. For example, if the agreement you have is to use protection during sexual intercourse, it’s important to disclose if you’ve engaged in non-protected sex with someone else, says eharmony relationship expert and therapist Minaa B.
4. Regularly check in with each other.
In any relationship, but especially a casual one, it’s important to regularly check in with each other about how the relationship is going and feeling. Hopefully, before you even entered the casual relationship, you established an agreement of shared expectations and boundaries. You will want to check in (at least once a month, according to Tallon-Hicks) about whether or not everyone’s boundaries and needs are continuing to be met.
If you find that your current relationship dynamic isn’t working for the both of you, you can make changes to it, and talking about it ensures you both get what you want and need, says Dr. Balestrieri.
5. Communicate changes and be willing to re-examine the relationship as needed.
A casual relationship can be a great experience, and embracing something casual can teach you a lot about yourself and how you want your relationships to look moving forward. But if your feelings start to change for the person you’re casually seeing, it’s important to recognize that.
Recognize those changes in yourself rather than force a disingenuous “casual” label that no longer fits onto the relationship. If you don’t acknowledge this shift in yourself, it will leak into the relationship dynamic and make things confusing and wonky for everyone involved, says Tallon-Hicks.
“If your feelings are beginning to grow for the person and it’s becoming difficult to keep things casual, have an upfront conversation about this change and assess if it’s emotionally possible to continue forward in the relationship with this type of dynamic,” adds Minaa B.
The same advice goes for if one of you starts dating or getting serious with someone else. What will you do in that situation, and how will it affect your relationship?
For any casual relationship, Dr. Lehmiller suggests establishing an “expiration date” or a specific date where you will revisit your “rules.” The nature of relationships is that they shift throughout time, so if the dynamic you have right now just isn’t working anymore (sorry to break it to you) it probably needs to end.
But hold your horses: Just because it’s casual doesn’t mean it’s OK to ghost your partner once you feel the relationship is no longer serving you — unless it’s absolutely necessary (read: if you feel unsafe ending the relationship directly). “End it as clearly as and with equal intention toward how you started it,” says Tallon-Hicks. Having a direct conversation about why you want to end the relationship will leave a less sour taste in everyone’s mouth, and will provide some closure for the both of you.
After something ends, it’s normal to feel a sense of loss and sadness — just because the relationship was casual doesn’t mean it was completely devoid of romantic feelings. But just remember: What’s meant to be, will be, so thank you, next.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Lovehoney scientific advisor, social psychologist, and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute
Dr. Kate Balestrieri, licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist
Yana Tallon-Hicks, couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want
Minaa B, LMSW, eharmony relationship expert and therapist