What is a casual relationship? Experts explain

Experts Explain What A “Casual Relationship” Really Means

And how to communicate about where your relationship stands.

by Christy Piña
Originally Published: 
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If there's one common thread in most people's relationships, it's that at some point, you will probably have to define exactly what you and your partner(s) are doing. Are you friends with benefits? Are you working towards a serious relationship? Are you keeping things “casual”? If you are taking the easy-breezy route, what exactly is a casual relationship and how do you define it?

The short answer is that it can vary from person to person. It’s more of an umbrella term than it is the definition of one specific type of relationship, but most things under the “casual” category share some similarities. "A casual relationship is a relationship that can be fun and exciting but lacks commitment," dating coach John Keegan tells Elite Daily. "It often can just be solely focused around sex ... nothing too deep and nothing that tends to lead to any more meaningful relationship." Ultimately, there is no hard-and-fast definition of a casual relationship. What matters most is that you and your partner(s) are both on the same page about it.

In order to get a more concrete understanding of what "keeping things casual" truly means, Elite Daily reached out to a few experts to help clarify what a casual relationship can look like in its different forms and what to do when you’re in one.

Different Types Of Casual Relationships

Casual Dating

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According to Chris Armstrong, founder of the relationship coaching company Maze of Love, casual dating can actually mean a couple of different things, but for a lot of individuals it simply means they are seeing a person or several people without the goal of commitment. "Dating casually means to date with no expectations of finding a long-term relationship,” he previously told Elite Daily. “To some people, it can also mean to date with no desire of finding a long-term relationship. In either case, casual daters are able to let go of the traditional expectations, pressures, or frustrations that can come from dating.”

Another way of putting it, as Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, explains to Elite Daily, is that “you are seeing multiple people at once and you don't have to answer to anyone regarding fidelity or commitment.”

Within the notion of dating casually, you might then refer to what you have going with a specific individual as a casual relationship. "Usually, in any kind of 'relationship,' you are doing more together than just hooking up or being physical," Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and well-being coach, previously told Elite Daily. "A casual relationship is one in which the obligations that the couple have to one another may be looser (i.e. don't attend family holidays, work events, or anything else 'couple-y'), but there are moments when you spend time together outside just hooking up." Perhaps you are just seeing one person, but neither of you have committed to anything serious yet.

So, if you go on dates but aren’t looking to be exclusive with anyone, or if you enjoy spending time with an individual but haven't established anything more than that, this might be referred to as casual dating.

Casual Hookups

Another common iteration of a casual relationship, as Dorell explains, is one where there are no expectations beyond casual sex — otherwise known as a casual hookup.

Unlike casual dating, casual hookups likely won’t involve much of the “dating” aspect. You don’t spend that much time seeing each other outside of hooking up. "Both casual relationships and hookups are designed to stay compartmentalized and not have the burden of commitment on either partner," Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, previously told Elite Daily. "A casual relationship is a physical and emotional relationship without the commitment, labels, or demands of a committed relationship. A casual hookup is a sexual relationship that only exists for fulfilling sexual needs."


A situationship is a relationship that is never really defined mutually, so in some regard it falls in the casual relationship umbrella (i.e. no commitment). Often this isn’t the most healthy scenario, as a clear and mutual understanding of a relationship makes things a lot easier and enjoyable.

According to Céline Sauvet, a certified dating coach, this type of casual relationship “is a relationship that you could qualify as 'OK' when someone asks you, ‘How is your love life?'" Sauvet goes a step further to say that relationships like these don't always last "because at some point people realize that they could be happier alone or with someone else.” While you may be comfortable in your casual relationship, if you want something serious or long-term, Sauvet points out it may be a waste of your time to be in an easy-breezy situationship. Plus, not defining a relationship can create misunderstandings with you and another person about your wants and expectations.

How To Establish A Casual Relationship

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You may have one definition for keeping things casual and your not-so-partner may have their own definition, which could lead to confusion down the line. "There's not one blanket statement that defines any type of relationship," Dr. Benjamin Ritter, founder of The Breakup Supplement and LFY Consulting, tells Elite Daily. "Casual for you can be different than casual for another person. For example, casual for some people could actually mean sleeping over during the week, sex, going on actual dates, meeting friends; while someone else would say that all those actions are implying a serious relationship. When it comes to the idea of being casual, it's all about intent."

And in order to establish what you and your partner's intentions are, you need to talk to them about it. While having this conversation may seem a little intimidating, establishing what you two are earlier on can help you move forward in one way or another. "Are you dating with the current and future goal of a more serious, longer-term relationship? Or are you seeking something casual, which can imply that there is no intention for anything longer-term?" Dr. Ritter says. Things that seem like a big deal, like meeting the family, may not mean anything to your casual partner, so it's important to figure out exactly where you two stand.

"The mistake many people make in these more casual arrangements is not talking about the relationship and what the parameters are. These relationships usually get messy when someone thinks there are 'more' or 'less' obligations to one another when no conversation has transpired," Melamed said. "People tend to avoid these discussions because they are afraid they will be asked for something they can't or don't want to deliver.”

If you find yourself in a casual relationship, but you realize it's not what you want, there are plenty of ways to get out of a situationship you're not particularly happy in. Take some time to yourself and figure out what you really want. "Ask yourself if this relationship is fulfilling to you," Sauvet suggests. "Does it look like the vision you have for your love life? If not, have a healthy talk with your partner. Never forget that every day you get the chance to change something that does not make you fully happy." If you want more than just a casual thing, then you deserve more than just a casual thing.

On the other hand, if you were all for having a casual relationship with someone, and then you find yourself wanting something more serious with them, there are ways to make that work, too. However, "it takes two to tango, and that other person may not want [more]," Dorell says. "So, having a conversation about not seeing other people may be in order, [but] be prepared to move on if you aren't on the same page."

If you want something more but your casual partner doesn't, then according to Keegan, you really only have two options: You can either accept that they don't want something more and keep seeing them, or you can completely end things. And while neither choice is particularly the obvious one, "these are the choices we have to make to live the life we want to live,” he says.

"Too often people let relationships happen to them, instead of making sure a relationship meets certain criteria," Dr. Ritter says. "Don't let your relationship just happen to you." If you find yourself in a situationship you don't want anymore (or didn't ever want), you have the power to get yourself out of it.

"If you want a more meaningful relationship and it’s not happening, you can enjoy [the casual relationship] while looking for a more meaningful relationship or cut it cold," Keegan says. Should you choose to stay in a casual relationship, you can very well enjoy it! And if you choose to cut things off, you could open yourself up to new possibilities and new people, who might be on more of the same page as you. Either way, the ball is in your court.


John Keegan, dating coach

Chris Armstrong, founder of the relationship coaching company Maze of Love

Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again

Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and well-being coach

Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method

Céline Sauvet, French certified dating coach

Dr. Benjamin Ritter, founder of The Breakup Supplement and LFY Consulting

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