Feelings are a funny thing — they’re unpredictable, uncontrollable and intangible. One day, you’re in a casual situation with a cutie and perfectly content with the carefree conditions. The next, you’re fantasizing about your destination wedding in the Dominican Republic. So, there’s no denying that you’re feeling some feels, but what should you do about them? When you catch feelings for someone you're casually dating, how can you boldly let them be known?
First of all, let’s clear up a common misconception. We live in a generation where a casual relationship can mean anything from a friends-with-benefits situation to a monogamous understanding in which you don’t abide by labels or see any serious, long-term potential. Instead of “this person I’m dating,” it’s "this person I’m talking to.” Thanks to dating apps, we’re inundated with potential options, which can make it more challenging to commit to one person. But that doesn’t mean that a casual situation can’t turn into something meaningful. In fact, a 2010 study published in Social Science Research revealed that people whose relationships start off with casual hookups can have just as rewarding a long-term relationship as those who take it slow.
Without a doubt, the scariest aspect of sharing that you’ve caught feelings for someone you’re casually dating involves the unknown of how they will react. Still, no matter how terrifying it may feel, Pricilla Martinez, an online life coach at Blush, stresses that this is always a conversation worth having.
“You want to make sure that you're on the same page as your feelings deepen,” she explains. “More importantly, if they're not on the same page, you don't want to continue investing in a dead end relationship. Allow yourself to cut your losses sooner rather than later by being direct.”
Board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman adds that it’s a crucial talk to have in terms of maintaining momentum.
“Telling someone about your feelings can help you move the relationship forward,” she says. “If you don't tell them, you might be stuck where you are, or you could end up in the dreaded friend zone.”
So, how should you go about this nerve-wracking conversation? Chris Armstrong, a relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, tells Elite Daily that it’s important to first define your feelings.
“Make sure you understand the feelings and what they really are,” he explains. “While 'serious' can sound and feel deep, these feelings can very well be impulsive and more based on the heart than the head.”
And Martinez agrees that it’s crucial to gain some clarity so you can be more articulate and honest in your conversation.
“You should be clear on what you're asking for,” she explains. “Do the feelings mean you're ready to have a committed relationship? Do they mean you're just open to exploring the possibilities?"
Once you’re clear on how you feel, Armstrong says you have one of three approaches. The riskiest approach means “putting it all on the table” in hopes that the other person will do the same and of course, that they share the same feelings. The “non-committal” approach is a little sneakier — it’s all about playing it cool. This entails being more careful about what you say and how you say it so as to hint at your feelings without losing face if the other person doesn't reciprocate your feelings. The “measured” approach is all about being mindful about how deep your expression goes without hiding your feelings. And according to Armstrong, this is the best way to go.
“Some may say that this approach doesn’t allow you to put your authentic feelings out there and thus it's fake. I disagree. What we must understand is that our feelings are our own — someone else not being in the same place at the same time isn't a travesty and it doesn’t mean that there isn't future potential.”
If you're finding it difficult to have this conversation with the person you’re casually dating, Martinez recommends considering why. For example, if you feel highly uncertain about their feelings for you, she suggests exploring their philosophy on relationships in general.
“If they have a pattern of not committing, then that may be a sign that they like their freedom,” she says. “But you also think about what you have communicated. If you've been playing it really cool, they may not even be aware that you are looking for something more serious.”
Martinez says it can also be helpful to ask yourself some questions about your crush, including their dating past and relationship patterns, as well as their current behavior.
“Ask yourself: Are you meeting their inner circle? Are you included in plans with them? Are you invited to leave any belongings at their home?”
If using your words still feels intimidating, don’t underestimate the power of non-verbal cues.
“We have plenty of ways to tell someone we’re interested without expressly stating it,” says Dr. Edelman.
For example, making plans with someone a few months down the road indicates that you see this going somewhere. Observing how they react to this will tell you a lot. If they don’t seem comfortable with scheduling something that far in advance, they may not be interested in a long-term relationship.
The bottom line? This is a no-risk, no-reward situation.
“If you want to move forward, you have to feel the situation out and be willing to risk rejection,” adds Martinez. “If you don't try, you'll never know.”
Once you’ve considered the worst-case scenarios, you’ll realize that you really have nothing to lose. If someone doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, you can either continue your casual relationship (without expecting their feelings to change), or you can walk away and re-open up your heart for someone else — someone who’s looking for the same thing. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with you. Developing feelings for someone, even if you have a casual understanding from the get-go, is totally natural and understandable. In fact, it’s a great sign. And if the person you’re seeing now isn’t able to return those feelings, someone else will.