If there’s one word that defines the uniquely confusing dating world we millennials find ourselves in today, it’s “casual.” For some, casual relationships may be ideal — either they don’t have the time to devote to building something meaningful while they prioritize their education, career, friends, etc., or they don’t want to make said time. They’d rather explore all of their options, untethered. But some of us straight-up hate casual dating, and guess what? Experts say that’s totally OK. Not only is it completely normal to loathe casual dating, but it’s also understandable.
And if the very sound of that word makes you shudder, you’re not alone. Confession time: The very first time I hung out with my now boyfriend at my apartment, we had a conversation about how we would navigate seeing each other going forward given our professional relationship (we were working together on an album in his studio, so it was a tricky situation). I asked if he felt comfortable continuing to hang out, and his response was, “Yeah. It’s casual.” That word, “casual,” felt like a jab-cross-hook right to my gut. “What do you mean, casual?” I asked, my voice dripping with displeasure. Fortunately, we realized that it had been a simple misunderstanding. He had essentially meant “It’s nothing to worry about, we’ll figure it out.” Meanwhile, I had assumed he was saying, “This isn’t going to turn into something serious, but we can still hook up, though.” We still joke about it to this day — and I’m pretty sure he was too terrified to use that word around me again.
Again, casual relationships work perfectly for some people — but not everyone. Some are more interested in pursuing committed relationships — the kind where you can excitedly make plans for the future without fretting that you'll freak your boo out. The only problem? Today’s dating climate isn’t always conducive to finding them.
“There are more options than ever,” says online dating expert and author Julie Spira. “With mobile dating apps there are millions and billions of swipes and matches, where a new interested fresh face is just a swipe away.”
Plus, relationship expert and author Susan Winter points out that some people just aren't willing or interested in putting in the work that a serious relationship requires — and that's OK, too.
"Let's face it — casual is easy," she tells Elite Daily. "Casual relationships don't require responsibility, and lack any rules of fair play."
Of course, this poses some obstacles if you're on the other end of the spectrum, and hate the idea of casual dating.
"Weeding through the people who don’t fit your needs can be exhausting," says Pricilla Martinez, CEO of Regroop Online Life Coaching.
If casual dating sounds like a royal waste of time to you and you’re looking to build a more meaningful bond with someone, experts say that’s totally OK. It indicates that you’re willing to be vulnerable and put in the time and effort that a serious relationship requires. As a result of this vulnerability, it can obviously be painful when you have a few stellar dates with someone — only to discover that they’re not interested in anything serious.
“When you realize you’re one of many, or you didn’t have sex on their quick timetable, it’s natural to hate the idea of feeling like you're a fling or in a rotation,” Spira adds.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid this disappointment. When it comes to dating apps, both Spira and Winter advise being very upfront with your matches about what you’re looking for from the get-go. Spira recommends adding something about wanting a long-term relationship to your profile, or writing something to the effect of “swipe left if you’re looking for a hookup.” Winter also suggests verbalizing what you’re looking for when you go on a date with someone new.
“Use words and phrases that are clearly understandable, such as committed relationship, sexual exclusivity, or meaningful partnership,” she explains.
By making your intentions crystal clear early on, you can potentially avoid going out with someone who’s on a totally different page — or worse, getting emotionally invested only to be let down. Martinez emphasizes that it's important not to leave room for assumptions on either side. She notes that while it doesn't have to be a long conversation, it should be direct.
“We've entered a time period where many individuals are afraid to articulate their wants and needs,” says Winter. “They assume that by doing so, they'll be called 'difficult' and therefore be rejected. In an effort to appear datable and desirable, they've lost their voice and given up their rights to determine the rules of engagement for their body (and their heart). Speaking your truth from day one filters out the partners who want to play by their own rules. This establishes your voice and your goals for how you intend to participate in a romantic involvement.”
Several nights ago, while catching up with one of my best girlfriends from college, she lamented all of her recent dating fails in New York City. “Every single time I meet a guy I like, I feel like I’m just along for the ride,” she said. “I never, ever ask what we’re doing. Because that would be so uncool, right? So I just wait for them to bring it up. It’s been my technique for as long as I can remember.” The problem? Her “technique” hasn’t been working. Countless times she’s ended up scratching her head when her crush unexpectedly reveals he’s not looking for anything serious — after a long series of seemingly phenomenal dates. We agreed that she needs to change her approach, and I decided to give her a challenge. I told her that on her next first date, she should ask what he’s looking for at some point before the hang-out ends. She excitedly accepted the challenge.
And if you hate casual relationships, I urge you to try it, too. It may feel awkward to ask such a bold question on a first or second date, but here’s the thing: The only reason why someone might be intimidated or put-off by the question is if they don’t know what they’re looking for, or if they’re looking for something casual and you aren’t. And you want to weed those people out anyway, right?
Martinez stresses that it's important to resist the temptation to try and change your date's mind if you find out they're looking for something casual.
"Just like you are unlikely to be convinced that casual relationships are the way to go, they will not be convinced that committed relationships are right for them if they aren’t ready," she explains.
So, no matter how magical that first date is, if they say they're not looking for anything serious — that might be a sign to keep moving. Sure, they may come around months or years down the line. But for now, you need to respect your own needs.
“If someone doesn't want the same type of relationship as you do, then cut your losses and realize it just wasn’t a fit,” says Spira. “For all of the people who are looking for a temporary fling, there are so many others who are looking for a meaningful relationship and real love. Casting away someone who is only into something casual will save precious time for someone who realizes you are worth it.”
You catch that? You’re worth it. The first step to finding what you’re looking for is acknowledging it. Once you’ve identified that you hate casual relationships, and you’re seeking something more — you can start making a concerted effort to send that vibe out to your potential dates.