It can be near impossible to know what to call the person you're "seeing" (read: sleeping with) but not really "dating" (read: attending family functions with). Are they your boo? Your date? Your "special friend?" The difference between casual hookups and casual relationships can be super #confusing and couple-specific. If your life resembles a hookup-turns-to-LTR rom-com (like Friends With Benefits or No Strings Attached), you may have seamlessly transitioned from sleeping with someone here and there, to going to their work parties and being featured on their *public* Insta (that's dating, right?). But if your life is anything like mine, "Sleeping With Someone For Four Months Without Ever DTRing, So You Have No Clue What's Happening" would undoubtedly be a lengthy chapter in your memoir.
"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, tells Elite Daily. "A causal 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."
Whether you slept with a cutie one time and have no intentions of doing it again or you plan on getting frisky often but are set in keeping things purely physical, you may be clear on the fact that you're in a casual hookup situation. "Usually it is a purely sexual/physical relationship where there are no relational strings attached," Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and well-being coach says. A casual hookup can be a relationship based in getting it on with a boo, without any other expectations. "This is a hookup buddy or a FWB situation — a person in your life you can text at any hour (typically late night) and hookup," Relationship Coach Nina Rubin says. "You know each other well enough for sex or to hookup but you don’t typically date or make plans." If you have no interest in going to the museum with your ~special friend~ or meeting their mom, having a casual hookup could be a sexy and fun way to get your physical needs met. Of course, navigating a strictly hookup situation can get a little sticky if one party starts to want more than the physical stuff, "The difference for hookups are that sometimes one partner is hoping that the relationship evolves into something beyond just sexual satisfaction," Silva says. Still, if you and your boo are clear on what you want from your sexy time together, keeping your relationship purely physically may be ideal for you.
Of course, if you slept with a cutie and then kind of kept sleeping with them (without talking about your long-term plans with them) or if you're ultimately interested in more than just sex — it may be hard to establish exactly what the heck is going on. "Usually, in any kind of 'relationship,' you are doing more together than just hooking up or being physical," Melamed says. "A casual relationship is one in which the obligations that the couple have to one and other 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."
If you like to go on dates but you're not trying to be exclusive, or if you enjoy spending time together but haven't established anything more than that, you may be more in the "casual dating" territory. "This is a dating relationship that doesn’t have to lead to anything. You and your companion enjoy activities and spending time together, but are not trying to take the relationship 'to the next level,'" Rubin says. Of course, 'the next level' means something different for everyone. If you've only been in more hookup situations, going on a literal "date" could be a step. If you've been "casually seeing" someone, asking to be exclusive could take things to a new level.
According to the experts, there are a number of factors that can distinguish a casual hookup from a casual relationship. "I think the biggest difference is time of day! (Ha!) Actually, a difference is that the casual hookup usually is just about the physical connection," Rubin says. Your hookup may be turning into a casual relationship, "When you start to like each other or make plans to get together," Rubin says. From making special plans for activities to do with them to hanging out without having sex — a casual relationship can mean you and your date are open to more than just having sex.
From wanting to see your person during the day to solely sticking to bed-bound hangouts, the nature of your dates may inform the nature of your relationships. "The biggest difference between hookup and dating is the emotional attachment and intent you had about the person from the beginning of your arrangement. A hookup can progress into something more when there are mutual feelings involved," Silva says.
Of course, if you're unsure about where your boo is at, or what you and your special friend are doing, it's totally natural to feel confused or a little stressed about the whole situation. According to Melamed, the best thing to do is to communicate frequently about what's going on. "The mistake many people make in these more casual arrangements is not talking about the relationship and the what the parameters are. These relationships usually get messy when someone thinks there are 'more' or 'less' obligations to one and other when no conversation has transpired," Melamed says. If you've ever tried to sit down with the person you've been sleeping with for four months to flush out "what you are," you may already know how challenging it can be (I'm stressed just thinking about it).
If you've started to catch feelings or you've realized you're not totally equipped for something casual, it may feel overwhelming to discuss what you need from your boo or how your intentions with them have evolved. "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," Melamed says. While it may seem intimidating, according to Melamed, the moment of discomfort can be worth it in the long run as it can combat some major pain or bigger issues down the line. "In the most positive and productive way, the two of you talk about it and decide together. In the least productive and potentially harmful way, one person decides and expects the other person to step up in a way that they aren't even aware is expected of them," Melamed says.
If you've started to feel more serious about your casual relationship, you may start to feel a little resentful or angry when your boo isn't reciprocating. If you got into something a little more casual than you wanted, and you're struggling to communicate your needs to your date because you feel the pressure to "be chill" or "not demanding" about what you actually want (my brand), it may be worthwhile to check in with yourself about what you're feeling.
"If your intent from the beginning was to use sex as a screener for a relationship and the other person felt completely comfortable just keeping it physical, you may have to evaluate why you want to pursue a one-sided relationship," Silva says. Going along in a relationship you're not totally fulfilled with, hoping that it will one day become what you want, can set you up for some major heartache. Although talking to your boo can't guarantee that they're feeling the same way you are, it can help clarify whatever the heck it is that they are feeling, and can help you navigate the best way to move forward.
You deserve the type of relationship you want, whether it's super exclusive and serious or really open and casual. From hooking up to dating to literally walking down the aisle, if you're confused about what you're doing with your boo at any stage — it may be time to talk to them about it. Although it may seem scary to DTR, the clarity can ultimately help you get what you deserve and want from love. Remember: Prioritizing your own wellbeing is nothing to keep casual.