Dating nowadays can be tricky. Blurred lines. Lack of communication. Too many options to choose from. But some women are choosing to embrace the ambiguity of today’s dating landscape as they aren’t interested in serious, long-term relationships and are opting for casual dating instead. Casual dating is a relationship that includes two people who occasionally go on dates and spend time together without the expectation of entertaining into a long-term, committed relationship. You may like this person enough to hang out with them regularly but are not ready for a serious long-term relationship.
While this may be great in theory, it’s important to make sure you’re tending to your emotional well-being, as the ambiguity of casual dating can bring emotional ups and downs, stress, and relationship anxiety, impact your self-esteem and pull you in many directions, if you’re not clear on what you’re signing up for.
Danielle L. Moore, licensed therapist and founder of the Refresh Wellness Center believes maintaining mental wellness while casually dating should always be a priority. “Navigating the current dating culture can trigger stress, anxiety, and depression as dating requires mental gymnastics that previous generations simply didn’t have to deal with,” she tells ESSENCE.
She continues, “Whether your preference is to causally date or engage in more serious relationships, the goal of dating is to get you to your desired outcome. When your heart and mind are clear, it’s much easier to choose a viable candidate and walk away from nonviable candidates.”
Esther Boykin, a psychotherapist, suggests that you get clear about your intention for casual dating in the first place, as it’s a surefire way to preserve your mental health. “One of the easiest ways to be sure you’re taking care of yourself when casually dating is making sure that you are truly dating casually. You must be honest about whether you want to date casually and why you are doing that right now. There’s no right or wrong way to approach dating, but a lack of clarity on your part with yourself can lead to unexpected disappointment, heartbreak, and stress. Make sure you know your why,” she states.
It’s sage advice because who wants to go through unwanted heartbreak? Transparency with yourself and the person you’re casually dating can save you from that. Boykin suggests that you can’t assume your partner knows you all are dating casually. “No matter what their dating profile says or what offhand remark was made on that second date, do not assume that your dating partners know you are not seeking a serious connection. One of the best ways to avoid drama and hurt feelings is to be transparent from the jump. Tell them your intentions and define “dating casually,” she says.
Boykin continues, “For some people, that means dating multiple people with no expectations for ongoing communication or future dates, and for others, that might be dating exclusively but without labels or pressure to adhere to a routine of connection. Do not assume you are on the same page just because they want something casual too. Define it, and don’t be shy about your expectations and needs. Even a casual connection has some rules.”
Although transparency and honesty are key in casual dating, that doesn’t mean your partner(s) need to know everything. “Consider the feelings of those you go out with and your feelings when deciding what details to share about other dating partners and your social life outside of whatever time you allocate to that person. This is not about keeping secrets but about maintaining healthy boundaries. Ask yourself what a casual connection looks like, what parts of your life you share, and what expectations you have about what they share and how they show up for you,” suggests Bokyin.
Get clear and then communicate those boundaries in words and actions. “Make sure how you treat them aligns with what you said. Does a casual dating partner go to family functions? Do they meet your friends, and if so, under what circumstances? Are they a support system when you are sick or feeling down? It may seem obvious to you now, but the truth is that you need to assess the boundaries continuously,” she says.
Although clear and concise boundaries are key, Boykin says we should leave room for shifting emotions and expectations within the relationship. “All the introspection and planning in the world can not prevent you from evolving or discovering a more serious connection while dating casually. Be sure to allow yourself and the other person(s) the space to change your mind and want more or different things,” she states.
Trying to hold on tightly to what was defined on date one when you’ve been casually dating for six months is not realistic. “Time spent, life changes, healed hearts, and the magic of human emotion can all lead to new and unexpected feelings and desires. Do not make yourself or others bad for changing along the way. Offer grace and the space for honest conversation,” she advises.
Boykin continues, “ If you notice you want more, name it and ask them how they feel. It can be uncomfortable, but the sooner you acknowledge changed feelings, the softer the letdown can be for both of you. And sometimes that conversation can reveal a mutual blossoming connection – don’t go into things saying you want one thing knowing you want something else.”
Check out additional tips for navigating casual dating from relationship expert Tennesha Wood, Founder + lead matchmaker of The Broom List Matchmaking:
Be realistic: Understand that every person and relationship is unique and avoid placing unrealistic expectations and timelines on the people you’re dating. Allow the connection to develop naturally without putting pressure on yourself and your dates.
Communicating clearly: Express your intentions early and honestly and continue to have an open dialogue about any changes you’re feeling or adjustments you want to make to the relationship so everyone is on the same page.
Be present: Appreciate the present experience to avoid worrying about the future or overanalyzing the past. Staying present allows you to appreciate the experiences fully and reduces the unnecessary mental strain of overthinking.
Relinquish control: All is fair in love and dating! You cannot control the actions and desires of another person. Instead, focus on understanding your actions and the motivations behind them.
Embrace the journey: Instead of fixating on the outcome, focus on enjoying the experience of meeting new people and learning more about yourself and your preferences.
Take a break: Dating burnout can leave you exhausted and take the fun out of dating. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break and focus on yourself.