What Is a Casual Relationship?

By Dana Hamilton

When we think about the kinds of relationships that we want, it can be easy to only consider either hookups or committed partnerships. But if neither of those sound like what you’re looking for, you might want to consider something in the middle, like a casual relationship. Here’s everything that you need to know about casual relationships, and advice for pursuing them. 

Casual relationships still have boundaries 

Just because there may be a lot more freedom (or perceived freedom) in casual relationships, it doesn’t mean that they’re a free-for-all. “‘Casual’ can be a misleading word in this context, because sometimes an uncommitted relationship can come with as many or more explicit rules and boundaries as a committed one,” love coach Francesca Hogi points out. Rules and boundaries in a casual relationship can be in regards to safer sex practices, time spent together, the level of emotional intimacy, and anything in between. 

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to casual relationships (or dating in general, for that matter), only what works for you. “What seems casual to you could seem very committed or formal to someone else because we all have very different experiences and perceptions around relationships,” says sex educator Domina Franco. “Perhaps you don’t meet friends and family or go out on dates, or maybe you do. It’s really whatever the people involved want and are comfortable with.” If you want to make sure you and your casual partner are on the same page, don’t be afraid to let them know what your needs and boundaries are in order for you to feel good about the dynamic.

People keep it casual for different reasons

When you think of a casual relationship, you may think of two people “testing each other out” romantically before deciding if they want to commit. While that might be true for some casual relationships, it’s not always the case. There are people who consciously choose to pursue casual relationships only. There are lots of reasons for this; It may be a good choice if you’re interested in exploring sex or your sexuality, or maybe you know that you don’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to be more committed. 

If you’ve never tried a casual relationship and want something a little different, “a casual relationship might be a good option for you to learn more about yourself and have some intimacy without the pressure of commitment,” says Hogi. Most people won’t know if a casual relationship is right for them until they’ve tried it. However, “if you already know that you enjoy the feeling of committed relationships where you talk to and see your partner frequently and spend a lot of time together, it may not be great for you,” cautions Franco. 

Mutual respect and confidence are must-haves

Casual should never equal careless. Just like in a committed relationship, you have just as much of a right to voice when something feels off. “One thing not to do in a casual relationship is say it’s working for you when it isn’t,” says Franco. A good casual partner won’t treat you as “less than” because you’re not committed, so don’t be afraid to communicate. Hogi also emphasizes that it’s important to prioritize and voice your needs in a casual relationship. “Make your decisions based on what works for you in the relationship, rather than just going along with what the other person wants,” she says. If your partner doesn’t make you feel respected or heard, or isn’t willing to adjust to make the dynamic comfortable for you, you might want to re-think having a relationship with that person. 

As long as there’s abundant maturity, respect, and honest communication, casual relationships can be a fun way to enjoy dating and a rewarding opportunity to learn more about yourself, meet new people, and explore your boundaries and needs.