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Looking for something casual? 8 things to know

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Are you at a dating crossroads? Not really looking for a serious relationship but craving some companionship — and good sex? Casual dating is for you.

“Casual dating can definitely be a way to just get out, have fun, have sex, and feel desired without the more intricate element of intimacy,” says Dr. Jenni Skyler, PhD sexologist for Adam and Eve, an online sex toy retailer.

Dating casually can mean a lot of different things to different people. If you’re thinking about casual dating, keep reading to learn what casual dating is, how to do it successfully, and whether it's right for you:

What does “casual dating” mean?

Casual dating is seeing someone without the expectation of a committed relationship. In contrast with traditional dating, you’re likely not evaluating your date as a long-term partner. With casual dating, you're more focused on whether they fit your needs at the moment.

What is the point of casual dating?

There are many reasons why someone would want to casually date:

  • You're newly single and want to ease into dating
  • You're too busy to devote time and energy to a relationship
  • You just want to have fun and hookup with someone you like

It's also especially great for newly single people who haven't dated in a while and need to get their feet wet. 

How to start a casual relationship

First, decide what you're looking for, Skyler suggests. Are you newly single and want help getting over the first date jitters? Or are you just at a place where you want companionship and validation? Maybe you just want to have sex. 

Figuring out your own motivations will help you get what you want out of your casual dating experience.

One of the easiest ways to meet people is through a dating app. In fact, we have a bunch of dating app reviews to help you pick the right one. 

While they’re great for finding long-term partners, I don’t suggest apps like eharmony, Match, and Hinge for casual dating. My go-to picks as someone who regularly reviews dating apps would be Tinder or Bumble; they have a high volume of users and don't require you to pay.

You can also meet people IRL. Have friends set you up or go out one night to a bar. Join groups, like a cooking class or a volunteer event, or keep your eyes peeled when you’re going about your day.

Not sure where to go? Casual date ideas

The best casual dates are ones where you can have a good conversation or participate in an activity that brings out your personality.

Some suggestions include:

  • Drinks at a bar
  • Mini golf
  • Coffee
  • Seasonal outings (like going to the beach or ice skating)
  • Walk or bike ride
  • Takeout and movie watching

Can't decide what to do? A good first date, IMO, is coffee or drinks — both are low-key activities where you can get to know one another without distraction. Plus, if you're not feeling your date, it's easy to end the date early. 

If you prefer something more exciting, any outing that shows your personality (like your competitive side at bowling or silly side singing karaoke) is also a great option. 

Not sure what to wear on a casual date? Casual dating outfits

The best date outfit makes you feel like the best version of yourself. It might also help to think about where you're going on a date. 

For example, if you're going to do an activity like mini golf, you might want to wear something casual like a jumpsuit or dress with sneakers. If you're going out for dinner or drinks, opt for a sexier outfit like a slip dress with a blazer or leather pants with a trendy top. 

But definitely go with whatever outfit makes you feel your best. As long as you feel comfortable, your personality and confidence will shine through.

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Not sure what to do? Rules for safe, casual dating

1. Be clear about your intentions.

It's always a good idea to be upfront about what you're hoping to get out of dating, Skyler says. Not sure how to have that conversation? Say it in your dating profile bio. 

Some dating apps even allow you to select what kind of relationship you're looking for, so just indicate that you want something casual. Explicitly stating what you want will hopefully attract other individuals looking for the same thing. This will save you from awkward conversations and broken hearts in the long run.

2. If you want to date multiple people, keep the number of dates short.

“The more dates you go on with the same person, [the easier it is] to get attached, especially if sex is involved,” Skyler warns. 

If you know you get attached too quickly, try to only go on one to three dates with the same person, Skyler suggests. My advice: spread out your dates with the same person over several weeks or months. 

3. Don't get the kids involved.

If you live with kids, be mindful about who you bring home. Kids need stability, Skyler says. “Having a revolving door of new people all the time can be very confusing for them.” 

Of course, you can be as open as you want with your kids about your dates, but don't introduce them unless the person is sticking around. Skyler also suggests having sex away from home to avoid any awkward encounters.

4. Always have the first date somewhere public.

Even if a person's dating app profile is verified, you're still meeting a stranger. It's smart to keep your guard up until you've fully vetted them. You may also want to consider running a quick background check.

Never share personal information or where you live with someone you're meeting for the first time. Meeting up in a public place is an extra safety measure. It's why I always like meeting people at a bar (you can easily slip out after one drink if the date isn't going well).

Also, keep an eye out for these potential red flags.

5. If you're going to have sex, be safe.

Safety is always crucial when you’re hooking up with someone new. Use protection (especially if you're sleeping with multiple people), and get tested before sleeping with someone new. You can also ask your date to show they’ve been tested.

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Is a casual relationship FWB?

Not unless you want it to be. If you choose to have sex while you're casually dating, Skyler suggests talking to your partner(s) about the following: 

  • Using protection
  • Seeing other people 
  • Sexual health status
  • Sexual boundaries
  • Relationship expectations

Some people approach sex differently, Skyler says. Some might see it as deep and meaningful, while others don't think it’s a big deal. Figuring out what sex means for you can help you decide whether or not to get physically involved.

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Signs a casual relationship is getting serious

If you've met someone you connect with and find yourself spending a lot of time with them, your casual relationship might be getting serious. Skyler says these are some other signs:

  • You can't stop thinking about them
  • They're the first person you call for good or bad news
  • You're taking an interest in their thoughts and hobbies
  • You want to cuddle after sex
  • You miss them when they leave
  • You start fantasizing about a future with them
  • You're falling in love with them

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Emma's casual dating experience

This is from Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson:

How do you look for a lover when you don’t know what you want?

Last time I was dating more than 10 years ago, what I was looking for in a man was clear: the bazillion specifics and intangibles that would make a good husband and father. The list is roughly the same this time around, but the end game is not as obvious.

My kids and I have a great little thing going, and the thought of meshing my daily life with another adult seems potentially rife with disaster. After all, anyone who has been married can tell you that it’s the tiny travesties of dirty socks on the floor, improperly loaded dishwashers and wayward toothpaste caps that peck away at the majestic Redwood of romance. 

Before long, all that is left is a wee toothpick of what may indeed be love, but one that could not prop up a tent made of Kleenex. Add to it the thought of various children, exes and emotional baggage, and I come close to blacking out, closing out my OKCupid profile, and strapping on my chastity belt.

How to be a successful single mother

If a new husband is on your agenda, I suggest avoiding statistics on divorce rates for second marriages, and if you stumble upon figures for unions involving kids from previous relationships, avert your eyes. 

Sure, cohabitation is a natural step in a relationship, but could it ever work for me? What about co-parenting? Why not find something between miserable solitude and the Brady Bunch?

My most recent relationship was a big one for me, and my SMILF BFF can’t understand why it didn’t work out – especially when I share my reluctance to have a full-time, live-in lover. 

Larry and I had a great thing going. Like me, he’s divorced, a writer, and a smartass. He’s also a great dad, even though his kids are now college-age and he lives alone in a beautiful brownstone apartment in one of the city’s prettiest neighborhoods, about an hour away.

We had a routine that was made up of two distinct parts: once a week, he’d spend an evening at my place with my kids. I’d cook dinner, and he’d toss them around the living room, read them Dr. Seuss and go along with the little projects kids often dream up. 

Once I found Helena and him — crayon in hand — drawing clothes on a piece of paper, cutting them out with plastic scissors and taping them on her Barbie.

I loved seeing Larry with the kids — he clearly adored them, and they him, and Larry and I were in love. Everyone loved everyone, but then it ended. Even though I never said it, I wanted more, and he couldn’t sign on to being a father figure to little kids again. 

But did I really want more? Or did I just want him to want more? Did I need him to beg to thrust himself into my life to prove his commitment? He was totally committed to me, he’d often say. And he was committed — this man loved and adored me in ways no one else ever has. If I made a list of all the things I’d hope someone would appreciate in me, he had it covered — including my qualities as a mom.

But I think the parts of me that he appreciated most were those on display in the second part of our relationship — the weekends when my kids were with their dad and it was just the two of us. 

His brick-walled apartment was like our private getaway as we’d talk for hours over dinner at nearby bistros, spend long mornings in bed after which he’d make coffee and run out for fresh bagels. Things people do when they don’t have kids. And for 24 hours on the weekend, that is indeed who I was.

But the rest of the time, I am a very full-time mom to two tiny children who need a whole lot of me. This is my life. I am my life. And I love my life more than I ever imagined I would. To be with me means being part of this life — doesn’t it?

Or can it be something else?

I recently heard from a single mom who was feeling down and lonely and dismayed by her dating prospects. “I want something just for me,” she said. She couldn’t yet fathom incorporating a man into her family life. But she is a woman who needs to be with a man. So am I. How can I make that work?

Of course, this can’t be all about me. What Larry didn’t say but what I sensed was that he wanted more, too. 

He’s an adult with hobbies and friends, but when we were dating, he spent a lot of time watching cable and talking on the phone with me. He was welcome to spend more time at my home, but he didn’t come. Instead, he waited patiently for the times we could be alone. Those were times I waited for, too.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about all the fun I’ve had dating. I also wrote about a heartbreak or two. And a couple times I’ve found myself in relationships. For me, dating is simple. Sex is a carefree frolic on a spring day in the Alps. Relationships? Another story:

In bed, I’m accepting. You’re nervous? Maybe worry you’re a little tubby around the waist? Quicker or slower or softer than you think things ought to be? It’s all good. You’re human! I’m human! Let’s enjoy ourselves.

In relationships? I’m critical. If you have shitty table manners or talk too much about your years and years (and years and years) of therapy, your presence evokes impulses to shove the cloth napkin way, way, way down my own throat right there in the osteria, using the table knife to effectively lodge the linen in my esophagus and take me to the sweet release of the white light.

In bed, I am patient. There is something — something delightful, wonderful, actually — about the process. Exploration and learning each other. The slow build and ever-promise of discovery.

Out of the sack? I’m inpatient. What’s the rush, you ask? Not sure. I feel vulnerable — insecure, I admit  — if I am not confident in your feelings, like, yesterday. 

When it comes to sex, I don’t judge your history. You and your ex never did it? More pent-up lovin’ for me! Things were rote in your last relationship? Just a poor match — let’s kick it.

In dating, I revert to the maxim: people don’t change. Your behavior over the past 40 years is a great indicator of how you will be moving forward. Fooled around on your wife — and every other woman you’ve dated? I accept that is who you are. All your girlfriends complained you weren’t romantic or attentive? I’m not going to be the exception.

In bed, I have no issues asking for what I want. Or giving what you want, for that matter. The pleasure is really all about the giving, and allowing to be given to.

In relationships, I can be passive-aggressive. I don’t try to be. It’s not that I set out to play games. No. It is just that when I’m annoyed or irritated or hurt or devastated, I usually don’t trust those feelings. I tell myself that I am wrong and that my judgment is off. So I don’t express how I feel. But those feelings come out anyway because that is what feelings do (that is what my therapist said, anyway).

Sex is fun and uncomplicated for me. Once in a while, you stumble upon an outlier — someone really selfish or way too freaky for the general population. Otherwise, an occasional unilateral orgasm is totally fine. Sometimes a person is just exhausted and can’t keep up with the other tonight. I’ll get you next time — or trust you will get me.

Relationships do a number on me. Here goes: I tend toward anxious when I’m dating someone seriously. Worried I’m committing to the wrong person. Worried I like him more than he likes me. Concerned that somehow this one, too, is barreling down the road toward yet another heartbreak. 

No matter how wrong I know it is, I’ll keep score. Have at the mental ready all the thoughtful things I’ve done for you in the past month, or ways I showed I cared — and a long, long list of the slights and inconsiderations you’ve inflicted on me.

I’m clear that I need sex. In the past couple of years, I’ve come to accept regular sex as a basic human need — right up there with exercise and love. Relationships? I can be super-lonely when I’m not in one. But when I am, I start singing the same blues that everyone does about how hard they are. And then when I really start to sing the blues, I’ll call him. And initiate the not-so hard part.

What does “casual dating” mean?

Casual dating is seeing someone without the expectation of a committed relationship. In contrast with traditional dating, you’re likely not evaluating your date as a long-term partner. With casual dating, you're more focused on whether they fit your needs at the moment.

What is the point of casual dating?

It's also especially great for newly single people who haven't dated in a while and need to get their feet wet.

Bianca Mendez is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Health, Bustle, Latina, Refinery29, and many other publications. She also served as a sex and dating editor at Elite Daily and a freelance lifestyle editor for Bauer Publishing’s Teen Department, where she helped the team launch three new magazines.

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