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Something casual vs serious dating: What does it mean and which is right for you after divorce?

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Are you at a dating crossroads? Not really looking for a serious relationship but craving some companionship — and good sex? If you are looking for “something casual,” then 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.

It's important to understand the differences between serious and casual dating so nothing gets lost in translation. Casual reads brief, no commitment, and multiple dating partners, while serious relationships tend to mean exclusivity, emotional involvement, and potential for a future together.

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 “something casual” mean?

“Casual dating is characterized by a lack of commitment and exclusivity,” says Sameera Sullivan, CEO of Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers, which has locations in major cities like New York, Houston, and Portland. 

“In casual dating, people often date multiple partners simultaneously, whereas serious dating typically involves exclusivity,” Sullivan says.

However, “something casual” and “dating casually” can mean a lot of different things to different people. Typically, casual dating is seeing someone without the expectation of a committed relationship. 

In contrast with serious 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.

“Casual dating may be suitable if you're not ready for a serious commitment due to personal circumstances or preferences,” Sullivan says. “It can provide companionship and fun without the pressures of a long-term relationship.”

Sullivan says that you should assess your emotional readiness and communicate openly with your partner about your intentions and expectations. Doing so removes the guesswork for defining whether the relationship is casual or serious.

A recent survey of 5,000 dating singles revealed that 84% wanted a casual first date to save money.1 So for some, casual dating is about frugality, especially due to recent inflation.

For others, “something casual” might just mean sex. For others, it might mean going on dates with multiple people and not committing to any one person.

This is how some Reddit users define “something casual”:

Reddit discussion on what something casual means in casual dating.

Divorce adds another layer to figuring out whether you are ready for casual or serious dating. Eric Resnick, dating coach, dating profile writer, and owner of ProfileHelper.com says that he uses a test to help people figure out if they are ready to date. 

He asks one question: Can you think about what you want in your next relationship without trying to avoid or recreate your last relationship?

“If you can't answer yes to that question, you aren't ready,” he says. “If you are trying to recreate the best parts of your last relationship, you aren't moving forward. You are living in the past and forcing any potential future partners to live up to a yardstick that only exists in the most idealized part of your mind.”

Resnick says if you can't move forward without trying to avoid the worst parts of your last relationship, you’ll push new, healthy relationships away.

“Moving forward means learning from the past, but taking that new wisdom and moving forward with a clean slate, he says. “You are not the same person that you were in your last relationship. From here on out, everything is new.”

Casual dating sites

These are some popular dating sites if you're looking for casual dating or hookups:

Dating appPricingBBB ratingPaid features
TinderTinder Plus: 
1 week: $11.49/week
1 month: $5.62/week
6 months: $3.75/week
Tinder Gold:
1 week: $17.99/week
1 month: $9/week
6 months: $5.25/week
Tinder Platinum:
1 week: $22.49/week
1 month: $11.25/week
6 months: $6.75/week
Not rated– No ads
– Unlimited likes
– Unlimited rewind (Lets you go back and match with a person if you change your mind)
– Passport feature: Users can swipe on potential suitors in different destinations around the world no matter where they are
Adult Friend Finder
1 month: $27.95
3 months: $20.95/month
12 months: $14.95/month
No rating for parent company Various, Inc.– Full access to user's profiles
– Adding friends
– Sending and receiving messages
– Access to a chat function on the site
– Sending gifts to other users
– Watching members on a livestream
BumbleBumble Boost: Starting at $12.99/week
Bumble Premium: Starting at $24.99/week
F– Unlimited likes
– 5 SuperSwipes a week
– 1 spotlight a week
– Unlimited Extends (lets you extend your matches beyond the 24-hour limit)
– Unlimited Rematch (gives you a second chance to connect with expired matches)
– Unlimited Backtrack (rematch with someone you swiped left on)
CougarlifeFree for women
Basic: $29.99 ($.30 per credit) for 100 credits
Classic: $99.99 ($0.20 per credit) for 500 credits (100 conversations)
Elite: $149.99 ($0.15 per credit) for 1,000 credits (200 conversations)
FCredits allow you to interact other users
Senior Sizzle1 month: $39.95
3 months: $26.95/month
12 months: $19.95/month
Not rated– Full access to user's profiles
– Can send and receive messages from other users with the gold plan
– Send virtual gifts
– Join a model's fanclub (where you can get access to webcam shows, nude photos and more)
Ashley MadisonFree for women
Basic: $69 for 100 credits
Classic: $179 for 500 credits
Elite: $299 for 1,000 credits
D-Credits allow you to interact other users
GrindrXTRA: $19.99 – $99.99
Unlimited: $39.99 – $239.99
F– Ad-free experience
– View up to 600 profiles
– Use the Explore function to chat with users from all over the world
– Option to save phrases used during chats
– Option to read receipts
– Send 5 expiring photos per day
KasualPro: $19.99/month
Elite: $29.99/month
Not rated– 5 Super Flips per week
– 1 Boost per week
Find out who likes you
– View unlimited matches
– Change location
– Chat with expired matches
Pernals1 month: $14.99
3 months: $34.99
6 months: $59.99
A+ for parent company Global Personals LLC– Initiate sending messages
– Search other members using advanced filters
– Get to see who liked you before matching
Reddit Dirty R4RFreeFN/A

Pros and cons of casual dating

If you’re thinking about dating casually, there are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros of casual dating

There are many reasons why casual dating may make sense for you:

  • 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. 

Cons of casual dating

Emyli Lovz, co-founder of emlovz, a date coaching service, says these are some of the potential negatives of casual hookups: 

  • Greater risk of STDs
  • Can become monotonous and empty dating without deepening a relationship
  • Casual sex may be worse because you haven't learned that person's wants/needs/fantasies
  • Can start to feel empty
  • Longer you do it, the less likely you might be to enter into a long-term relationship later on because it's easy to become set in your own ways and unwilling to compromise

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.

Casual dating tips

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.

When should single moms introduce their kids to a boyfriend?

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.

What serious dating means

Serious dating typically means dating with the intention of entering a long-term, committed relationship, whether or not that relationship eventually leads to marriage.

In the previous r/datingoverthirty subreddit, Reddit users shared their thoughts on the elements of serious dating. Based on their thoughts, a serious relationship has:

  • Exclusivity: Only dating one person at a time
  • Involvement: Being a part of their life such as meeting family, learning about what interests them, and being there in good and bad times
  • Compromise: Being flexible to meet their needs but also sharing your needs with an expectation that they will also be flexible
  • Empathy: Seeking to understand thoughts, feeling, and viewpoints that may be different for your own
  • Long-term plans: Talking about building a future together

Pros and cons of serious dating

Pros of serious dating

Lovz says these are some of the pros of serious dating: 

  • Stability
  • Better sex (in theory because you've had time to get to know the other person's body, wants, and needs)
  • Safety and security
  • Safer sex
  • Allows you to focus on other things like career and passion projects
  • If it's healthy, it can positively impact other areas of your life: work, friendships, family relationships

Cons of serious dating

And the cons: 

  • Can get monotonous/boring/stale with not enough novelty
  • If it's unhealthy, it can negatively impact other areas of your life: work, friendships, family relationships

Casual dating vs serious dating FAQs

How do you 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.

Adult Friend Finder (AFF) is an app to consider if you’re looking for something casual. The common theme on this dating website is casual sex with a user base seeking friends with benefits, swingers, hookups, cougars and adventurous folks who want to explore sexual fantasies.

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.

Is a casual relationship the same as friends with benefits or casual sex?

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.

Friends with benefits? 8 rules to know

Does casual dating involve dates?

Yes, casual dating can include going out on dates. Resnick says there is very little difference in the types of dates that you would go on when you are looking for something casual or serious. 

“The big difference is that there is less pressure to figure things out on a casual date,” he says. “As you aren't trying to meet the next great love of your life, you can relax and focus on just having a great day together.”

How long should you date someone casually?

Lovz says there is no limit on how long to casually date someone, just as long as you are clear on your wants, needs, and goals in the relationship. 

For example, you shouldn’t stay in a casual relationship hoping it will turn serious if the other person has given no indication that that’s what they want. 

How often do you see someone you’re casually dating?

Again, that largely depends on your schedules and how often you want to see each other, but Lovz says most people casually dating only meet up one or two times a month. 

What if he only wants a casual relationship?

“You should choose yourself and focus your energy on partners who are available and looking for what you want,” Lovz says. 

She says you shouldn't stick around and try to change their mind. 

“Leave the door open, but don't put all your eggs in their basket,” Lovz says.

Is a casual relationship right for you?

It depends on what you are looking for. Each type of relationship (casual vs. serious dating) has its pros and cons. For example:

  • Casual dating can be fun, but it can also be superficial because you may not truly get to know a person well
  • Casual dating can be exciting because you get to meet a lot of different people and have new experiences, but it can feel lonely if you are looking for a connection with one person
  • Serious dating can be fulfilling because you take time to learn who you are dating, but some may get bored or feel tied down when dealing with one person

Resnick says that some people just are not built for casual dating. In fact, he discovered it wasn't right for him.

“If you want to try casual dating but the experience just feels unfulfilling to you, there's a good chance that you are better suited toward something more serious,” he says. “However, if you can honestly just live in the moment and enjoy where things are without worrying about where they are going, you could have a great time as a casual dater.”

Signs that “something casual” 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

Single mom and sex, is it better? Definitely, and here is why

Bottom line: Be aware of the boundaries of casual dating vs serious dating and establish rules if you want to keep it casual

Lovz says the key to a successful relationship — whether it’s casual or serious — is transparency. 

“The goal is to be on the same page with the person you're dating and to clearly manage expectations by articulating your wants, needs and boundaries,” she says.

A casual relationship is for you if:

  • You like to go out with lots of different people
  • You are not looking for a commitment
  • You want to have fun without thinking about the future
  • You are a free spirit and just want to live in the moment

A casual relationship is not for you if:

  • You are ready to settle down with one person
  • You want a deep emotional connection with someone
  • You want to take time and get to know someone
  • You prefer boundaries and expectations while dating

Should you decide that a serious relationship is best for you, we put together a roundup of the top dating apps and sites, including serious dating sites, including our top pick, eharmony.

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.

Sources

  1. “Survey: Singles prefer casual date due to inflation, pandemic.” January 2, 2023. CBS News https://www.cbsnews.com/losangeles/news/survey-singles-prefer-casual-date-due-to-inflation-pandemic/

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