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Casual hookups vs serious dating: Understanding their pros and cons

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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.

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?

“Something casual” and “dating casually” can mean a lot of different things to different people.

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

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.

This is how the people of Reddit define “something casual”:

Reddit discussion on what something casual means in casual dating.

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 month: $13.49/month
6 months: $6.75/month
12 months: $4.50/month
Tinder Gold:
1 month: $22.49/month
6 months: $11.25/month
12 months: $7.50/month
Tinder Platinum:
1 month: $26.99
6 months: $13.50/month
12 months: $9/month
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
A+ 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 $9.99/week
Bumble Premium: Starting at $16.99/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: $59.99 for 100 credits
Classic: $169.99 for 500 credits
Elite: $289.99 for 1,000 credits
FCredits 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

The pros of casual hookups

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. 

The cons of casual hookups

Emyli Lovz, co-founder of emlovz, a coaching and matchmaking 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

How to keep casual dating safe

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.

Rebound relationships: How to recognize signs and stages

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.

Serious dating sites

We put together a roundup of the top dating apps and sites, including serious dating sites, including our top pick, eharmony.

The 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

The 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

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

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.

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 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.

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. 

Do casual relationships ever turn serious?

Yes, casual relationships can turn serious if both people decide that's what they want. However, you shouldn’t enter into a casual relationship hoping it will turn serious if the other person isn’t on the same page.

Is serious or casual relationship better?

Lovz says it depends on what each person is looking for, and each type of relationship has its pros and cons.

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. 

How do you handle, “He wants casual, I want serious?”

“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 openk, but don't put all your eggs in their basket,” Lovz says.

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.

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 Women’s Health, Bustle, Well+Good, Latina, Refinery29, and many other publications. She also served as a sex and dating editor at Elite Daily and was a freelance lifestyle editor for Bauer Publishing’s Teen Department, where she helped the team launch three new magazines. Bianca's LinkedIn profile

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