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Casual Dating 101: How to Avoid Catching Feelings (17 steps)

When you're in your early 20's, it is expected that you live wild and free. You're supposed to take risks, never stay in one spot for too long, and keep everything casual - especially when it comes to your relationships.

Gone are the days of settling down, getting married at 22, and having kids years before you hit thirty. As of 2015, the average age for at which American married was around 28 (source). In Japan, they're even seeing a sharp population decline as 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women are still unmarried and childless at age 50 (source).

With more young adults focusing on themselves and their careers before even thinking about getting married or having a family, casual dating has become the norm. Why tie yourself down if you could take a job across the country at any moment? Why have a family when you can travel the world and get paid to do so?

However, this new casual social norm has indeed taken its toll on the emotional and hopeless romantics of the world. Those of us who wouldn't mind having a serious partner in our 20's are usually left confused and often heartbroken during this time of our lives. One one hand, we want to get serious with someone but on the other, why would you want to get serious with someone who clearly isn't ready for that themselves.

Instead of being that pushy girl or clingy guy, us hopeless romantics need to embrace the reality that is casual dating. We need to learn to enjoy all the perks of having a casual lover and embrace the freedom that we are so quick to reject.

I, as the resident over-emotional sap here at Justdate, have finally learned to be okay with casual relationships. Shocking, I know. You can find some comfort in reading this list knowing that it comes from someone just as emotional as you, my hopeless romantic reader. And for those of you reading that are looking to do the whole casual-dating-thing right, without hurting those involved, take in all the information you can on how to treat the more delicate casual daters with kid gloves. Believe me, your future hopeless romantic partners will appreciate it in the long run.

Here is the hopeless romantic's comprehensive guide to casual dating.

  1. Don't have any lofty expectations

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    The biggest thing that gets the serial monogamist into deep, emotional turmoil is high expectations. While we look around at all of our friends who are casual dating, everyone always has that one friend who has had a boyfriend for five years and is engaged. Those are the people who fuel the false hope that all of us harbor for our casual relationships.

    Because if they're in a serious relationship, doesn't that mean my casual lover could be my future husband?

    No. It doesn't.

    I mean, yes, there is a one in a million chance that the guy or girl you occasionally see on the weekends for some casual hangs and condom sex could be the one, but you can't think like that if you want to survive the casual dating scene. It's hard out there for the romantics, but that false hope that we cling to is what gets us eaten alive.

    Remind yourself that nothing you're doing is serious. If you start to feel the feels, back off, tell yourself that this is casual, and envision yourself with other people. You're single. Make sure you act and think that way.

  2. Keep your options open

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    The best part about casual dating is that you are allowed to be causal with multiple people. You're not in a monogamous relationship, so don't limit yourself like an old married person.

    Keep a few people on rotation. Have your casual partners who you go on very casual dates - that are so casual that they could hardly be called dates - and have wild, no-strings-attached sex with. But make sure you do have the occasional booty call. Have a few people on your phone to call if you're drunk, bored, and in need of some person-on-person friction. Don't be afraid to go home with some hottie you meet at the bar.

    This is casual remember. Be casual with your body as well as your dating life.

  3. Remember that casual dating is not the same as having a booty call

    You Up?
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    While you should have a few booty calls on your phone at all times, you need to remember that the people that you're casually dating aren't the kind of individuals you strictly have casual sex with.

    Casual dating is a nice in-between space between one-night-stands and significant other. You rely on one another emotionally, albeit very minimally, and have regular, protected, sex with. No commitment there other than the fact that you might have a date with them in the next week, but who knows, it's all casual.

    Booty calls are people you would much rather have sex with than talk to. You don't have to connect on any other level aside from a sexual one with booty calls. They're not the kind of people who you have breakfast with in the morning or get a beer with. They're strictly meant for in-between-the-sheets action. They're not even adult sleepover material. They're the kind of person you bang and call an Uber as soon as you make yourself decent.

    The people you're casually dating are more relationship-y than a booty call while not being a serious relationship at all… Complicated… I know. But once you put someone in the casual-relationship-box or the booty-call-box, everything becomes a little more easy to understand. Don't be afraid to stamp very clear mental - or even public - labels on these different kinds of people.

  4. You are your first priority

    I choose me!
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    I like to define serious relationships as the kind where you are willing to give 60% to an expected 40% of effort to your partner. Great serious relationships are the kind where both people have this mentality, of course. However, with casual relationships, I would think that it could be defined as giving 30-40% while you expect the other person to give about the same or less.

    The reason for the rise in casual dating is because more people are putting themselves and their careers first, so you should be doing the same. If you give less effort, you won't expect them to give more, and thus you will not be disappointed when the casual fling inevitably fizzles out in favor for another partner or because of mutual busyness.

    So put yourself first.

    Make sure you're spending more time with yourself and with your career or hobbies than you are spending with any casual partner, and you should be golden.

  5. Avoid one another when you're sick

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    This guideline sort of comes with putting yourself first.

    Taking care of one another when you're sick is a coupley thing to do. As is having sex when you're sick or kissing when you're sick.

    When you're sick, don't bother making plans with your casual partner. And when they're sick, make sure to cancel plans or feign a busy schedule at the very least.

  6. Be upfront

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    With any relationship, you should practice honesty. With a casual relationship brutal honesty is a must.

    Practicing radical honesty will both protect your feelings and the feelings of your partner, as you can make one another aware of your expectations and actions.

    This way the other person doesn't feel like you duped them into a casual relationship if they were expecting something more because you were upfront with your intentions in the first place and vice versa. This way you know exactly what to expect from your partner, and they know what to expect from you.

    Feelings are less likely to get trampled on when everything is out in the open.

  7. Set ground rules

    there are certain rules one must abide by
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    Setting boundaries is just as important in casual relationships as it is with serious relationships.

    Have a discussion about what you want. Are you both strictly looking for something casual? Would you be okay if things got serious? What do you want and need sexually? Is pillow talk allowed or is it completely off the table? How often will you see one another?

    By setting boundaries, you do a couple of things vital to a healthy casual relationship: you make it crystal clear to your partner as to where you stand on certain issues like seeing other people and talking bout serious topic and you establish open communication moving forward. This way you will feel comfortable telling the other if your feelings toward them or on certain boundaries change which can allow for conversation on what to do.

    Setting ground rules also make it much easier to keep it casual and safe both emotionally and physically - which is of the utmost importance if you're sleeping with a handful of other people.

    Some rules I recommend putting into place are: limiting how often you hang out, communicating to the other person if and when they sleep with someone else, agreeing to get STD checked on the regular, not Facebook stalking one another's other partners and booty calls, agreeing to communicate if feelings are caught, establishing a "no fuck list", and agreeing to tell the other person if you're feeling jealous or uncomfortable.

  8. Expect no special treatment

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    When you're in a casual relationship, you should have very little obligation to your lover. There should be little to no expectations for the other to pay for your share of dinner, you shouldn't expect them to go out of their way to do you a favor, and you certainly should not expect them to cancel plans for you.

    This tip goes hand-and-hand with lowering your expectations. You shouldn't have any pre-conceived notions that your lover is under any obligation to treat you as anything more than a friend or a casual lover. You aren't in a serious relationship, so don't expect serious-relationship-level favors.

  9. Enforce a no gifts policy

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    Honestly, the only gift you should be giving one another is your company (and sexual favors of course).

    Gifts are definitely crossing into significant other territory. You shouldn't be there's something about physical items and monetary sacrifices that trigger an emotional response. The exchanging of gifts should definitely be kept to your family, close friends, and those who are seriously dating.

  10. Sleepovers should be sexy

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    As soon as you and your partner spend the night together without touching one another that night or in the morning, you're crossing into what I'd define as serious relationship territory.

    Casual relationships are an in-between space, so make sure you keep them casual with sex. The more you spend with one another talking about your feelings late into the night, the more of a connection you will form with this person. If you're in the market for something casual it's unfair to the other person to dare form these connections.

    If both of you have explicitly communicated that you are open to something serious with one another - not with someone else, but with one another - then you can have non-sexy sleepovers. However, if you want to stick to the casual stuff make sure you're having sex anytime you spend the night.

  11. Refrain from PDA

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    Again, when you're in a casual relationship, you're going to want to limit the coupley behavior. Public displays of affection definitely fall within the category of coupley behavior. It's one thing to engage in a little light hand holding as a preface to getting it on once you're behind closed doors but try not too affectionate in public.

    PDA will give off the wrong impression to those around you - especially your friends. When people come up and ask if the two of you are dating - because people will especially if you're hanging all over one another in public - you're going to have to come up with something to say and then you're going to think about that whole interaction for the rest of the day. The first step to catching feelings is dwelling on the "what if's."

    Keep your relationships casual by keeping the displays of affection, strictly behind closed doors.

  12. Avoid your favorite hangouts when you're with your casual bae

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    The last thing you want to do is get your casual fling hooked on your favorite bar.

    While you might want to spend your evenings with your casual bae at your favorite hang out spots, it's a terrible idea. Casual relationships tend to be short due to the fact that they're, well, casual. You might find that your weekends spent at your fave spots might get a little less fun post break-up with that person if they continue to hang around those spots.

    You need to remember that in casual relationships, that you are your most important priority. You need to keep a big chunk of your life apart from your casual relationships in interest of - for lack of a better phrase - keeping business and pleasure separate. The moment you start letting someone into more of the aspects of your life is the second you start getting closer to catching feelings.

  13. Don't introduce them to all your friends

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    As far as serious relationships go there are milestones. The first time you have sex, the first time you fart in front of one another, and the first time you spend the night without having sex are a few that come to mind.

    With casual relationships, there are much fewer, and they don't carry nearly as much weight. Introducing your lover to your friends is much more of a serious milestone.

    You shouldn't introduce your significant other to your friends for two reasons: 1) you don't want to hit a serious relationship milestone with someone you're casual relationship with and 2) you don't want your friends bonding with this person.

    In a serious relationship, you should want to have your serious boyfriend or girlfriend bond with your friends. However, you shouldn't want this for a casual relationship as they're your friends. You don't want them becoming friends with your friends. That would be the worst case scenario.

  14. Don't bring them home to Mom

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    If you are even thinking about bringing this person home to mom, you can't even pretend you're in a casual relationship anymore.

    There is no reason for you even to consider bringing home someone who you're in a less than serious relationship with. You should reserve dinner with the parents to people who are straight-up keepers.

  15. Don't talk all day, every day

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    The best way to keep everything casual and emotion-free is to limit conversation.

    While it might be tempting to talk to this person all day every day, you need to keep this casual relationship in its casual relationship box. By talking to one another 24/7, you're going to start to get to know this person better. You're going to start to know everything about their life and who they are. And you will probably find yourself developing a crush.

    Texting and social media make it easy to talk to someone all the time. To keep things casual you should limit the conversation to when you're making plans and to sexting. This will keep the conversation on what's important: casual dates, limiting feelings, and getting laid.

  16. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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    Just because you're in a casual relationship with someone doesn't mean that you shouldn't found it upon respect.

    The best casual relationships are those based on mutual respect for one another, what the other wants and needs from a relationship. The best way to keep casual relationships from getting messy and ending in a screaming match is to keep in mind that this relationship isn't all about you.

    Sure, you're in a place in your life when you are the most important person in your life. However, you shouldn't lose sight of how your actions affect those around you. So, even in your casual relationships make sure you're treating the other person with the utmost respect. Make sure you're communicating clearly and voicing what you want and need out of respect for what they need.



  17. Just because it's casual, doesn't mean you don't need to end them (tactfully)

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    When it comes down to it, casual relationships are still relationships.

    You wouldn't just stop talking to a serious partner and call that an acceptable breakup. So don't just ghost your casual partner, make sure you end your casual relationships as well.

    Sometimes things just don't work out, sometimes you find something with the potential to be serious, or sometimes you catch feelings and need to put a stop to the relationship for that reason. Regardless you should make sure you end them respectfully like you would a serious relationship that didn't work out for whatever reason. This ensures that both you and the other person get closure in the end.

    If things get messy and end in anger, sure, you owe them a little less than a polite "it's not you, it's me" but clearly putting an end to the relationship will benefit the both of you during the process of moving on.