Casual dating is starting to get a bad rap, and often, it feels like emotional chaos. Friends tell me they’re tapping out of the scene forever — there’s no universal code of conduct and they can’t date in total anarchy anymore. I tell them to cut the shit and start making up their own rules for casual dating. There’s no shame in setting some boundaries. Not everyone is content dating in absolute mayhem — we’re not all Sagittarii, after all.

Some would say the only rule of casual dating is that there are no rules, but let’s light that whole theory ablaze immediately. There are rules, and they are not meant to be broken, because they protect you and the person your dating emotionally and physically. I’m not talking about “rules” that tell you to avoid serious talks, have no expectations, and keep your options open. Because you can date casually and still expect the person you’re seeing to text you back, and you most definitely can date someone casually, exclusively.    

There’s a difference between casual dating and not giving a fuck. When you don’t set boundaries, you can easily fall prey to a fuckboi or worse — become one yourself. So if you want to date casually the ethical way, follow these rules, and stick to them.

1. Be communicative about your deal breakers.

Whether your deal breaker is about multiple partners, political beliefs, or being vegan, speak up. The sooner the better. Your deal breakers exist for a reason and turn-offs exist no matter how casual the relationship. Being upfront will help both of you decide how much time and effort you want to put in with each other. Let’s not waste time here: there’s a whole world of singles out there waiting to date both of you.

2. Be honest, even when it’s uncomfortable.

You’ve made an agreement to be exclusively casual with someone but met someone over the weekend who has sparked your interest. No biggie, you aren’t tied down — the only thing standing in the way of pursuing your new flame is a quick convo about your new crush. Have an open dialogue sooner rather than later so everyone is in the know and you can keep having fun. It’s called adulting — try it.

3. Define the relationship.

Say whaaaa? Yes, that’s right. Not only am I encouraging you to define the relationship, but I also want you to do it on day one. A lack of communication can easily lead to a one-sided casual affair. Let the people you’re seeing know immediately that you’re exploring and interested in seeing other people, being casual with just them, or settling down at some point. You don’t have to explain yourself, but you do need to let them know the deal. That’s just called being an adult.

4. Show up.

Treat the people you’re seeing like you would anyone else you’re in a casual relationship with. You wouldn’t let your buddy wait around all night for you to text them back when you made concrete plans, would you? If you answered yes, then you have no business making plans with anyone. And by the way, it would behoove all of us to show up emotionally, too, because that’s just basic human decency. No one is asking you to be vulnerable or launch into why you hate your sister, but you can certainly respond to someone’s “I hate my job” text without feeling smothered.

5. Be respectful.

Whether you’re in public or it’s just the two of you, you should remember that you’re being casual with a living, breathing person. They have feelings, wants, desires, and deserve respect. If you’re over it, let ’em know as soon as possible. If you’re ready to redefine the terms of your casual arrangement, don’t keep it in your head. Casual dating is not a license to act like a monster. If we don’t keep it real with each other, we risk spoiling things for everyone.