I spent the first 18 years of life in the same small town, and I only dated people I already knew. So, when I moved to a new city for college, I not only needed to explain everything about myself to a new partner, but I also needed to figure out how to make clear more intimate details about what I wanted from them. This only became more complicated because I knew I wasn’t looking for something serious. But keeping it casual and neglecting your feelings are hardly the same thing.
Expressing yourself can and sometimes does feel awkward, rushed, or uncomfortable, which may lead to important information being left unsaid. But I’ve learned that you need to prioritize yourself, your pleasure, and your comfort while listening to the desires of a new person in order to feel safe and happy. Yes, it can be done.
Get in touch with yourself.
It’s important to know what you enjoy physically and romantically so you can be confident when conveying that information to someone else. Look into different activities. Are you interested in trying role play? Is cuddling and watching Netflix your idea of a perfect Friday night? Is the idea of a threesome exciting to you? Explore your body and find out what makes you feel good.
When it comes to what you want with a new person, Maya Kollman, a relationship life coach, recommends looking at your past relationships and honing in on which aspects of them you did or didn’t enjoy. What did you get out of those relationships? Do you hope for the same thing now, or have your priorities changed? What level of commitment are you seeking? Why do you want to start seeing someone? To feel good about yourself? To have a deep emotional connection to another person? To have a physical relationship with someone? It’s important to understand where you stand and why you want what you want.
Learn how to confidently communicate your wants and boundaries.
It’s easy to worry about how you come off in the beginning stages of dating someone, but your pleasure and comfort are more important than living up to an unrealistic image. I used to feel embarrassed or nervous when talking to someone I was seeing about what I enjoyed sexually. I feared they’d have a negative reaction, until I realized that if I didn’t speak up, the experience wouldn’t be good for either of us. Kollman suggests fostering an open dialogue and setting the intention to really listen to what each person says without making assumptions about what you think they might like. Check in on a regular basis to make sure you’re both still on the same page, because people’s wants change. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to be vulnerable and share, open up the conversation with questions like: What kind of relationship are you looking for? What turns you on? What do you not enjoy? How can I make this experience good for you? If they don’t get the hint and reciprocate the questions, speak up anyway. Ironically, in more casual relationships, you sometimes have to have these intimate conversations before you know and have established trust with someone, but that doesn’t mean you should stay quiet. I’d choose awkwardness now over discomfort and lack of pleasure later anytime.
DTR off the bat.
What kind of relationship do you want? A fling? FWB? See where it goes? It’s important for both of your emotional wellbeing to be on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) on this one. When I start talking to someone, I tend to ask them what they’re looking for right off the bat. If it’s different from what I want, I let them know. Armed with that information, we can make the best decision about whether or how to move forward. Kollman also recommends considering other details. If it’s casual, how many other people are they seeing? Are you comfortable with that number? Do they tell other people about your relationship? Would you rather it be private? You owe them similar answers.
If you start to want something more, be honest.
You may go into a relationship thinking it’ll be chill, but as you get to know the person, you realize you have strong feelings for them. As scary as it sounds, be honest as soon as you have a change of heart. If they’re not feeling the same way, you’ve just prevented a potentially worse scenario. If you’re struggling to figure out how to start the conversation, consider acknowledging how you first defined the relationship. Then, explain what has changed and how. Let them know you respect that they may not feel the same way, but you thought it was important to be straight with them. It’s vital to allow yourself the opportunity to feel what you’re feeling and say it aloud.
Type with caution.
Whether it’s Snapping, texting, Tinder messaging, or any other means of nonverbal communication, really think about how often you want to be chatting with this person. In some of my past casual flings, I found myself getting upset when I was left on read or didn’t hear from them for a few days. I had to ask myself why I felt like that. Was it a sign I wanted something more? Sometimes it was, and I had to have that conversation. Other times, I found I just enjoyed the new affection I was getting and became annoyed when it waned.
If you’re really only in the market for something less serious, maybe dial down the chatting when you’re not IRL. That’s not to say you should ghost someone as soon as they ask how your day was, but be clear with them about your texting behaviors. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who will Snap back the minute you get a notification, but the person you’re seeing takes hours to respond, ask them, “Do you want to talk when we’re not chilling, or would you rather just hit me up when you’re free to hang out?” If you want to touch base more often, try something like, “I know this is just a casual thing, but I’d like it if we talked sometimes when we weren’t hanging out.” Just because you’re not in an LTR doesn’t mean you can’t get to know the person. Figure out what’s right for you, then communicate that so no one feels annoyed or neglected.
These things can be scary, especially when you don’t know the other person well. But remember, they’re still a person. They have feelings and can’t read minds, so your best bet is to be open and honest. It makes it a whole lot easier to enjoy yourself.