There are endless reasons why you might be uninterested in pursuing a relationship right this second: a recent breakup, the need to do self-work, some time to figure out your dating style, alternate priorities, or simply being too busy to spend a lot of time on dating. All of these are 100% legitimate, but in a culture that prioritizes dating to meet “the one,” it can feel off-limits to date short-term and simply for the pleasure of connecting with other people.
But it shouldn’t — so long as you do the work to determine and are upfront about what you’re looking for. “Get in the habit of being clear about what you want,” says sex and relationship therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT. “Whether you’re looking for a regular sexual partner without the romantic gestures, an adventurous person who likes to get dressed up and go to dinner as much as you do, or someone who wants to snuggle every third Thursday and binge-watch reruns of a cult-classic sitcom, you’re allowed to ask for what you want.”
1. Be upfront in your profile.
There are no “shoulds” when it comes to dating — you are free to do whatever feels right. However, stating what you’re looking for in your Tinder bio will help diminish the likelihood of ending up on a first date with someone looking for a serious boo. “Sharing your intentions on your Tinder profile is a great way to communicate expectations and intentions early on,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center.
Let’s be honest, first dates — not to mention everything it takes to even get to that point — take a lot of energy. You don’t want to waste yours or anyone else’s by going on a two-hour date, only to realize you’re looking for the opposite kind of connection.
2. Define “casual” for yourself.
During my most recent exploration into lighter dating, I’ve found a stronger sense of confidence when communicating my needs with new dates. This is largely because I took time with myself to figure out exactly what those are. At this stage in my dating life, I want to connect with people who communicate with intention, are open to dating other people, text primarily to make plans, want to go on adventurous dates, and have a strong sense of their sexual desires.
“Ask yourself, do you want to create intimacy without the relationship being serious?” Kahn suggests. “Some people might feel like casual dating is more about fun banter, while someone else may feel casual dating can include getting to know someone more deeply. Know yourself, know how you relate, and know what you want.”
3. Get curious about your date’s desires.
“If you’ve [answered the question of what you] are expecting or hoping to get from dating, ask your dates the same question, and give them time to think about it,” Francis says. Start off by stating what you’re seeking, and get as specific as you’d like — for example, you might say, “I’m looking for someone to go to salsa dance nights with” or “I love baking and want cuties to share my delicious treats with.” If they aren’t totally sure what they want and you really like them, offer a chance to revisit the conversation at a later date. But know that when someone doesn’t have a clear vision of their desires and boundaries in dating, it’s a red flag that they might not know how to respect yours.
4. Find the sweet spot between privacy and honesty.
When asked about the level of transparency needed in casual connections, both Kahn and Francis shift the conversation to the value of privacy. “There’s a balance here between not owing people information, and being honest and transparent,” says Kahn. “It’s helpful to know the expectations in your relationships because we all have different wants, perspectives, and needs regarding honesty and transparency when dating.”
Francis suggests asking someone you’re dating, “Would you want to know if I started seeing other people casually?” or “I’m seeing other people as well, does that matter to you?” or “Do you have any questions or concerns about seeing other people?” This allows you and your dates to consent to the kind of relationship you’re in. It also helps you figure out how to best keep yourself safe — both emotionally and physically — when casually dating multiple people.
5. Set your rules.
Do you only want to text to make plans? Do you want to exchange social-media follows? Are there certain types of dates that feel off-limits? Do you not want to introduce them to your friends? Do you have a no plus-one rule where you won’t be each others’ dates to big family or friend events? Do you only want to hang out twice a month? Are sleepovers OK or a no-go for you?
These questions may seem nitty-gritty, but they play an important role in determining what you need to keep a connection light and casual. There’s no one-size-fits-all guide for casual dating because everyone’s preferences are personal and largely depend on how easily they attach in relationships. Figure out your limits, and you give yourself the best shot of keeping casual connections healthy and thriving.