The term “casual relationship” is one that has garnered a lot of attention among millennials and even older people. But what does “casual relationship” truly mean? How does a casual relationship differ from a romantic relationship, a sexual relationship, a friendship?
Good questions! In fact, a casual relationship can mean different things to different people, and in particular, the people having the casual relationship themselves.
What is a casual relationship?
The answer is not a precise one, because a casual relationship can take many different forms. In general, when we think of a casual relationship, we think of a relationship that differs from the traditional romantic, committed, monogamous relationship.
A casual relationship is a relationship where you have sex with your partner, maintaining a lightly-intimate relationship without needing to commit long term to them.
However, a casual relationship can include a sense of romance, and it may be monogamous. What it isn’t is committed in the long term sense. Casual relationships are relationships without a desire for commitment.
Why to have a casual relationship?
There are several reasons that two people might voluntarily prefer to be in a casual relationship instead of a traditional, fulltime, emotionally and romantically committed relationship.
Many couples in casual relationships cite that keeping a relationship casual is exactly what they need at certain points in their lives.
People recently reentering the dating pool, for example, after having been in a serious, committed relationship for many years, may want to start a casual relationship because they do not want to invest the emotion, time and energy that they put into their previous serious relationship.
Another reason for entering into a casual relationship?
It allows the participants to fulfill their need for touch, sexual intimacy, and light emotional connection without the full-on time commitment that a classic romantic relationship requires.
Types of casual relationships
Just as there are endless types of formal, traditional relationships, casual relationships can take a multitude of forms. There is no one-size-fits-all description for a casual relationship.
This leaves a lot of room for the two people involved to invent their own rules, set the boundaries and create the limits to define what their version of the casual relationship will look like.
Here are some different types of casual relationships:
Limited timeframe casual relationship
This might be suited to two people who wish to have a not serious relationship while on vacation, or over the summer, or, for college students, for the semester. They are clear with each other that they are just casually dating, enjoying each other’s physical intimacy, but there is an end date to the casual relationship.
Also known as A Situationship, because often, these casual relationships are situationally-promoted, such as finding yourself at a vacation resort and seeing that stunning person over there by the pool.
The non-monogamous casual relationship
Often, a casual dating relationship will be open, that is to say the participants are free to have sex with other people.
The benefits to this are twofold: they each have a dependable sexual partner, one on whom they can count for sexual intimacy, and they also have the opportunity to explore their sexual needs with other people outside of their casual relationship.
A friendship where sex is prioritized. The two people involved have sex when they feel the need, with no romantic commitment to each other.
Friends with benefits, or FWB
This type of casual relationship usually starts out with a real friendship. At some point the two friends discover they are sexually attracted to each other but prefer not to take the friendship to a deeper, formal romantic relationship.
Even after the sexual part of this casual relationship is over (because one or both of the partners finds a love interest with whom they wish to move forward), the friendship remains intact.
The difference between a Friends With Benefits relationship and Sex Friends are the levels of friendship: with the FWB, the friendship comes first. With Sex Friends, the sexual aspect comes first.
A booty call is depicted in the media as a phone call one person makes to another, usually late at night and often under the influence, asking if they want to come over. Sex is implied.
There are no set days when the participants see each other, no pre-established boundaries. It is very much consensual sex on demand.
The ONS, or one night stand
The One Night Stand is by definition casual sex, as the two people involved have no friendship or social connection. It is a one-time hookup, expressly done to sexually satisfy each other. There are no expectations of a repeat performance or seeing each other again.
The One Night Stand can also be referred to as A Fling. As in “I met this guy at a bar last night, went home with him and had a fling!”
Characteristics influencing each type of casual relationship
The limited timeframe casual relationship has a specific end date.
The non-monogamous casual relationship allows both partners the freedom to date and sleep with other people.
Sex friends are hookups with a friend, but the level of friendship is lower than that of Friends With Benefits.
Keep jealousy and possessiveness in check. Remember, this is a casual relationship. If your partner is seeing other people, and you have agreed to have an open relationship, that is fine. No need to address this with them.
Define the frequency of contact. What works for the two of you? Once a week? Twice a week? What should be the lead time when setting up your next encounter?
How long do casual relationships last?
There is no set calendar guiding the duration of a casual relationship. There are some FWB situations that last until one or the other partner finds romance.
Some casual relationships can persist for months, because they suit both partners. But in general, data shows that these relationships can be as short as two weeks to as long as three or more months.
Early on in the relationship, establishing the rules, boundaries and limits will allow you to build a framework within which the relationship can operate. Part of those rules might be the exit strategy, for example, what your expectations are for the eventual ending of the casual relationship. (Preferable not through “ghosting”, or just disappearing.)
Having a playbook will be helpful to maintain the casual relationship.
Casual relationship psychology
Because we are humans with feelings, there is a casual relationship psychology. Depending on your personality type, there will be negative or positive effects brought into your life through a casual relationship.
Prior to entering into a casual relationship, be honest with yourself. Are you the type of person who can have no-strings-attached sex? Dr. Robert Weiss has this to say about casual relationship psychology:
“If casual sexual activity doesn’t violate your moral code, your sense of integrity, or the commitments you have made to yourself and/or others, then it’s probably not going to be a problem for you in terms of your psychological well being. That said, you may face related issues like STDs, unwanted pregnancy, partners who see your relationship as more than just casual, etc. And you should understand that these related factors could adversely affect your psychological wellbeing even if the sex itself does not.”
Benefits of a casual relationship
Are you looking for a casual relationship? Let us examine some of the benefits people experience when having a casual relationship.
People having a casual relationship often cite “I don’t have time for a full-fledged, heavy romantic relationship” as one of the reasons they seek a casual relationship. They get the benefit of sexual connection, light intimacy, a sense that someone is there for them (at least sexually) without the time investment a serious relationship demands.
Lack of accountability
For someone just out of a long romantic relationship where they needed to be accountable to their partner, they may find a not serious relationship a welcome option. No need to account for where you were or who you were with. Just fun and pleasurable moments with your casual partner.
Preserve your emotional bandwidth. The casual relationship, with its lack of emotional demands, suits people who just cannot invest emotionally in a relationship at certain life moments.
Your time is your time, and you spend it how you like! No need to deal with all the commitments that come along with a serious relationship.
For people who have gone through a devastating breakup, entering into a casual relationship, or several casual relationships, can be a true confidence-booster.
Try out different types of partners. Casual relationships allow one to date a diverse group of people, allowing one to figure out what type of personality and lifestyle they are ultimately looking for.
No emotional attachments. Casual relationships are all about instant pleasure and fun. The good times of a relationship without the heavy lifting. If you have just gone through a bad divorce or breakup, it can be quite appealing to start a casual relationship with no emotional attachment.
Disadvantages of casual relationships
While many people enjoy and embrace casual relationships, we would be remiss if we did not explore the disadvantages of these types of arrangements. Let us have a look at some of the downsides.
If you are hooking up with a lot of different people, there will be more of an element of risk in terms of sexually-transmitted diseases than with a fixed partner. So a discussion needs to be focused on sexual safety.
Protection, testing, which practices might be off limits…statistically you are more likely to get an STD from casual hookups than from a partner with whom you are both monogamous and faithful.
Possibility of love
You might enter a casual relationship thinking you can handle the light nature of the arrangement, only to fall in love with the other person. If this love is unrequited, and your feelings go unreciprocated, you end up feeling hurt.
Consequences on the friendship
If you opt for a Friends With Benefits casual relationship, there is a risk of ruining a great friendship.
Because casual relationships allow the partners to see other people, if you know you are the jealous type, a casual relationship might not be healthy for you.
Your emotional needs may be neglected
Casual relationships are based on fun, sex, and a light connection. If you look to a partner to be there to meet your emotional needs, casual relationships may not be for you. You would end up resenting the person, through no fault of their own.
In the video below, Alan Robarge talks about what happens when emotional needs are not being made in the relationship. Find out:
You will not feel supported
A casual partner is not one you can call in the middle of the night if you should fall ill. They are not one you can call upon to help you with your moving boxes. Again, this might breed resentment should your expectations be too high.
At the end of the day, everyone considering a casual relationship needs to decide if this arrangement is appropriate for them.
If you feel comfortable with it, and nobody’s getting hurt by it, and you find this will enrich your life and make you feel good, a casual relationship may be a great, temporary way to bring touch, connection, sexual energy, and friendship into your life.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.