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Casual Relationships

Casual relationships can take lots of different forms, but generally they are relationships with less commitment or that are seen as ‘less serious’ than an exclusive romantic relationship.

What might a casual relationship look like?

Casual dating

Dating, meeting new people and going on dates, without an expectation or desire for a committed relationship is called casual dating. This may or may not involve sex or ‘one night stands’. 

Casual sex

Some people don’t want any kind of relationship and are purely looking for sex and physical intimacy and nothing more. This type of relationship is often called ‘friends with benefits’, ‘sex buddies’ or ‘sneaky links’. Sometimes people choose to have a sexual relationship with someone they know well but have no romantic feelings for. Other times, they might never see each other outside of when they meet up for sex.  

Relationships based on sex look different for everyone, but they might involve: 

  • Last minute plans to meet up 
  • Little conversation beyond communicating during and about sex 
  • Irregular communication 
  • Not staying over and leaving soon after sex 
  • Keeping each other a secret 

You should always make sure that at least one friend knows about your casual relationship so you are safe and supported. It’s important for all relationships to have someone to talk to about your feelings that isn’t involved in the relationship itself. Friends can often notice sooner than you when something isn’t working or if you’re unhappy. More about how friends can support each other in unhealthy relationships


Sometimes people have a relationship that goes beyond sex but isn’t committed, official or exclusive, this grey area is often referred to as a ‘situationship’.  

Situationships look different for everyone- sometimes people choose them, sometimes they just fall into one out of convenience, but other times people might find themselves in one when they actually want more.  

What might situationships look like?

  • Time limited – perhaps you only have a certain amount of months/years before something changes that would mean the end of a relationship so you avoid adding labels and enjoy what you have while it lasts
  • Less committed – you meet less often than you would a relationship so it doesn’t take up so much of your time or energy
  • More independent – you may not introduce them to your friends or meet theirs. You also might not post about them on social media
  • Not exclusive – sometimes in a situationship you might both agree that you will see other people at the same time  

What’s needed for a casual relationship to work?

Casual relationships may have less commitment, expectations and labels attached to them but there are certain things that are necessary for them to work. 


Be honest and up front about what you want when you meet someone – even before the first date. Explain your reasons for wanting a casual relationship and what a casual relationship looks like for you. If you’re on dating apps then look for people that are after the same thing as you (often they have this as an option to add to your profile so you’re more likely to only match with those that are on the same page).  

Clear communication

You need to make sure you both know where you stand with each other and where, if anywhere, that the relationship is going. It’s really important that you’ve spoken about whether or not you’re seeing other people at the same time, particularly before you have sex. Not only is this important in knowing the boundaries of your relationship but also means you can both take steps to protect yourselves from STIs and unwanted pregnancy. If you’re having sex with other people make sure:  

  • You use condoms every time you have sex 
  • If you use sex toys, that you use condoms on them and wash them thoroughly between partners 
  • You both test for STIs regularly, every three months, or every time you have sex with someone new

There should always be clear communication around when and where you’re meeting and, as with any sexual relationship, you should always talk about consent and pleasure and take an interest in understanding what the other person likes.   


Although there is less commitment in casual relationships, you always owe the other person respect. You shouldn’t string the other person along or make false promises just because you like what you have with them and don’t want them to end things. You should also value the other person’s time and avoid cancelling or changing plans last minute. 


Some casual relationships are purely physical while others look similar to a committed relationship but without the label. It’s possible that if you are spending a lot of time together, you might develop an attachment to them. If you know there’s nothing there romantically between you or you know there’s no future, it’s best to set the boundaries of the relationship so you both know where you stand.  

Monitor your feelings

Everyone has a different relationship with sex. Some people find it difficult to have sex without catching feelings, while for other people it’s easy to have sex without wanting more. There are a lot of emotions and hormones involved with sex that can affect how you might feel. If you’re in a casual relationship, regularly check in with yourself about how you feel and talk to a friend about it.

Know your worth

If your needs are not being met, the other person is a poor communicator, constantly lets you down, disrespects you or doesn’t appreciate your time and needs, it isn’t working. Just because the situation ‘isn’t that deep’, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with something that doesn’t make you feel good. Make sure you’re getting validation from other areas of your life and not relying on the attention of your casual relationship partner to make you feel good about yourself. 

Casual relationships aren’t for everyone

Why do some people choose casual relationships?

Casual relationships can offer intimacy, pleasure, friendship, emotional support and fun but without looking like a stereotypical “relationship” –  they may not be monogamous, have a level of commitment towards each other, or be long-term. 

However, that’s not to say that casual relationships can’t include any of these elements. For example. some people might be in a monogamous and long-term casual relationship based purely on sex.  

Casual relationships have become popular and can be great for some people if: 

  • You want intimacy and affection, but don’t want a relationship or lack the time and energy for one – maybe you’ve just come out of a relationship, or you don’t have the head space, time or energy for a relationship 
  • You meet someone you connect with and have fun with, but neither of you wants to have a partner or a defined relationship at the moment 
  • You want to explore your sexuality and preferences 
  • You want to get to know someone more before entering into a more serious relationship with them. It’s common and wise to spend a bit of time getting to know someone before you enter into a relationship but how long this amount of time is varies for everyone. The difficulty is if one person expects this to be shorter and the other person expects this to be longer. That’s why communication is important to check in with where the other person is at.  

Whatever your motivation for a casual relationship, it’s really important that you are clear about your intentions when starting something with someone new, and that you make sure you communicate with each other as feelings and situations change.  

Why do they not work for some people?

Casual relationships are more common today but that doesn’t mean that you should ever feel that it is the only option.  

If you’re looking for a relationship that is committed and long-term, then a casual relationship might not be right for you at the moment and that’s okay –  there are lots of other people out there looking for something more than a casual relationship.  

If you’re in a casual relationship and find yourself experiencing some of the below, it might mean it’s not for you:  

  • Jealousy – if you find you get jealous when they meet other people or choose to spend time with people other than you. This might be the case if you’ve both agreed that you can see other people at the same time
  • Spending too much time thinking about them  – do you find yourself reaching for your phone hoping they’ve messaged or checking their social media to see what they’re up to?  
  • Trying to get their attention – posting on social media to get their attention, going to places you know they’ll be
  • Feeling disappointed when you leave their company – all relationships, including casual relationships, should make you feel good
  • Feeling less worthy – questioning why they don’t want a relationship or to spend more time with you  

All these are signs that your needs might not be being met – whether that’s a need for exclusivity (only seeing or having sex with one person), an emotional connection or a need for commitment and reliability. It’s worth thinking about what you want at this point in your life, from this relationship and from them.  

What if I want more and they don’t?

Casual relationships aren’t for everyone so you should never be pressured into a casual relationship when you want something else.

If you want more but you’ve spoken to them and they only want a casual relationship, it’s best to end things there. If you carry on with your needs not being met it may cause you more hurt and affect your mental health.  

Ending any kind of relationship is never easy and ending a casual relationship can affect you as much or more than a break-up because you’re having to let go of a potential future that you never got to fully experience. But it’s never a good idea to stay in any kind of relationship that isn’t serving you.  

You might find you want to stay in touch or message them every so often but this will likely make it harder to move on. It’s best if you delete their number, block them on social media and write a list about why they weren’t for you which you can read whenever you have doubts. 

If they respect you, they’ll let you go and be understanding that you don’t want them to get in touch with you. If they suggest that they may want more in the future or continue to message you, it’s not worth waiting for them or holding onto any hope of a future. They may not mean any harm by it but they may also simply want to keep the arrangement or relationship they have with you or keeping you as a potential option in the future (sometimes referred to as breadcrumbing).  

More about breakups

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