Casual can be a tricky word to define in the context of relationships. It means not serious, that’s always clear, but what exactly “not serious” is less certain.
Some people think of casual as “we are sleeping together and I can sleep with other people,” while others are more of the variety “if we want to sleep with other people, we split with no hard feelings.” Still, fewer think that casual means “I have a significant other, but we are in an open relationship, and we’re casual so you don’t really need to know about them.”
It’s a sticky word for a sticky situation.
If you want to enter into a casual relationship with a clear conscience, make sure you are up front with the other person if you are sleeping or intend to sleep with someone else. This allows the other person to give informed consent.
A lot of people aim to stay casual — a friends with benefits arrangement — because they think that it is easier than a full-blown relationship. In some ways it is, but it doesn’t get you out of communicating.
Jumping into bed with your friend may seem like a great idea when it’s late and you’re lonely, but taking a few minutes for conversation can save a lot of heart ache.
While you may think that everything is casual, your friend may be looking for more. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Being honest with yourself about what you are looking for from your friend is important as well. Lying to yourself about what you want, or sleeping with a friend in the hopes that sex will make them change their mind about you is both manipulative and likely ineffective.
If both parties aren’t on the same page as to what sex means, just say no or risk ruining a friendship.
And just because you know someone, don’t be lured into a sense of sexual safety. According to the CDC, if you haven’t been exclusive with each other for a minimum of 3 weeks, even the most common STDs may not show up on tests.
If you aren’t sexually exclusive, don’t let the friendship cloud your judgement when it comes to safety. A sense of comfort won’t protect you. Be safe and use a condom.
Casual, though, doesn’t necessarily mean someone you are friends with. Maybe you just met and one of you says they want to keep things casual. Definitely find out what that means.
If one person thinks of it as “casual for now while we see how much we like each other, but still exclusive” and the other person thinks that they made their stance of “not interested in a relationship” clear, trouble can ensue.
With someone new, and someone you like, drilling down to find out what exactly casual means may seem awkward and over the top. But making sure everyone is on the same page trades awkwardness now for a lot of potential heartbreak later.
You don’t want to end up emotionally investing in someone who wasn’t interested in the first place.
In fact, if you are someone to jump into things emotionally and see hearts, roses and future children on the first coffee date, take a second look at whether or not you can do casual at all. Saying no when someone says they want to keep things informal may feel like killing your little Sally and white picket fences, but really its just protecting yourself until you find someone who wants the same things you do.
Even if you are someone who is fine with casual, whatever definition you choose, that doesn’t mean jealousy won’t intrude.
Jealousy is an emotion that can rear its head in relationships whether they are casual or not.
Even if you are the one that declared the relationship open in the first place, jealousy can show up when your friend with benefits finds someone else. According to Dossie Easton’s and Janet W. Hardy’s “The Ethical Slut,” a book on polyamory, jealousy is often an emotion that conceals other emotions.
Thinking through your jealousy can lead to a better way of dealing with it. If the feeling is rooted in envy, coping strategies are different than if it is rooted in a sense of loss or insecurity.
Knowing that envy is the root cause can tell you that the solution is simply to make a date to spend more time together.
If the feeling has more to do with a sense of insecurity, making a date isn’t going to cut it. Remembering that experiences are often different rather than better or worse can help.
Despite initially seeming more simple, casual relationships can bring just as much heartache as committed ones. Open communication with both the other person and yourself about how you are feeling and what you are looking for are the keys to making it work.
Or if not work, then at least not fail spectacularly.