Casual Dating vs. Relationships: This Is When It's Time to Make It Official
As if finding love through the myriad of dating apps wasn't mystifying enough, determining when it's time for you and your S.O. to update your statuses to "In a Relationship" is a completely different conundrum. Even if sparks are flying on every date, it isn't necessarily a guarantee that you're headed past the "just seeing each other" stage, nor is the fact that you two have incredible chemistry between the sheets. If you've had your share of explaining your relationship as "it's complicated," then you've likely asked yourself the burning question, is it time to weigh casual dating versus relationships?
To help answer this perplexing query, we turned to the brutal honesty of the internet and the experts. Whether you're looking to play the field or you're ready to get serious about finding "the one," it helps to have a handy guide that spells out the signs of casual and exclusive dating. As with any type of relationship—romantic or otherwise—keep in mind that it's always important to communicate your expectations and needs to avoid being blindsided. For instance, is "seeing" and "dating" someone one in the same or are they two completely different statuses? And how comfortable are you with setting loose or firm boundaries when it comes to sex, either with one another or other people?
Finally overwhelmed by complications? Keep reading to find out how to tell if you're heading toward serious relationship territory or if you might be lingering in the "keep it casual" phase for a while.
Reddit users who weighed in on the topic were eager to explain the difference between casual dating versus relationships based on their own experiences. User gravityfall says that casual dating is "focused on the 'here and now.' You're learning about the other person's personality, whether you are having fun, what you are doing together, and whether you want to see this person again" in the future.
If you're not committed to investing time and energy with someone (yet), are still hooking up with other people, aren't ready to have the conversation to remain exclusive to one another, and prefer to have a "no strings attached" approach, then consider those among the criteria for casual dating. Gravityfall continues, "two people causally dating are most likely not ready to handle problems and arguments in a way that can strengthen their bond, although if they can, it may help them realize how strong they are together."
If you've taken the time to sit down and have the conversation about whether to assume the title of girlfriend or boyfriend, then consider yourself in the "dating exclusively" phase. You're now officially a couple, though it doesn't necessarily mean you're committing to saying "I do"—however, you may be open to the idea. Houston-based dating expert and matchmaker Sarah Patt explains that "talking about things you should do together as a couple in the future is a sign you want [them] in your future … Anything from something as simple as restaurant openings, concerts, or events to something as big as a vacation or getting a dog together are good indicators.”
Patt also points out that "in many instances when the 'we're official' conversation doesn't happen or is ignored, you (as a couple) can evolve into becoming the 'unofficial other half,' in everyone else's eyes," Patt says. "If this sounds like you, it's time to have the talk!"
The biggest indicator that you're in a relationship? For starters, you and your significant other have had the conversation to being completely exclusive to each other (open communication lines, remember?) and you're are ready to think about your future as a couple in the long term. As Reddit user gravityfall notes, "you make the time and the effort to see each other. Even if you two live far away, you set plans, and you commit to them. You laugh. You cry. You share all your weird quirks, all your vulnerabilities, your family, your friends, everything. The more you share, and the more time you spend together, you are always considering: 'do I want to spend my time, my effort, my life with this person?'"
Patt explains that one of the signs that you're ready to have the discussion is the fact that your S.O. is on speed dial when you have big life moments to share, like a new promotion at work. This person is already assuming all the "responsibilities" of a partner, such as accompanying you to family get-togethers—or perhaps you two already live together or are "allowed to have a toothbrush in their bathroom," says another Reddit user.
Whether you've been dating for one month or one year, Patt also points out that there's no timeline or deadline for getting serious. "Commitment happens based on mutual comfort levels in a relationship. Making it official can be based on how often you spend time together or your mutual feelings."
Nobody ever said that breaking up was easy, but you should know by now that ghosting is a no-no. Relationship expert, counselor, and The Popular Man co-author, David Bennett says, "if you've slowly turned into 'just friends' or roommates, and the sexual chemistry is long gone and you know it isn't coming back, it's time to break up. While it may seem shallow to focus on it, a lack of sexual activity leads to relationship frustration, resentment, and even cheating, and it usually only gets worse over time."
Another telltale sign that it might be time to reconsider your relationship is if you're "emotionally cheating." Bennett explains that if you find yourself confiding in someone who's not your partner, then it's clear that your S.O. "isn't the person deserving of these details and emotional connection." If you're not willing to consider therapy or invest more time and effort into patching up your relationship, then it may be time to break up.
How do you differentiate between casual dating and relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments.