Relationship Terms: What Does “No Strings Attached” Actually Mean?

Updated 12/03/19
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In the world of modern dating, it's complicated. For example, what's the difference between hanging out, and hooking up? Or take the "no strings attached" relationship—what does that mean? In order to understand this type of casual connection and see if it’s the right choice for you, then you should know exactly what this kind of relationship entails. We turned to relationship experts to help us unravel the ins and outs of a "no strings attached" relationship, and break down its pros and cons.

What Does “No Strings Attached” Really Mean?

In the fundamental sense, a no strings attached relationship is one in which two people carry on a purely physical connection with one another, yet there’s no emotional connection between them. In other words, a no strings attached relationship implies that you’re sexually intimate, but that’s as far as your relationship goes, and you’re not committed to each other in any way. 

The Pros

Generally speaking, this arrangement works "when you're in a good place with your job, social life, and personal life, and all that's missing is sex," says Desiree Dean, author of The Sex MANual in an interview with Women's Health. Benefits of a "no strings attached" relationship might include:

You’re totally uncommitted. One of the pros of having a no strings attached relationship is that while you get to enjoy a physical connection with another person, there’s no sense of obligation or commitment. Your role is not that of a partner, and rather than providing emotional guidance and support, your time together is strictly physical. "Not everyone is ready to be tied down by commitment and responsibility," says Adina Mahalli, MSW.

You can pursue different options. Along these lines, another positive aspect of a no strings attached relationship is that you don’t have to be monogamous. "You can keep your dating options open so that if someone else comes along who piques your interest you don’t need to hold back or feel guilty for pursuing them," says Mahalli.

It can be fun. Many people involved in "no strings attached" relationships enjoy the thrill and excitement of this kind of connection with someone. Specifically, you get to enjoy intimate time with another person and keep things light while avoiding the possible issues, concerns, and misunderstandings that can arise in a more serious relationship. Says Mahalli, "For these people, a relationship with no strings attached is the perfect balance of fun and intimacy."

The Cons

However, having a no strings attached relationship isn’t for everyone, as there are definitive downsides to this type of casual connection. For example:

You may develop feelings that go unrequited. If you’re involved in a no strings attached relationship, you risk developing feelings for this other person that may not be reciprocated. "Many who have such an open relationship and are ok with it initially, have a change of heart," says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC and Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. And since it’s not uncommon to find that spending intimate time with someone may lead you to want a more serious commitment from them, you may be putting yourself on the path toward heartache and heartbreak by engaging in this type of casual connection.

It may prevent you from looking elsewhere for a serious relationship. Another downside of a no strings attached relationship is that it may hinder you from pursuing something more serious with someone else. In other words, since you’re spending your time, focus and energy on casual endeavors, you may be making yourself unavailable to someone who can provide you with a deeper and more meaningful connection. "Any time spent with the wrong one keeps you from
the right one," cautions professional matchmaker Susan Trombetti of Exclusive Matchmaking.

You’re risking your emotional and physical health. Many people who are involved in no strings attached relationships can also end up feeling used, hurt and unimportant due to the very nature of this kind of casual connection. "While a no strings attached relationship may feel fun in the beginning, it lacks the safety and commitment necessary to form a true meaningful bond with someone," says Slatkin. And physically speaking, this type of relationship may also put your personal wellness at risk as well. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), 20 million sexually active people get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) every year, even though it's preventable. The CDC recommends the appropriate use of condoms, and certain vaccines to keep you safe.

Is a "No Strings Attached" Relationship Right for You?

After weighing the pros and cons of embarking on this kind of strictly physical connection with someone else, be honest with yourself in order to determine if this type of relationship is the right choice at this point in your life. After all, if you’re ready for and looking for a serious commitment, then having a no strings attached relationship isn’t going to fulfill your needs. However, if your goal is to keep things light, then opting for a no strings attached arrangement can help you stay unattached. "It really depends on your intention and needs for a relationship," says Slatkin. "Do you want a partner or just fun."

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