Dating around. Hookups. Taking it slow. Friends with benefits. Situationships. Monogamish adventures. Welcome to Camp Casual! We acknowledge that there isn’t one type of casual relationship, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all set of rules for casual dating.
A relationship does not need to last forever to be successful.
Camp Casual is an internet retreat (erm, article) where you learn casual dating etiquette for how to have a casual relationship without hurting anyone (or getting hurt). We aren’t offering guarantees, just some guidelines.
1. Remember: there isn’t one type of casual relationship
Casual relationships can look a lot of different ways, and the reasons someone might choose to be in a casual relationship can vary.
Casual dating to serious relationships: For some, it’s the necessary starting point to getting more serious. You date casually to see if you’re into them and into it getting more serious.
Sometimes we are not ready for a serious relationship. Often, casual fits with life circumstances better than serious. (If you’re fresh out of a breakup, about to move, focusing on yourself but you still want companionship, affection, and/or sex.)
Sometimes, you are ready for a more serious relationship, but don’t want it with the person that you are hooking up with. You like spending time with them. You like having sex with them. You don’t see it “going anywhere”, but don’t want it to end.
At Camp Casual, we believe all of these are valid. A relationship does not need to last forever to be successful. You can still have fun, express your affectionate and sexual self, and learn about how you operate in different relationships.
However, because not everyone is looking for the same experience at Camp Casual, it’s important to be transparent about what sort of camp commitments you’re into.
2. Be up front about your needs and expectations
How do you know if it’s casual dating vs. a relationship?
Here’s the thing. Casual dating is a relationship. Every relationship is a relationship.
Sometimes we get it in our heads that if a relationship is casual we shouldn’t talk about the relationship, or share our feelings. We don’t want to scare a partner off or appear needy. We understand these fears and have felt them ourselves. But…
It’s ok to have needs. There is room for needs in Camp Casual.
We all have needs. At all ages. In all styles of relationships. Our needs don’t wait to show up when - and only when - a relationship gets “serious.”
It is absolutely, 1000% valid to voice needs. Don’t assume you and your casual partner(s) are on the same page. Be clear about what you are looking for.
Here are some areas where you or a partner might have expectations:
Exclusivity: This is a biggie in casual dating. Is a casual relationship exclusive? That's up to you and your partner(s). Are you on the same page about it?
Safer sex: This can be emotional or physical safety. Are you talking about safer sex practices like condoms or birth control? If you’re not exclusive, are you transparent about safer sex practices with other partners? Sharing STI history? Consent requires information: your partner must know what you’re up to in order to make informed choices about their safety. For some, to feel psychologically safe, it’s helpful to know where you stand in the relationship. If you're always guessing or looking for signs that they’re into you, it can take you out of the moment and into your head where speculation abounds.
Communication: Set expectations around how/when/how often you talk. Are you fine with the occasional “u up?” or are you looking for a bit more notice, planning or intention? Are they texting too much? Not texting enough? Taking too long to reply? No right or wrong answer as long as everyone is in agreement.
Frequency: There isn’t one set of rules for how often to see someone in a casual relationship. It’s based on what you and your partner(s) want.
Sexual interests: Are you satisfied with the sex? Can you explore the desires or kinks that you want to try? Do you feel that your pleasure matters to your partner?
Setting boundaries for a casual relationship can be incredibly liberating. There is nothing wrong with whatever it is that you are specifically looking for. Your obligation is to be clear and direct about whatever that is, so your partner(s) can decide for themselves if they want it or not.
Bonus tip: Establishing a precedent for sharing needs in a casual relationship can be liberating. Things always come up, and if you acknowledge from the beginning that you value each other’s wellbeing, it won’t be so scary to address the yikes-so-squirmy stuff.
Try saying something like:
“Hey, I know this is just casual, but just know that I want this to be enjoyable for both(/all) of us. You can always let me know whenever you need to talk about anything, or if your feelings start to change. And I’ll do the same.”
Then, when a specific issue does pop up, you’ve already established that you both want to hear about it.
3. Check in along the way
As we mentioned, it can feel scary to bring up The Relationship when it’s casual.
Still, nothing wrong with checking in about it periodically. This doesn’t need to be this heavy. It doesn’t need to be a sit down conversation, with tight chests and thick exhales, starting with “we need to talk.” It can be simple.
“Hey, we’ve been doing this for a while, it may be good to check in about how we’re feeling. Are you up for that?”
By approaching this as if it’s perfectly normal, natural, and healthy (which it is) - we also give our partners the permission to bring it up in a normal, natural and healthy way.
If they agree, follow it up with how you feel. Lead from that place, not with first asking them how they’re feeling.
Let’s say you suspect someone is more into it than you are. If you ask them “How are you feeling? What do you want?” They may just reply with “...this.” But, that doesn’t really give you insight on what they think “this” is. Try:
“I love spending time with you and am really into what we’re doing. I’m still feeling like I want to keep it pretty casual. How do you feel?”
Or maybe you do want it to evolve into something more serious. Let them know that too.
“I love spending time with you. I’ve started to develop feelings for you, and I know we started casually but I could see this turning into something more. How do you feel?”
If they’re on the same page, awesome. If not, that’s important to know.
Can taking the lead be scarier?
Yep. No doubt. It requires a lot of vulnerability to put your honest feelings out there.
Is it more effective?
Being upfront about what you want isn’t easy. But it is courageous, and will get you closer to having the type of relationship you want.
4. Be present, have fun together, and allow for ongoing calibration
It’s easy to get caught up with defining the relationship and answering the question, “What are we?”
Or meeting milestones such as becoming exclusive, moving in together, or getting engaged. We can become so focused on checking off these boxes that we don’t stop to think about the quality of the relationship. Relationships are a practice. They are not a status.
And, they are entirely unique. The rules are up to you and the person (or people) involved. Casual hookups don’t look the same to everyone. Neither does marriage. Healthy relationships, wherever they are along the spectrum of casual to committed, allow for continual negotiation; opportunities to set boundaries specific to you and the person (or people) you are with.
Casual relationships can be a source of joy, and not stress. Good communication is your number one tool for having a healthy casual relationship. Be honest, be kind, and be yourself.
There is nothing wrong with whatever it is that you are specifically looking for. Your obligation is to be clear and direct about whatever that is, so your partner(s) can decide for themselves if they want it or not.
Remember: there isn’t one type of casual relationship
Be up front about your needs and expectations
Check in along the way
Be present, have fun together, and allow for ongoing calibration
check out squirm's guide to casual sex and dating