Defining dating parameters
January 2, 2010 10:42 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between casual dating, being friends and being in a relationship?

As a serial monogamist for the past decade, I've never done this casual dating thing. All of my relationships got pretty intense pretty quickly. Since I absolutely don't want a serious relationship or a sexual relationship of any kind this year, I want to be very careful to not lead people on while still meeting people where I live and not becoming a hermit or frigid.

I've been seeing a guy for a few weeks and while we've slept together once (It was a mistake and won't happen again.), we see each other once or twice a week and kiss goodbye. This is casual dating, right? Are things like cuddling okay or is that too relationshippy? Friends would be the same, minus the accidental sex and the kissing and such? And what makes it into a relationship is the sex? I think?

I want to be very clear with people about what my expectations are, I just fear that I lack the proper vocabulary to make things clear.
posted by youcancallmeal to Human Relations (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you're wrong about sex being the only defining characteristic of a relationship. People can be in committed sex-free relationships, and they can casually date people and sleep with them.

It's a relationship if you decide it is! That is to say- if you make choices that prioritize that person, both day-to-day and in terms of planning your future, THAT'S a relationship. Dating exclusively is also a big part of it. Sex? Not that big of a factor, comparatively.

Be clear like this- say, I'm only looking for something casual right now. I can't commit to a relationship. Then make that person your second or third or whatever priority. Boom, you're casually dating.

(Cuddling? Hell, I'd be weirded out if someone I was kissing didn't also want to cuddle. It's 'ok' if you want it to be!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:49 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


In general:

Friends // (physical intimacy of some sort) // casual dating // (monogamy) // relationship.

There are a thousand shades of grey, but that's what most people will understand when you say them.
posted by General Malaise at 10:53 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I want to be very clear with people about what my expectations are, I just fear that I lack the proper vocabulary to make things clear.

Oh, my love, we all have this problem.

I don't think there is any one Cardinal Pole Star meaning for these terms. Everyone has their own individual reactions to interpersonal relationships - we each have our own words for them. Words can be highly personal - a guy I dated once, and we were fairly close, once said that he didn't want to call us "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" until he was really really REALLY sure that he wanted a long-term relationship. Until then, he didn't want to use those words.

Not that that illustration helps with your specific question, but it does illustrate that sometimes everyone has their OWN definitions for what these specific words mean. So your mission is indeed more about being clear with YOURSELF about what your expectations are, and getting detailed about that, rather than worrying whether you are using the proper vocabulary. Sure, you'll end up having to have a lot of "okay, wait, when I say FOO, you think I mean BAZ, but actually I mean ZIG. It sounds like your word for that is ZAG, should I say that instead?" kinds of conversations, but -- we all do.

And as for the "can we get cuddly" kind of questions -- if you've been clear with the guy about how you don't want to take things seriously, and he is aware of that, then...whatever you two physically do is fair game, as far as I'm concerned, until you or he starts getting uncomfortable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:59 PM on January 2, 2010


Friend: We're people that do stuff together, like see movies and move couches.
Casual Date: We're people that do stuff together, and sometimes theres sex!
Relationship: We're people that do more things together, theres sex (hopefully lots!), and we integrate each other into our personal lives, and intend to have a future together (or at least, have no expectation of the relationship ending.)

I'd say a big difference between a casual date, and a relationship is the expectation of exclusiveness, and a shared future.

You would do well to have a talk with any dates you have about keeping things open and non-exclusive. It's pretty terrible when one person thinks you are much more serious and into "relationship" territory than you intend to be. It doesn't sound like this is the case right now, but watch out for it.
posted by fontophilic at 11:02 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


This gets really tricky...

Friends are two people who hang out with nothing romantic going on

Casual Dating is seeing each other occasionally(once a week), kissing/cuddling, no "I Love You" with very occasional sex(maybe)

Relationship is seeing each other all the time(two times a week or more), sex often and I Love You being said

Just make sure you and your partner have agreed on all points that casual dating is what you both want. The trouble starts when two people DON'T agree and fully understand where it's going.
posted by OrangeSoda at 11:28 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You simply need to be explicit about it. Because frankly the terms "friend", "casual" and "relationship" have contradictory and overlapping meanings depending on who you ask. (And which will, I'm 100% sure, be borne out in the comments above and below.)

For me, friends = emotional investment but not physical. Casual = little emotional but physical. Relationship = emotional and exclusive physical.

However I have a friend who has sex with friends and can be in a relationship while still casually dating someone else.

Neither of us are right or wrong. Hell, as far as I can tell my friend might be more in the 'right' because he tends to be more explicit about what he wants and is doing otherwise. No one he's involved with is ever surprised.

And that's really what you should do. Don't shortcut it and say "I want a casual relationship" because there is so much slop in those words that feelings will get hurt and expectations destroyed. Tell them exactly what you want. Then you'll get it. Otherwise you're just screwing around. And not in the fun way.
posted by Ookseer at 12:35 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a relationship if you decide it is! ... if you make choices that prioritize that person, both day-to-day and in terms of planning your future, THAT'S a relationship.

"Love-at-first-sight" romantics, groupies, fangirls/fanboys, obsessives, stalkers, and erotomaniacs are six classes of people who prioritize and plan their future around someone who may not even know they exist. Surely that doesn't count?

Put another way, if your beloved doesn't consider himself (or herself) in a relationship with you, it's something else.

But then, where's the rush to put a label on complex feelings and situations that never seem to fit in neat little conceptual boxes? If you can enjoy the present for what it is and truly appreciate someone for who they are independently of how they feel about you, you'll be better off and a whole lot happier.

And if I were you, I wouldn't be too quick to kill off the possibility of a "serious relationship" before you even know who's coming your way. Love and passion has a way of sneaking up on you when you're not expecting it...be open and take things as they come.
posted by aquafortis at 1:10 AM on January 3, 2010


Maybe the OP would be better of characterizing what they *want* to their activity partners. As other partners have said trying to define what you want in overloaded terms is tricky. To add to the picture I routinely prioritize my life and long-term decisions around several of my friends' lives (so that we can continue to see each other) without anything romantic or sexual going on. Heavy involvement is not the defining property of a "relationship".

Instead OP could describe what they envision to their activity partners in terms of a position on the following spectra:

- whether to privilege the other person over others (vs not)

- whether to expect regular sex (vs. only occasional or not at all)

- whether to expect long-lasting trust and/or emotional support (vs short-term or not)

- whether to have common activities (vs not)

- whether to make medium/long-term plans together, from not at all, living in the same area to having kids together etc

What is important is to reach agreement fast on these points, without letting the other person(s) expect more / different than you do.
posted by knz at 3:23 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who "casually dates" with no expectation of sex?

It may not be what you want, but don't expect your "dates" to stick around, especially if you sleep with them once and then decide that's not what you want out of the deal.

As a male, hypothetically speaking, I would "date" for sex or for the purpose of establishing a serious "relationship," not for "cuddling" or to help my dates pass the time with my platonic company. The guys you date may be different, but I doubt it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:52 AM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with fourcheesemac. It's very rare to find a man who will be OK with sex being taken out of the equation when it's happened once already.

If it was me, I would be expecting to have sex with you, but with the understanding that you're looking for something long-term with someone else. I'm not going to stay around and be platonic and cuddle unless it will lead to sex. The cuddling is gratifying for you, the sex is gratifying for me.
posted by reenum at 9:28 AM on January 3, 2010


I agree with knz.

The most important thing in any relationship is communication about what is expected on both sides. If you define a friendship as equaling no sex, tell your friends that, same with casual dating. If you're up front about what you expect or don't expect from the relationship, then you shouldn't have a problem with being unclear - no matter what words you use.
posted by patheral at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2010


I've been seeing a guy for a few weeks and while we've slept together once (It was a mistake and won't happen again.), we see each other once or twice a week and kiss goodbye. This is casual dating, right?

Unless this guy knows your decision that you are never having sex again, this is leading him on. You are perfectly within your rights to decide that you do not want to ever have sex again with him. But it would be nice and fairer to him to let him know that intimacy is permanently out of the picture for him, as once one has sex with someone, many people think that the sex is going to continue as a regular thing. I'm certain you don't want him hanging on thinking things are going in a different direction.

That's why I'm going to suggest that you drop the labels and just negotiate for what you want. Tell him and anyone else you might date up front exactly what you want. Don't assume that you are the only person with agency here, respect him as well and acknowledge to yourself that he might not want what you want and find out what he's looking for. See if you guys can agree what the ground rules are. Be certain that your desire not to get involved does not get him hurt.

Finally, I think you should examine the reasons why you don't want something serious right now. If it is because you are playing a little defense and avoiding being vulnerable to being hurt, be prepared to maybe experience a level of attachment you are avoiding. I immediately think of these things when I see relationship semantics questions--sometimes we look for reassurance we won't get hurt in a label.

Put another way--do you like this guy?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:43 AM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I do like this guy. A lot, actually. But I also have a lot going on in my life and I need to stay focused this year. I have a tendency to let myself be consumed by whatever relationship I'm in and while I don't want to give up that feeling of passion and commitment, I'm not able to give that to anyone right now. I also don't want to have sex with anyone outside of a committed relationship, so while I do like this guy a lot (which is why I would like to keep seeing him), I really don't have the time or energy in my life for sex.

Those of you that say that you wouldn't date someone without the expectation of sex...well, that just kind of sucks and frankly, if that's his (or anyone else that I'd date's) viewpoint... they're not for me anyway. Especially not at this point in my life. Perhaps I am leading him on; we'll be having a Talk shortly to clarify things. Hence asking this question. :)
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:04 PM on January 3, 2010


Friends: No sex is gonna happen
Casual dating: No commitment is gonna happen
Relationship: Everyone wants sex and commitment to eventually happen

Really, though, a relationship is what you make of it. Communicate. You seem to have a good handle on this concept, you know what you want and what you don't want, and that's great. To you, casual dating does not mean sex. Then so be it. Be clear and honest and kind. You're on the right track.
posted by kathrineg at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Those of you that say that you wouldn't date someone without the expectation of sex...well, that just kind of sucks and frankly, if that's his (or anyone else that I'd date's) viewpoint... they're not for me anyway.

Just to be sure, it isn't the sex, its the having sex and then being told no more sex. I expect that if this was done to me, I would feel pushed away. A prior level of intimacy is ending, with apparently no chance ever of coming back. He is allowed to want this from a relationship as much as you don't want it. Don't start out by discrediting his own request to have his own needs met just as you want your needs met. If he decides that's not for him, don't hold it against him. He's as entitled as you to seek what he wants from romantic relationships.

But I also don't think it is inevitable that if you opened the door a little, that you would "be consumed." You can learn from your experiences. If you care about him, just playing defense might not be the only plan to consider. An agreement to give each other what you both want might really be the call here.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Ironmouth nails it, mostly. And there are all kinds of people who want all kinds of things out of life, and if we're lucky we find ones whose wants are compatible with our own. I'm sure there are celibates out there who "date" for the company of the opposite sex (or the same, as it rolls) as such. But most people date with the expectation of sex -- men and women. That is, as I understand it, the whole point of "dating" for all but the self-consciously celibate. Sex may come early or late, but it's the meaning of the exercise for the vast majority. I don't at all believe that's more true for men than women. The meanings of *sex* itself may vary, but not its symbolic and organic centrality to our being as animals. If your goal is to keep it always at a low simmer, that's going to rule out a lot of people.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:49 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really think an arrangement without sex, and with the only intimacy being cuddling and a goodnight kiss, is going to count as "dating" in most healthy, well-adjusted men's eyes.

And while obviously you are free to set whatever limits you want when negotiating a relationship, my suspicion is that your no-sex rule is going to whittle your prospective dating pool down to some rather odd men.
posted by jayder at 9:01 PM on January 3, 2010


If you need to focus, maybe you need to have just friends - no dating or any type. This means no kiss goodnight and no cuddling.

There are plenty of men who will date for months and months with no sex - but men who have those kinds of values tend to be the same men who want very serious relationships in the end and isn't that what you are trying to avoid right now?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:53 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thank you for asking this question -- I was just about to post the exact same thing and am happy that I don't have to.

Since, like you I'm testing the dating waters after years as a serial monogamist, I have little to add other than this: I disagree entirely with those who say that finding a man who is willing to date you without having sex is difficult. Yes, many guys expect sex after a certain amount of time, but many don't. We're not all stuck in highschool. Just be upfront about your wishes and all will be well.

And while obviously you are free to set whatever limits you want when negotiating a relationship, my suspicion is that your no-sex rule is going to whittle your prospective dating pool down to some rather odd men.

Odd men? No, just socially mature ones, with priorities other than sex (which frankly can be had pretty much anywhere). And one would expect that "whittling down you prospective dating pool" is a plus for the average attractive, available woman.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:47 PM on January 12, 2010


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