Todd and Rachel had been dating for about four months. Everything seemed to be going great. They got along really well, had similar interests and goals, shared beliefs and values and simply had a lot of fun together. But all of a sudden one day, Rachel seemed to back off—just like that. No warning. No communication. No answers. A few weeks later, they reconnected, and this is what she said:
“I’m just not ready to commit to this level of dating. Can we just keep it casual?”
The fallacy of “casual dating” strikes again. As a professional counselor, I cringe whenever I hear this phrase. Though many people use the term in an attempt to maintain space, push off commitment and implement some distance, in my humble opinion, what it really means is this: I’m just not sure if you’re right for me.
Matthew 5:37 offers some solid advice for life, as well as for relationships: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ … ”
In this day and age, we have a tendency to complicate dating. But this verse reminds us that simplicity is so important when it comes to our communication with others—including others of the opposite sex. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. If we applied this rule to dating, the “maybe” of casual dating would vanish within the certainty of yes or no.
On the road from acquaintances to friends, from friends to more than friends, “casual” might be a stopping point along the way. But here’s a few points to think through if you’re stuck at a dating dead-end where “casual” seems to lead nowhere.
1) Are you past the point of casual?
There is a time and place for casual. That time is called the stage of the firsts: first impressions, first conversations, first dates. In the early stages of dating, a relationship should always be casual. At this point, there is no need for thinking ahead, commitments or exclusive promises. It’s simply a time of knowing and becoming known. It’s a time of testing interactions, communication and attraction between two people. The first few months of dating can be considered casual, because the direction up ahead is still unclear.
But what makes a relationship turn from casual into committed? The answer is always time.
Within a few months, the very nature of a relationship turns from casual into committed. The time that you spend together, the conversations you exchange and the affection you begin to develop can no longer be considered casual. Once you have entered this stage of a relationship, your expectations are naturally heightened. The future is either a yes or a no. Time should always eliminate “maybes,” and if it hasn’t, then the “maybe” is actually a no.
2) Consider what it is about casual relationships that makes you comfortable.
If you are the one longing for casual, you need to ask yourself why. Why do you hesitate to go deeper with this person? For some, the baggage of their past brings fears of future, commitment and permanency. For others, the relationship itself is not all that they had thought it would be. They see flaws within the relationship and they’re filled with doubts, fears and worries about the future.
Rather than helping you make a decision, casual dating keeps you stuck in confusion longer than you ever intended to stay. It paralyzes you from making a choice, and it keeps you stagnant in mediocrity rather than moving forward toward fulfillment.
If you are comfortable in a casual relationship, consider what it is that is keeping you from moving forward. Maybe you need to take it up a notch and communicate your honest feelings and commitment. Or maybe you need to reevaluate and step back before you get too involved in a relationship you know won’t go anywhere. But what you don’t want is to drift without direction.
3) Count the cost.
For those who are living within the comfort of a casual relationship, there is always a cost. Relationships are meant to be exciting, fulfilling and healthy. They are made to grow, to stretch and to mature. They are meant to deepen in intimacy, connection and love. If you are at a stand-still within the world of casual dating, you have to really ask yourself what you are missing out on. There is always a cost. Casual may be taking the place of passionate. You may be entertaining a casual relationship at the expense of clarity and certainty.
Maybe by holding on to casual dating, you are keeping yourself from a relationship that could offer you so much more. Maybe by waiting for things to magically change, you are missing out on the change that could be taking place inside of you. Maybe by clinging to complacency in a relationship, you are saying yes to casual and no to finding committed love.
As it turns out, relationships are not really as complicated as we make them. Healthy relationships can be a challenge to cultivate (we’re only human, after all), but they are comfortable—because they are as they should be. Healthy relationships progress ever so easily, deepen ever so quickly and develop ever so passionately. There is no room for the “maybe” of casual when it comes to finding love, because true love is certain. It does not weigh pros and cons or wander back and forth. So let your yes be yes, and your no be no.
It’s time to let go of casual and step into something new.