Casual dating has many perks — like having the freedom to hang and hook up with whoever you want, whenever and wherever you want. One of the potential pitfalls? Accidentally catching feelings for someone when you don’t intend to. Feelings are a funny thing — you don’t always have control over them, so even if you date someone with no intention of pursuing anything serious, there’s still a chance you might fall for them. So, can you date casually without catching feelings? And if so, what can you do to ensure you keep things casual?
According to relationship expert April Masini, the short answer is: Yes, it’s totally possible to date casually without those pesky feels getting in the way. What a relief, right? But not so fast — Masini says that your ability to pull this off depends a lot on your personality.
“For some people, it’s easier than others,” she tells Elite Daily. “If you’re someone who normally falls hard and fast, then expect your normal feelings to get in the way of casual dating. Conversely, if you’re someone who can disconnect from falling in love, then expect that to work in your favor when it comes to casual dating.”
It can be helpful, then, to think about your romantic track record. What are the elements that tend to trigger your feelings to grow for someone? For many people, the amount of quality time spent bonding with someone directly corresponds to their developing feelings. If that’s you, and you’re determined to date casually, then you know that you may need to be careful about letting your dates drag on well into the next day, or hanging out with the same person multiple times a week. For other people, physical intimacy is a big factor in terms of catching feelings.
“Sex changes things,” says Masini. “Some of this has biological roots, some of this has psychological roots, some of this has social roots, and some of this has a combination of these things. Bottom line is, the one night stand or friends with benefits is very difficult to maintain on a regular basis.”
It may sound extreme, but if you’re determined to avoid catching feelings, Masini says one way to do that is to resist the temptation to have sex. If you know from experience that you’re able to engage in casual sex without wanting more, then go for it — but remember, if you’re spending a lot of quality time with that person and getting to know them outside the bedroom, then the risk of you developing some feelings for them is definitely higher.
Another thing to avoid if you want to date casually without falling for someone is inviting them to certain momentous events — Masini refers to these as “landmarks.”
“Landmarks in relationships tend to create emotional bonds,” she explains. “For instance, bringing someone to your sister’s wedding, where they will meet your family, take part in family photos and become part of this memory with you, is going to attach the two of you, emotionally. Spending New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Valentine’s Day with someone is going to help you catch feelings for someone, so if you don’t want those feelings, avoid these dates.”
But here’s the thing. If you do catch feelings, there’s no reason to freak. While you may not have intended for this to happen, it’s not necessarily a bad thing — and it’s definitely not something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
According to Masini, if you’re you’re fresh off a breakup and suspect you may be rebounding or you’re only in town for a limited amount of time, then catching feelings could be problematic. Otherwise, you can totally embrace it. In the best case scenario, of course, you’ll share those feelings with your crush and discover that they’re on the same page. But even if that’s not the case, catching feels for someone you’re casually dating offers a phenomenal opportunity to check in with yourself, and what you want/need from dating. Is casual dating fulfilling enough, or do you secretly hope for a more meaningful connection? Falling for someone may mean it’s time to reassess whether you’d like to continue casual dating.
Rest assured that indeed, it’s totally possible to date casually without getting attached to someone or straight up falling in love with them. That said, it does require a particular kind of personality to maintain this, and on top of that, it requires some caution around how you handle casual dating. Avoiding those things that make you feel an instantly deeper connection to someone, whether it’s having sex or celebrating a holiday together, can certainly help prevent you from getting in too deep. But remember: If you do suddenly start catching feelings for someone, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re human, and part of that means having a complex spectrum of incredible, unpredictable emotions. It’s up to you how you’d like to act on those feelings, but the most important thing is that you acknowledge them and honor them. Then, and only then, can you decide whether casual dating is working for you.
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