Hi. My name is Beca and up until relatively recently, I was a serial monogamist. I hopped from serious relationship to serious relationship, racking up a surprisingly high number of "meaningful" relationships at a young age. I didn't quite yet understand all the different things to be gained from having different kinds of dating situations of varying degrees of intensity. Even when I tried to keep things casual, I would rapidly find myself ass-deep into another capital R Relationship—again. If you have the same tendency as me—to get very legit with someone real quick—you don't have to stay that way. There is hope to date again! I say "date" in a deliberate way because I mean the casual, lower-case "d" kind of dating. dating (sic) is still super fun and you shouldn't have to miss out on the chill variety it offers just because you have a track record of Relationships with very little time in between.
I'm not talking about completely rewiring your brain. There's nothing wrong with having serious relationships; clearly, they are just great... when you're ready for them, and they are actually what you want, as opposed to just being the only way you know how to relate romantically to another person. Dating lightly is just a different kind of romance altogether. I actually just entered a Relationship this week after a looong period of non-serious dating, which will never not be an unnatural (yet fulfilling!) project that I have to embark upon with calculated intention. I needed to do all that dating before I was ready to be part of a Relationship. It offered a bit of breathing space, which, especially for people who tend to move directly from one relationship to another, can be a much-needed, incredibly valuable recovery period. And you can do it too! You can keep it casual! If you're a serial monogamist and you're trying to keep things chill with a new person, here's exactly how you do it:
Be upfront with your partner and yourself
Open communication is traditionally regarded as super important in any kind of relationship, no matter how serious it is. This is because it is super important. Sorry, there's no way around it: Your relationship with someone—whether it's a one-night stand or a marriage—will be pretty fucked if you can't get onboard with being as honest as possible. Have a straight-up conversation early on to let the other person know you're not game for things to grow into something more extreme. Let them know you're seeing other people. While we're at it...
See other people
If you're dating one person exclusively, no matter how casual you want to keep things, they can't stay that way. Not past a certain point. I'm sorry, because I'm sure you want to protest right now, but I stand by this assessment: If you are only dating one person for long enough, no attempts to keep things light and easy, no matter how earnest, will effectively prevent that person from turning into a monogamous paramour. It will happen, especially if you're already prone to getting couple-y with everyone you date. I'm not saying you have to go out and bang everyone you can (unless that's what you want to do, in which case, go for it. Be safe, have fun, do you.), but add a little diversity to your dating roster to maintain a safe distance from any one person.
Don't take them as plus-ones to work events or weddings
This type of social interaction can cue way too much stress, and introducing that kind of social stress into a casual relationship defeats the purpose of keeping things non-serious. Also, if you start showing up with someone to events like these, the people in your life are going to start associating the two of you as a couple, and sometimes other people defining your relationship can have a significant impact on actually defining it. So when it comes to work events, weddings, and family get togethers, keep your casual person out of it.
Introduce them to friends only in very specific scenarios
You don't have to hide these people, but you should be pretty selective about who you introduce them to and the associated situations. Intimate dinner parties with your BFFs? Nope. Rowdy strip club outing with casual pals? Go for it. If the ratio is more individual friends than couples (and at least five of them to start with), it's probably a safe bet to bring someone you're only kinda involved with. If you're going to start including someone you're sleeping with into more intimate social outings with your close posse, you might as well give them a goddamn drawer.
Refrain from visiting your regular spots with them
This seems like a no-brainer, but we are creatures of habit and we are generally terrible at protecting our holy spaces, and YES, if you're a young (or even young-ish) person, the bars, coffee shops, and other hangouts you frequent are indeed your holy places. They are where you go with friends, or by yourself, when you need to recharge, regroup, and feel in your comfort zone, all of which are reasons why you should definitely NOT bring someone to those precious places if you don't plan on them being a serious part of your life. Worst case scenario: You cool on your attraction to them, in the meantime they fall hard—for both you and your favorite cafe. Keep those places sacred and dating-free.
Avoid them if one or both of you are sick
Colds make you vulnerable. You're weak and bummed out, and all of your resolve to do all the things that are good for you just fall away in the face of a more primal need to seek comfortable things. The whole situations evokes a kind of intimacy you just shouldn't mess with if you want to maintain a certain degree of distance with someone. Once you pick up someone's snotty tissue balls or vice versa, there's no going back.
Never ask for or expect special favors
Someone you want to casually date and NOT have a serious relationship with are not people who should pick you up from the airport, or bring you fries when you're having the worst cramps ever. These people don't owe you a patient ear when you had a crap day at work. That's the stuff of Real Relationships, yo. The only things this person may reasonably be responsible for are your orgasms and half the price of Plan B.
Put a tight cap on PDA
Especially the sober kind. Honestly, there is something a thousand percent more serious about walking hand-in-hand with another human in daylight than boning them in a private setting after bar-hopping. It makes everything more official. Actually, going on fun day-dates is couple-y as hell, and the more you can avoid integrating them into your normal, everyday life is best, so maybe you shouldn't be seeing this person during the day at all.
Limit text and Gchat conversations
"Hey, I'm bored at work and just killing time" conversations may lead you to discover a new facet of them you find ensnaring. Small talk is the Devil's Road to Coupleville! Do not engage! One of the perks of remaining single is the freedom from communicative obligation during the workday. You're focusing on your career, so for the love of all that is boundaries, focus! Maintaining steady contact with someone throughout the day presents an obvious danger to the eggshell status of your whole thing. Also, if you start to become more reliant on an emotional connection with them, that immediately intensifies everything. When it comes to digital communication, it's a good rule to avoid chit-chat and mostly stick instead to just making plans to meet in person.
Evade social media ties
I mean this next statement so hard: If you don't plan to have a more permanent relationship with someone, you don't need to be linked on social media at all. Don't follow them on anything. Don't friend them on anything. If they follow you, ignore it—they aren't on your level. Stay on this level, for your own good. What's the point of being linked on social media? You don't need to see their lunch on Instagram. They don't need to see your aunt's incessant shares on your Facebook wall. This is just a line that doesn't need to be crossed when you're planning to permanently stay in the casual phase of a relationship. Example: A dude I met through Tinder followed me on IG before even our first date. It was way too strong, way too fast, and ultimately contributed to me making sure we didn't schedule a second one.
Skip sexless sleepovers
Years ago, I had what I considered the ultimate sex friendship. All that dissolved the first time we had a sexless sleepover together. It accidentally established a kind of intimacy that forever warped our situation. Suddenly he wanted more, which is no crime. Come on, I'm not heartless. I was a serial monogamist, remember?! I have all kinds of feels. But this kind of relationship also wasn't in line with the game plan we originally discussed, and it was a bummer to lose that great thing we had, even if what we were inadvertently turning into would've been great for some people, or even for us at a different time in our lives. And if I'd had better boundaries back then, we possibly could've maintained the great, casual thing we had going on.
Honesty, honesty, honesty
Again, the dude in the above scenario didn't do anything wrong by expressing himself and his needs. That's the most important part, really: Maintaining an open policy of honesty between the two of you. Keep each other in the loop with your life and feelings, especially if either changes. Staying on the same page is pretty vital in all relationships, and dating ones are no different.
Now go forth and date casually! It isn't that hard. Okay, maybe it is for some of us, but we can totally do it.
Images: Shandi-lee Cox/Flickr; Giphy (12)