Engaging in casual relationships as a booster or something in between a breakup and starting over in a new relationship is highly common. Thanks to dating apps (and sites), cultural shifts in dating and freedom of expression over the last couple of decades, and how modes of communication changed over that same period, it’s never been so easy or ‘normalised’ to not be in a relationship. 

But casual relationships are also a source of much angst. In almost two decades of writing Baggage Reclaim, being treated and regarded casually, so with little care, concern and attention, in any context, never mind romantically and sexually, is behind most of the many thousands of stories readers have shared over the years. We’re also sometimes guilty of engaging in casual relationships with ulterior motives. I liken this malarkey to behaving like a 0% APR low-introductory offer on a credit card. Or zero-hours contracts.

I’m often asked if being in a casual relationship can ever be healthy. The answer: yes, sometimes. 

When a casual relationship is mutual and boundaried, each of you engages from a place of being above board.

It’s healthy because you’re each approaching the relationship healthily.

You’re not pretending that the involvement is something other than what it is, but you’re also not being disrespectful to each other either. As a result, you need to check in with each other to ensure you’re still both on the same page.

‘Healthy’ casual relationships are often a tricky balance, simply because no one likes to be treated casually. We also, as humans, tend to want to look a certain way or hide our actual needs behind the pretence of having lesser ones. And sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing this until we’re already in it. As a result, healthy casual relationships take a decent level of self-awareness and healthy boundaries on both sides

We can also learn a lot about ourselves through casual relationships.

In engaging with someone at this level, we can come to understand ourselves better and figure out what we need. It can feel like lower stakes than a relationship. We also, potentially, in the process of being casual, become increasingly aware of our level of emotional availability. We might realise that we’re emotionally unavailable or that we require more intimacy to feel authentic.

Casual relationships can help you move on. However, it’s the ‘moving on’ bit that often brings up feelings of being used. This is especially so when it’s a clear-cut case of rebounding. Don’t the situation drag on, not least because it starts to feel like a relationship. Casual relationships fare better and do less damage when they’re short. Do them, on the other hand, over an extended period and we can be sure there’s going to be tension, friction, and resentment. 

It’s not inherently unhealthy to engage in casual relationships. It’s also, incidentally, not inherently healthy to engage in monogamous relationships. Your ‘why’, your intentions matter, whether whether you’re pursuing casual or monogamous relationships. 

Being in a casual relationship doesn’t make either party a ‘bad’ person. That said, it’s important to recognise when we’ve crossed that threshold from the relationship seeming mutual to something imbalanced. If we’re not feeling or behaving healthily or authentically, it’s not a healthy casual relationship.

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