We’re revisiting this classic Autostraddle piece on queer dating as we get back to dating basics in partnership with HER’s Queer Dating 101, a series of live edutainment events that brings in concrete how-tos, insights, experts and some of your favorite Autostraddle personalities to help you find love (or whatever you’re looking for) in the time of corona. Check out the event on Sex and Relationships During COVID, on 1/21/2021 at 6pm PT | 9pm ET!
Hey hot stuff! Last month I gave you a very important homework assignment: assume everyone thinks you’re hot and act accordingly. If the thirst traps some of y’all keep tagging me in on Instagram (which, THANK YOU) are any indication, you took me very seriously and I am PROUD! OF! YOU! Now that we’re all at a positive baseline of self confidence and self esteem, I’d like to suggest something wild and new: casual dating for queers!
Listen, I know it’s hilarious to make the Lesbian U-Haul joke, and I know a solid 50% of my personal text messages are friends messaging me to say they’ve found their life partner after approximately 45 minutes of a first date, and I know some people genuinely do not enjoy casual dating or casual sex and that’s all well and good (and if you genuinely don’t want to, obviously you shouldn’t and you can disregard this article and we can still love each other!).
But! I think it’s weird that We As A People pretend like we can’t date casually, and I think that many of us would actually enjoy the fine art of a casual connection if we could just stop laughing at memes about the Urge2Merge for like, ten seconds. I’m gonna tell you a few reasons why I personally think casual dating is rad and then we’ll go over some tips and tricks to actually pull it off. If this is a thing you want, you can do it in 2019! This is our year! I believe in you / us / our ability to not get married on the third date.
Why Casual Dating Rules
Wanting to be your own #1 is perfectly valid
In spite of all the cultural pressure for both straight and queer people to partner up, and in spite of all the very real couple privilege folks in monogamous relationships experience, the truth is that for many of us it makes more sense to prioritize ourselves as single people at this particular moment in time. And that’s fine! Wanting to put yourself, your work, your art, your pals, even just your ability to starfish and masturbate in peace every Sunday morning ahead of everything and everyone else is actually completely okay. We’re told that being selfish is terrible and so is being alone, but it’s not – as long as you communicate honestly to yourself and your dates that you have clear priorities, and most of them center around meeting your own needs first. That’s completely valid! But even if you want to be Alone as a concept, you might still want to get laid every so often, have a sexy person on speed dial for when you score tickets to the upcoming Lizzo show, or just know that there is a babe (or two or ten) out there who likes holding your hand and putting their lips on your lips. Enter the casual date.
Perfect for people with a busy schedule
Perhaps it’s not your intention to be alone necessarily, but you just… don’t have time for a partner. This is also totally fine! I read a tweet recently that essentially said that ambitious women either need a very supportive partner or else they need to be alone, and then I screamed out loud because that is so real. There are lots of lovely things about being in a serious relationship (and aspiring to have a partner in your life is totally valid) but let’s be honest with ourselves about how much time building that kind of connection takes. If you’ve got the time and inclination that’s nice, but a lot of us do not right now, for whatever reason. It’s not a priority. But again, just because you don’t have the hours to learn how someone deeply fits in your life, that doesn’t mean you want to eschew all human connection and never have an orgasm with another human ever again. Another perfect reason to date casually!
No need to stress about perfection
This might be my favorite reason to date casually, as a highly anxious perfectionist. Casual dating means you can completely let go of your (unrealistic) expectations about perfection in a partnership! I’m sort of kidding, because obviously no partnership is perfect (and what even is perfection?), but I’m also sincere. When we go into a date with a mentality that we might want to spend Forever with the other human, small differences can take on monumental importance. She doesn’t want kids and you do — why bother? They’d never be open to living in another country but that’s your childhood dream? Bye! She’s vehemently opposed to group sex but you host a monthly play party and love fucking your friends? Nope nope nope!
Obviously dealbreakers exist in casual situations too (no white supremacists, no SWERFs, no TERFs) but a lot of “dealbreakers” involving a shared life or future together are sort of irrelevant if you’re gonna be casual. I went on a great date last week with a total babe and through casual conversation found out pretty quickly that she definitely doesn’t want kids. Having a child is absolutely in my five-year plan, and if I had been thinking about our first date as an interview for a future longterm girlfriend I might have called things off right then and there. But that’s not what casual dating is about. Casual dating means we were able to acknowledge that we have different feelings about wanting children, and then get back to getting to know each other, making out, and fisting. How she felt about babies was really not at all on my mind by the end of the evening, I’ll tell you what!
Learn what you like (and what you don’t like)
As with any activity, the more you date, the more you’ll learn about yourself as a dater. Do you like getting drinks at that bar near your house, or do you prefer to engage in a physical activity like going on a walk or a bike ride? Are you someone who appreciates when your date arrives five minutes early or are you grateful when she’s ten minutes late so you can do some deep breathing exercises and check Instagram? Is sex on the first date on your agenda or a total turn off? Speaking of sex, everyone fucks differently! The more people you date the more you can explore what kind of sex you enjoy having with a consistent partner. Are you into sleepovers and breakfast in bed the next day or do you cherish waking up alone? What draws you to a person? What makes you run? I’m not saying you can’t learn a lot about yourself in a serious relationship (of course you can) I’m just saying that you can also learn a lot about yourself when you’re single and casually dating. We rarely celebrate that fact, and we should!
Okay, are you convinced that casual dating rules? Sweet, 50% of my mission is accomplished. Now we’re going to go over how to actually keep things casual, because I know y’all are going to show up in the comment section telling me queers just can’t be casual, it’s not in our nature, and I am here to look you sternly in the face, roll my Capricorn sun/Virgo rising eyes at your sweet little soul in an exasperated but loving way, and say that! is! not! true! and! you! know! it!
How To Keep Things Casual
Be honest with yourself and your dates
We’re starting with the fundamental basics, pals: honesty and direct communication! Sorry, I know this feels like the most repeated dating advice, but that’s because… it works. You need to figure out what you’re looking for in the casual dates you’ll be going on, and then you need to let your dates know what you’re available for. As a recovering serial monogamist who has had my fair share of “oops I was trying to be single but I just fell into this serious long term relationship, my bad” situations, I understand the instinct to just “see what happens” when you’re dating. But if you do this, you will very likely end up on a relationship escalator whether that’s what you really want or not, because that’s “the norm.”
Humans are creatures of habit, and if we like something we want more of it. “Catching feelings” does not just happen – we often let feelings build because we do not take the necessary steps to keep a relationship casual, and then we act like it was inevitable all along. Before you start going on casual dates, ask yourself: What am I looking for in a human connection right now? Is it important to me to have lots of sex? Am I hoping to spend time with someone who will discuss literature and movies with me? Would I ideally like to see one human a couple of times a month, or multiple humans once a month each, or two humans twice a year? What kind of intimacy level do I feel comfortable sharing with casual dates? Do I plan to integrate any of my dates into my friend group? Am I willing to date within my friend group? How do I feel about sleepovers with casual dates? The list can go on and on, but the basic points you’re trying to figure out (alone! With your self!) is how much time you are willing and able to devote to dates, what your definition of casual is, and what are the actual needs you’re trying to meet by dating. It’s really important to be honest with yourself in this step, because you need to know what you’re hoping for in order to be able to convey it successfully to another human being or multiple other human beings.
Date people with similar intentions
While I do believe that anyone is capable of casual dating, I do not believe that everyone wants to date casually. If you’re hoping to be casual with the dates in your life, it’s ideal if they’re also in that mental space. It’s not impossible for monogamous people to casually date multiple people, but it is going to be a shitty situation for everyone if you’re determined to stay single and you date a polyamorous babe who is looking for a serious girlfriend. I’m less concerned here with someone’s monogamous versus polyamorous feelings/identity and more concerned about the relationship structures they’re hoping to add to their life right now. When I asked some pals for tips and tricks to keeping things casual, one friend said they’ve been only dating people who already have serious partners and aren’t looking for additional serious partners, or people who are “extremely not interested in anything beyond making out in the bar bathroom.” This is a great plan! It’s part of being honest with your dates about your needs and intentions, and that is key to being a good casual date.
Create good habits and strong boundaries
Okay, here’s a story. Last summer I started texting with a babe who was very fun and flirtatious. We were both very vocal about only being available for something casual, and it seemed like we were in total agreement. Except… we started texting every day. I would wake up and text them. We would chat all day. We would say goodnight to each other, or apologize for falling asleep before we said goodnight. And ugh, suddenly, I did not feel so casual anymore y’all! I really truly intended to be casual with this babe, and logically did not want anything more than a casual flirtation/hookup, but by texting so frequently I’d created a situation where things felt very intimate and I had to admit to myself I no longer had only casual feelings. I was so frustrated with myself!
I chatted with a close friend about it, who told me that one of his major practices when keeping things casual with a date is specifically not texting every day. At first I was skeptical. How on earth can you tell a person you like not to text you every day? You can’t control how often people text you! Except… and I apologize to those of you who have been rolling your eyes at this story and knew this tip all along… you totally can control your own behavior. Sigh, so boring but true. It’s completely possible to not make yourself available to a date at all times.
It’s great to form good boundaries early on and make it clear that you’re not attached to your phone (even if you really are), that you don’t intend to chat every day, and that things like texting “good morning!” are very much not on the table for you. It’s a small habit to create, but it has done wonders for me in keeping my brain and my heart lined up when it comes to casual dating. Some other good habits to think about: avoiding pet names or nicknames, be intentional about making plans, don’t have default sex dates or sleepovers, don’t share fluids when having sex, don’t post couple-y photos on social media, don’t prioritize your date over other life responsibilities (friends, family, work, sleep, etc). Obviously everyone’s list is going to differ a little – these are just some things to consider as you get started making your very own personalized boundary list that you will then memorize and stick to!
Be real with yourself
Casual dating is work. I think there’s a misconception that if something is casual it will take zero effort to maintain, but I personally have actually found the opposite to be true. As I said above, it’s human inertia to want more of a thing that you like, and when that thing is another person we can all find ourselves justifying that even though we said we really wanted to be single right now, we can’t help catching feelings or u-hauling or landing on girlfriend island. And listen, I know, I know, sometimes you do think you want to be single and then you do find a really incredible human being and you do embark on a serious relationship and everything turns out great! And that’s rad and I’m happy for you but that’s a different article. I think, particularly in queer communities, we tell each other a story that casual dating is impossible, or that you can’t help bouncing from one long term relationship to the next, and that story simply isn’t true. Queers are completely capable of casual dating, even if you’ve gotta work at it.
For example: I had to take some space from a date a few months ago because I hadn’t done a good job at all creating boundaries and I found myself feeling disappointed that she wasn’t acting like my girlfriend, even though my brain knew I actually didn’t want things with her to be anything other than casual. We started talking again recently and had a pretty intense conversation about boundaries and expectations. That might not seem “casual,” but it was actually incredibly helpful and gave us a second chance to try dating casually, something we both want but were previously not successfully achieving. The thing is, when the whole world is encouraging everyone to find a partner and settle down ASAP, wanting to intentionally keep things casual is a challenging position to take. Not to be too precious about it, but casual dating is kind of radical! It’s really cool to realize that you don’t want a serious relationship and then get to know yourself and your needs well enough to responsibly create the kinds of connections you do want.
Be honest with yourself on this journey – sometimes you really will find yourself developing deep feelings for a casual date, or vice versa, and then you need to check in and see what the next step should be. Maybe you need to take some space. Maybe for you and your date, deep feelings can exist in a casual scenario and it’s totally fine. Maybe you’re conflating “really love when this person ties me up and holds a Hitachi against my bod until I squirt everywhere” with “deep feelings.” A casual date can totally evolve into a serious relationship, if all the people involved want it to, but what I’m advocating for is not “just letting that happen” because “queers can’t be casual.” Be intentional with your dating choices! If something doesn’t feel good, stop doing it. If you make a mistake or end up hurting yourself or someone else, accept the learning curve and resolve to do better next time. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself and with your dates, within reason. We’re all just people, trying to connect / make out / watch movies / hold hands / read books / get laid / eat dinner / go camping / exist on this doomed planet, and most of us are doing our best. Let’s casually date some babes before the world ends, okay?
May your dates be hot and casual and your boundaries be intentional and firm! Happy Valentine’s Day!
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