3 Rules for Casual Dating (If You Don’t Want to Fall in Love with EVERYONE)

At some point in our dating lives, we all must undergo a rude awakening: We can fall in love with anyone.

This push-pull of falling for someone we KNOW is wrong for us is the tension Mark Manson talks about in his blog, “F* Your Feelings.” His basic premise is that emotions stem from our choices, and our choices are based on one of two motivations:

  1. The Choice feels good.
  2. The Choice is something we believe to be good or right.

When a choice is based on both of those motivations, sweet! When these two things don’t align, though, cognitive dissonance arises, and our brain does everything it can to rectify it.

[[Cognitive dissonance: “a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance, etc.”]]

Dating someone I’m drawn to but know isn’t right for me creates cognitive dissonance.

  1. On the one hand, it’s so fun to have a crush, it’s nice to cuddle, and once you’re past the awkward first date phase, the comfort and familiarity of a buddy is hard to pass up.
  2. On the other hand, if very few of my more objective dating preferences are being met a regular feeling of instability will be my norm.

I still believe in shot-gun dating. But, I’ve discovered a grey area in which too much intimacy with a casual dating partner limits our ability to remain casual.

We’ve all dated that person we could never really see ourselves with. As much as we say to ourselves that it’s nothing and we’re just bored, we may also find ourselves texting them late at night, maneuvering our schedule to run into them, or thinking about seeing them which makes us unable to be present with friends because all we’re thinking about is whether or not we’ll see them later! Sounds like a relationship to me…….

Honestly, these tendencies are not wrong, and are actually right and good in the context of pursuing a relationship. But if we’re just casually dating or keeping company – you might find yourself in for some heartache.


What’s happened is that as much as we’ve tried to casually date, we’ve crossed my own intimacy boundaries, and it has taken us from casual dating to faux-relationship territory. We all must discover what our personal boundaries are in this area, especially when shot-gun dating. Our personal boundary between “casual dating” and “faux-relationship” may be the sexual boundaries we cross, meeting a love interest’s  friends or parents, or feeling comfortable to show up in sweats and no makeup.

Even when we go into a relationship with every intention of being casual, sometimes our feelings get the best of us. The last thing I want for myself is to end up with someone whom objectively I have no reason to be with just because I let chemistry and my feelings get the best of me. (The opposite, where they check every box but chemistry is nowhere in sight, is also a bad, bad idea.) Those are the worst heartbreaks – when we totally fall in love, ignoring every sign of incompatibility until the marriage question comes up. Then, we have two options: Leave someone you love who wants a totally different life, or commit knowing this was never the life you intended?

A few rules and implications for shot-gun dating:  

  1. Casual dating should remain just that – casual. Whatever our boundaries are that keep a dating relationship casual, FOLLOW THEM! Or we’ll be doomed to a heart that’s more attached than we bargained for.
  2. When a casual dating relationship turns from casual to relationship-territory, do it intentionally. Don’t do what I’ve done and find your heart all invested accidently. Our hearts do not care what our dating preferences are; they’ll get attached based on the actions we take.
  3. Pay attention to red flags early on. While I believe we can learn something from every date, there are a few personalities to always stay from. Look for these traits, and then run for the hills with hopefully a hilarious story to share. None of us are above finding ourselves in a toxic relationship.

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