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Understanding The Benefits and
Pitfalls of Casual Relationships


he concept of casual relationships can cover quite a range of social arrangements. These are defined more by what they are not: not marriages, not living together in unmarried bliss, not being formally in a monogamous relationship. They don't necessarily even include sex.

In fact, many of your friendships with men and with women technically are casual relationships. So for discussion purposes let's narrow the topic to male-female relationships which don't involve going steady (in other words, you're free to date other people).

And let's differentiate casual relationships from merely being friends with someone. They're also not short term relationships, as short term relationships can be quite structured even though they might not last as long as you might like.

the benefits of casual relationships
The benefits of
casual relationships

And so from the male perspective, that leaves two possibilities:

  • Someone you're having sex with but with whom you aren't going steady. This arrangement is often referred to as being "friends with benefits".
  • Someone you're not having sex with, but hope to start having sex with soon.

What about someone you're not having sex with and also aren't particularly interested in having sex with? That's "just a friend".

One important point to note is that when you hear someone arguing against the wisdom of casual relationships, chances are good that it will be a woman making that case. Why? Because historically they've been the gender which benefits more from having formalized relationship structures.

As many mothers have admonished their daughters over the years: "Who's going to buy the cow if you're giving the milk away for free?"

“… who's going to buy the cow if you're giving the milk away for free? …”

That's of course a delicate and awkward topic for women, but it's one reason why so many men are initially more open to informal arrangements. It's the same logic that makes the concept of "getting a company car from your employer" more desirable than "buying that same car yourself".

But things are not so cut and dried. Few relationships these days start out as formal relationships. Rather, they begin casually but either fizzle out or else progress to a more formalized arrangement within a few weeks (with "going steady" being the usual next step). Casual relationships have "a short half-life", as nuclear scientists might put it.

Why is that?

We've seen two primary causes for men to agree to the more formalized agreement. Both factors have a sexual aspect to them:

  • So that he'll keep getting laid. She typically begins to lose interest in sleeping with him within a few weeks if he isn't moving toward formalization, so he'll agree to a new arrangement to maintain sexual access.
  • So that she won't have sex with other guys. In a casual relationship, he's in no position to tell her that she can't sleep with other men. And the idea of "his" woman (meaning any woman he's sleeping with) also sleeping with other men is the ultimate nightmare for most guys.

Those are the usual selling points: continued access for him, combined with (he hopes) exclusivity.

How long can casual relationships last?

But for as long as they can last, these informal relationships frequently represent an ideal arrangement for men … if they can handle it. But most guys can't, especially when they're in their teens, twenties or thirties.

Unless you've had a lot of experience with a lot of women, you've got "game" and your sex drive is starting to slow down a bit as you age, it can be tough to handle for extended periods. It's just too hard for most guys to keep their emotions in check otherwise.

What's the best advice for such guys? To move from informal relationships to the "going steady" stage quickly if need be, but then to move beyond the "going steady" stage as slowly as they can get away with.

For further advice on improving other aspects of

your casual relationships with women (or more formal ones), continue to our main Understanding Women in Relationships page.