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Thanks to dating apps such as Tinder and Hinge, casual dating gets a bad rap amongst those who are serious about meeting Mr. Right. We tend to think of casual dating as synonymous with flaky behavior, hookups, and a general sense of aimlessness when it comes to relationship dynamics.

The truth is, the men we date “casually” too often do become a means to an end for many of us; a date to stave off boredom, to boost our ego, to impress our friends, to forget our loneliness, or maybe even to bandage an emotional wound. But casual dating doesn’t have to be that way. A different guy every weekend can be intentional and super-classy to boot.

Let’s say you have a blind date on Thursday and are finally meeting up with that guy you’ve been chatting with on Saturday. If both go well, that’s great; if they don’t, think of it as a great opportunity to practice letting go and just getting to know a guy. This is the best mindset to start a potential romance.

Here are five ways to keep things classy and intentional even when it’s “just a date.”

01. Be clear.

If you want to add class back into casual dating, check the flakiness at the door. Don’t be the woman who sends mixed messages or “my dog ate my homework” cancellation text messages, for that matter. If you want a man to be clear about his intentions, be clear about yours. Flirting and then giving your number to a guy only to ignore his phone call later is not classy. Telling a guy something came up rather than telling him you’re not interested is not clear. Going incommunicado when you aren’t interested in a second date leaves a guy hanging. So stop that.

Instead, practice giving men clear signals and saying exactly what you mean. Thanks to texting, flakiness is easier than ever and a viable alternative to the awkward phone call. Clarity doesn’t have to mean blunt rejection phone calls. One guy friend told me he really appreciates it when a girl drops the “friends” card. Something like, “Thanks for the date; we should totally be food friends and get some others to join us next time we want to sample sushi!” Some guys appreciate this gentle but clear “not interested in anything romantic” message and say it gives them the proper cue.

02. Keep boundaries.

Nothing puts the “casual” back in casual dating like skipping the noncommittal sex and drunken make-outs. It’s actually the boundaries that you place around your heart and your body that set the tone for your dating life. One of the great things about casual dating is that it gives you the opportunity to get to know one or more men without letting emotional vulnerability and physical intimacy complicate things.

You are grabbing drinks, ice skating, hiking, or dining with these guys so that you can talk, laugh, share ideas, and get an sense of some of his core motivating values. If you have a date with Chris on Friday and are meeting Rob on Tuesday, be intentional about giving each a fair chance without the confusion of ambiguous intimacy.

If Chris or Rob makes a move, tell him that he does have gorgeous eyes (winky face) but that you want to take things slow. Adding a flirtatious little compliment, if you feel so inspired, will make him laugh and lets him know that you don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s likely that he will be a little surprised, but that’s OK!

If he asks what exactly you mean by “take things slow,” go ahead and tell him. But it’s not just the physical boundaries that you will need to delineate. Tell him if you’re not comfortable with a particular vein of conversation or if you would prefer to get dinner out rather than have an intimate meal at his place. Thank him and give an affirming smile when he quickly accommodates. This is a great way to find out what he’s looking for in a relationship and whether it’s what you want, too.

03. Give him a fake name.

I will never forget the time I grabbed drinks with a group of girlfriends, and one of the girls was giving us the scoop on her love life . . . or lack thereof. “I went on a couple dates with this one guy,” she said. “But I just wasn’t that into him.” Curious, one of us asked the guy’s name. Her answer was refreshing: “No, I don’t want to tell you. He hangs out with the same crowd we do, and what if he asks one of you on a date?”

I had never thought of it that way. We were all single at the time; what would we think of this guy that our beautiful and super-cool friend spurned? I hate to say it, but most of us would probably feel a little uncomfortable accepting a date with him. By refraining from name dropping, my friend protected the guy’s dating reputation and facilitated the possibility of him getting a date with one of her friends. That’s one classy chick.

Don’t drop names when you are telling your friends about lackluster dates. One woman’s disinterest could be another woman’s treasure. Instead, tell your friends the same thing my friend told me, or make up clever pseudonyms when you want to hash about a date, like “Wacky Tie Guy” or “Tardy-with-No-Excuse Dude.”

04. Don’t ‘hang out.’

One great way to keep things clear—and also keep those boundaries intact—is to avoid “hanging out” early on. I’m not saying that every date should be a fancy dinner or even scheduled a week ahead of time (a girl can dream). But kinda-sorta-seeing this guy is a recipe for confusion and is the opposite of casual.

Think of how you would go about getting to know a new female friend. Likely you would invite her to spend time with you doing some kind of activity at first, such as drinks, dinner, a movie, or a party. Then, once you have established that you trust this girl and have established history and familiarity, you call her when you’re bored to come over and watch Downton Abbey. Things are more “serious” with the friend who sits and vegges out with you, aren’t they? And so it is with dates as well. Keep your dates focused on getting to know one another by being intentional about when, where, and why.

05. Be decisive.

Casual dating is not supposed to be a prolonged state. Within five or six dates, you should have an idea of whether you want to get more serious (and he should, too). If you are interested, tell any other men who ask you out that you are not available. If you are not interested, tell him so, and continue on your casual-dating way.

If you are dating with intention—talking and asking questions—things should be pretty clear. Unless, of course, you are lucky enough to have lightning strike twice. Don’t confuse yourself or the guy you are dating by waffling back and forth. Honestly, if you are not eager to take a break from first dates and take the relationship to the next level, you have your answer. You’re just not that into him.

Don’t take on the pressure of needing to meet that one guy who makes your eyes light up; be open to meeting more than one. With intentional behavior and an open mind and heart, casual dating can be a far cry from “playing the field.”

Photo Credit: Manchik Photography