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This may be a backward way to begin this article, but I have to say it: I’ve never actually been that great at casual dating. I tend to let my feelings, carried on the wings of my very vivid imagination, get away from me almost immediately when I meet a guy I like. I can’t seem to tie said feelings down anywhere in between “no” and “ahhh omg so much yes!”

I’ve come to decide that this is both good and bad. On the one hand, I am a strong, confident woman, and I know what I want! On the other, I’m definitely not giving every potential partner a fair shot, and I’m giving guys who aren’t really right for me way too much of my heart too soon.

The more I apply myself to truly “casual” dating, however, the better I’m getting. From working on my communication skills to understanding what I’m actually looking for in a partner, there’s a lot to learn from casual dating.

01. Open communication is the key to any relationship, no matter how casual.

This is Relationship 101, but I think it bears repeating in the context of casual, non-serious, non-exclusive relationships. When you’ve made up your mind to “explore,” let your dates know. Tell them you’re open to seeing where things go. Tell them you just got out of a long relationship. Whatever your truth is, don’t be shy about sharing it. Everyone involved will be better for it.

02. Things just won't stay casual if you’re only dating one person.

This is science, my friends. It is simply impossible to put a full stop on the feels if you’re seeing just one person. I know, I know—you’re light and breezy! Me too. So breezy. But we’re also human, you and I, and when all our romantic energy is directed at just one person (even when it’s “so low-key”) we will not be able to keep things casual forever. Exclusivity, by its very nature, is not casual. Things like physical and emotional boundaries can help keep a relationship casual, but keeping more than one person in the mix will also keep feelings in check and remind you that you’re “out there” as much for yourself as for the people you might meet.

03. Be wary of your ‘type,’ especially if it's not working for you.

Tall, dark and handsome is not exactly what I mean. You may find yourself drawn to blondes or tall guys or guys in leather jackets, but if you take stock of the guys you’ve dated you’ll probably find that they have more in common than their hair color or outerwear preferences. Myself? I’m drawn to guys with a goofy sense of humor, favor being outdoors over hitting the gym and aren’t very emotionally available at the moment.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’m self-aware enough to realize that there’s a reason I keep finding myself entangled in romantic situations that are, for lack of a more delicate term, “doomed from the start.” I want what I can’t have. I’m convinced I can be the exception to the rule. I bet you feel this way sometimes, too. (These are exceedingly common threads among the romantically challenged.)

I can’t tell you exactly how to break the mold (hello, still single over here) except to say keep trying. Say yes to more second dates, keep a more open mind when swiping right and trying to meet more (and more diverse) people. The more you allow yourself to look inward with honesty and reflect upon your choices and the patterns you see, the better chance you have of knowing the person who is right for you with Coach Taylor levels of clarity.

04. Just because he is not ‘the one’ doesn’t mean he is not important.

I am the world’s biggest believer that every romantic paramour—however briefly they may stay—comes into your life for a reason. Some are there to remind you when you deserve more from a relationship than you’re getting. Some will exist only to introduce you to your new favorite television series. Others may offer insightful career advice that changes the course of your life or travel with you to a country you never thought you’d see. Maybe you just needed to feel a different person’s hand in yours.

Even the casual guys that seem to drift in and out of your life as warm and brief as a summer weekend mean something. You might stay friends with some; some you may never speak to again after your second date. Just keep your mind open to the possibilities (and remember to ask them for podcast recommendations).

05. Your married friends do not know everything.

And do not let them convince you otherwise. As well-meaning as they are, married people have an uncanny ability to come across as condescending when they’re aiming to be helpful and supportive. (If one more person with a spouse asks me, “But have you tried online dating?” I swear I will scream.)

It’s easy to let your mind go wild with “the grass is always greener” fantasies and convince yourself that marital status equates some kind of superiority. It’s easy to believe that if your friend is married, she must know something you don’t. She must have something you don’t. She must be something you are not. Trust me, I’ve been down this rabbit hole a thousand times and the only place it leads is straight into an entire row of Oreos.

There is so much to learn during your time as a single person, whether you embrace casual dating or not. Your independence is that green grass. You will always know things that your friends who married young don’t know. (And vice versa, of course.) Feel grateful for the opportunities you have to meet new people, learn about yourself and experience some variety—it’s the spice of life, after all.

Photo Credit: Cynthia Chung