Opinion: Casual dating – is it just one big wind up?

Opinion: Casual dating – is it just one big wind up?

I find it hard to believe that two people can be intimate with each other without becoming attached. And if they can… is that really something to celebrate?

“LET’S just… go with the wind.”

This was response I recently received following a ‘talk’ regarding exclusivity with a girl I had been on a number of dates with. To say that I found her response disconcerting (and not just due to the meteorological reference), would be acccurate.

The weeks leading up to that particular conversation had consisted of daily Facebook messages in which we had expressed a mutual liking for one another, coupled (oh the irony of that word) with hours spent hanging out. So what had gone wrong?

Initially, I viewed her response as a massive red flag. After all, I quite liked this girl and wasn’t too keen on the idea of some airy fairy ‘relationship lite’ scenario that could leave me open to fling promo codes getting hurt. However, before I made any decision on the matter, a friend’s advice stopped me in my tracks. “Maybe im just a cynic, but that seems like more than what most are offering. I’d say go for it.”

At first, I dismissed his claim that her suggestion was ‘more than what most’ were bringing to the table. Surely an offer of exclusivity was not that rare of an occurrence as to warrant such a vague and casual offer so appealing?

What’s the draw of ‘casual dating’?

Having since spoken to friends and classmates on the topic, I have been surprised to discover that many find such casual arrangements quite liberating, listing freedom to experiment and the lack of ‘stress’ associated with having to consider another person’s feelings as the main benefits. However others, while expressing their ease in regard to dating multiple partners, have been more conservative in their views when it comes to having sex, regarding this as a no-no until exclusivity has been established.

According to About.com Dating, what my friends (and the girl) were referring to is ‘casual dating’ and can be defined as ‘an interaction between two people who are looking to get to know one another better, without commitments or promises.’ It should be noted that casual dating can, and often does, include sex.

Taking it one step further, it would appear that across the water, UK entrepreneur Thomas Thurlow has tapped into the youth of today’s preference for all things ‘casual’ with the release of ‘ShagUni.com’. Set up in 2012 and boasting 2,000 new student subscriptions each day, the site advertises itself as ‘a space for students to get laid on any night of the week’ without the ‘strings attached with dating.’ Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not a prude, but is keeping it casual really the healthiest option?

Higher levels of anxiety and depression

Despite the assertion made by one fellow student that a casual ‘dalliance’ can boost one’s confidence, a new study claims that college students who have such casual ‘relationships’ report higher levels of anxiety and depression. The study itself, contained in The Journal of Sex Research, surveyed 3,400 heterosexuals, revealing that 11% had engaged in casual sex in the last month.

Furthermore, in her new book, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Socially Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy, author Donna Freitas writes “Hookup culture teaches young people that to become sexually intimate means to become emotionally empty.” In a survey conducted by Freitas whilst researching her book involving the students who reported hooking up, 41% used words such as “regretful”, “empty”, “miserable”, “disgusted”, “ashamed”, “duped”, and even “abused” to describe their experience.

In regard to the risks of STDs being transmitted, a survey conducted by the University of College Cork found that more than half of students don’t use contraception for every sexual encounter, while two thirds have never been tested for a sexually transmitted disease. The survey also found that only 10% of students have not had sex within the past year.

So, what are the rules when it comes to keeping it casual? Does either party have the right to know what the other is up to? Is jealousy a deal-breaker? And, most importantly, can casual dating ever turn into something more substantial?

Feelings are fluid

While researching this topic, two points have arisen time and time again: one, that those involved must respect one another and, two, that both people must be on the same page. In other words, there is no point in one party settling for a casual arrangement if they want something more.

However, the last time I checked, feelings are fluid and have a habit of changing (often inconveniently) over time. So aren’t those two prerequisites inherently flawed? And with regard to respect, is it really showing yourself respect if you continue to participate in a casual ‘relationship’ with someone whose feelings don’t match yours?

In my opinion, ‘keeping it casual’ is a recipe for disaster. Not only do I feel that a request by one party to keep things casual is inherently selfish, I find it hard to believe that two people can be intimate and/or spend time together without becoming attached. And if they can, is this really something to celebrate?

It’s a shame, but unless I feel that the girl referred to at the start of this article is interested in offering something more tangible, or at the very least clarifies what she means by ‘go with the wind’, the only arrangement I will be agreeing to will be friends – minus the benefits.

Christine Allen is currently in her second year of a Springboard course for the unemployed in DCU. She has written in recent years on LGBT topics for the youth website SpunOut.ie and Gay Community News, and is currently Opinions Editor of The College View.

This article was first published in The College View.