Casual Dating Vs. Friends With Benefits – 10 Key Differences

Friendship | | , Writer
Updated On: December 13, 2023
casual dating vs friends with benefits

We’ve all questioned our significance in someone else’s life at one point or another. Romantically, most of us have been down the winding roads of obscure commitments and vague promises. About 47% of all single Americans say it is much harder to date today than it was ten years ago, according to this survey by Pew Research Centre. People are resorting to all kinds of relationships, though, which makes it easier to state your needs. 

If you’re interested in pursuing an open relationship, understanding casual dating vs. friends with benefits becomes essential. If your relationship doesn’t have any labels yet, then hopefully, this article would give you just enough perspective to clear your head.

What Is Casual Dating?

Casual dating has been the foundation of many committed relationships. It is the act of getting to know someone better by spending quality time with them without a ‘forever’ commitment. At times, casual dating can be perceived to be frivolous and tricky. However, the younger generations prove that mutual consent and communication can save all casual relationships.

The following are some common traits across all casual relationships. Can you relate? 

  • Casual dynamics don’t require as much emotional investment as committed partnerships
  • Neither person is in a position to demand more time or space in each other’s life or the rights of a partner
  • They are more time-intensive than a friends-with-benefits situation but less as compared to a long-term relationship
  • They do not involve commitment 

Related Reading: Sleeping With Your Best Friend? Here Are 10 Pros And Cons

Some benefits of casual dating can read as follows: 

  1. For starters, it allows you some time to understand your expectations from the other person
  2. It is also a great way to understand the type of romantic connection that generally works for you
  3. Finally, meeting and interacting with different people allows you the much-needed exposure and perspective 

Benefits of casual dating only exist when honest and transparent communication follows. Letting your partner know that you are seeing other people would save you a ton of time and drama. Additionally, one must not expect exclusivity from one’s partner whilst seeing other people.

If you’re ready to jump on this bandwagon, then you’re not alone! 36% of the adults in the US said they are either ready to try casual dating or only want to engage in this type of a relationship. The 2019 Pew Research Survey confirms it!

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What Is A Friends-With-Benefits Relationship?

FWB is a more daring situation to commit to. When both parties are friends/friendly but also know of each other’s sexual attraction, they might agree to be each other’s friends with sexual benefits. Let’s have a look at some common traits of a friends-with-benefits situation

  • Neither party demands an emotional investment or commitment from the other
  • Most FWB connections are strictly physical in nature 
  • No time is spent on ‘dating’ – going out, having dinners, etc. 
  • These are short-term connections that might be pulled off whenever convenient or needed by both people

A friends-with-benefits situation demands the need to sacrifice any romantic needs (if any) from the relationship. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior made the following observations: 

  • Participants who reported that they were happy with the level of sacrifice in the FWB relationship also reported greater levels of relationship adjustment
  • Women were more likely to report greater relationship adjustment as compared to men
  • The majority of young adults remain friends with their FWB partner after the intimacy ends

The ongoing benefits in the above relationship are generally physical/sexual, and there are no expectations of a commitment. Casual dating can be conceived as the precursor to a relationship, whereas FWB might not result in one at all, though as per the above study, 20% of FWB relationships actually do turn into serious commitments.

Let us get into their differences and outline them in detail. Here are ten key differences between casual dating vs. friends with benefits that you have to know about:

Casual Dating Vs. Friends With Benefits – 10 Key Differences 

As correctly found and revealed in this study, not all partners engaging in a sexual activity with a friend would consider the relationship as friends-with-benefits. About 38 out of 76 individuals stated that light nongenital sexual behavior hardly makes them feel involved in a friends-with-benefits situation. For others, it was enough to call it a casual relationship.

Casual Dating can be intimidating and could make you second-guess everything you know about love and relationships. On the other hand, friends-with-benefits is a new, winding alley that can lead to the fulfillment of all your deepest desires, lest you take a wrong turn. Since we have already talked a bit about casual dating and friends-with-benefits situations, let us try to clear up any confusion that you might have about the two. We are not going to lie; they seem similar but it’s always good to know how the two differ in their nuances. 

Related Reading: 10 Signs Your Relationship Is Just A Fling & Nothing More

1. Intent of the relationship

Once your relationship with your partner is clearly defined, it becomes easier to determine what is wanted out of the relationship. Instead of wondering what a casual relationship means to a guy or a girl, it is important to set your own intent out in the open.

Casual dating: Some of the intentions behind a person dating casually are: 

  • Many people consider dating to be the stepping stone to a relationship
  • Some just have fun hanging out with their casual partner
  • Some always like to keep their options open
  • Some would only commit to you when and if they’re sure
  • At times, people date casually simply because they have the time to do so

So, ensure that you and your partner are on the same page. If you have been noticing signs a casual relationship is getting confusing, consult your closest friends or your partner for clarity.

Friends with benefits: The situation guarantees the intent of having a physical relationship with someone you already know. As the name suggests, it might be a friend you are attracted to sexually but are not romantically interested in. Such situations are hardly in the gray areas of confusion since the intent has been laid out beforehand.

2. Expectation setting for the activities you may indulge in

What does a casual relationship or friends with benefits mean to a guy/girl? What are you expected to do when you enter such a connection? Do you go out for movies or just let them know if you’re in a mood to ‘Netflix and chill?’ Don’t worry. It’s not that complicated.

Casual dating: It involves spending quality time with the person you are romantically involved with. Although both parties have decided not to be exclusive yet, they devote some time to getting to know each other better

Catching a movie, going on dinner dates, and having a ‘Netflix and chill’ session are all some everyday activities that couples engage in while dating casually. Have you wanted to ask your partner to come over for brunch? Go ahead. Don’t worry, you are not breaking any casual dating rules.

Friends with benefits: This dynamic might not share the traits of a casual relationship. For example, your partner might not be interested in sharing a meal out of the blue or going for a drive. FWB is more like a ‘booty call’ and one must not expect quality time out of this arrangement. The only time you would spend quality time together is when you switch to your ‘platonic friend’ mode.  

3. Emotional availability in casual dating vs. friends with benefits

Emotional availability refers to the mature handling of a relationship between two people in a healthy and compassionate manner. It also shows the degree to which the relationship would sustain in the long-term. 

Casual dating: Casual relationships consider the romantic availability of the partner as far as emotions are concerned. They might be willing to share their problems with each other too. 

Friends with benefits: Not every FWB situation stands at the cliff of no communication. If you and your partner have been or are great friends, there is a possibility that you connect and share a more candid relationship than any other. However, a romantic availability would remain absent.

Related Reading: Does A Friends With Benefits Relationship Actually Work?

4. Physical expectations

Are you new to the world of dating and are confused about what your partner expects from you? It can get especially taxing to figure it out when the expectations are sexual. According to this study, 25% of the time, sexual intercourse occurs in a casual dating scene or with a friend. 

So, it does get confusing when you do not know how much to invest and what to hope for in return. Feeling jittery about sexual expectations is normal. This is why when we talk about a casual relationship vs friends with benefits dynamic, we take into consideration the differences in the expectations in the relationship of both.

Casual dating: The physical expectations are not as clearly defined so there are more chances of miscommunication. Initially or throughout, both or either of the parties might be reluctant to initiate sexual intimacy. If you are in a casual relationship and are not comfortable/satisfied with your current situation, you must take the initiative to talk it out. Put yourself first, the rest will follow.

Friends with benefits: However, an FWB involves a transparent and rock-solid expectation of a physical relationship. In most cases, both the parties are willing to maintain a strictly physical relationship and are only looking to satisfy their mutual sexual attraction. Hence, there’s less confusion and more effective communication.

5. Emotional dependence

We all go through days when we need that one person to hold us and coddle us back into a better mood. While we may have someone special in mind, are they making themselves dependable or are we overstepping some lines?

Casual dating: In case you are casually dating, your partner might be willing to offer their shoulder for you to lean on. This is especially true if they intend to take the relationship to the next level. In that case, they show more emotional presence and dependence. Observe and communicate.

Friends with benefits: In a friends-with-benefits situation, both parties do not like to get too involved in each other’s personal lives, except the level of involvement two friendly people might already have for each other. However, if your partner does not want to share the burden of their personal life with you, but you want to share and want them to as well, it is always best to set your mutual expectations straight. 

Casual Sex

6. Communication styles

Some people make you feel warm enough to open up about everything while others make you feel cold and distant. In the research published by Gottman J. M., Krokoff L. J. (1989), they found that even in a marital relationship, interpersonal communication of all sorts can make or break the connection. 

Casual dating: Initially, communication is a little strained and awkward in a casual relationship due to its delicate nature. However, you might open up with your casual partner if enough emotional intimacy is nurtured. In fact, some people might find it easier to open up with a casual partner than with any other.

Friends with benefits: It’s important to speak up about your needs regarding sex and boundaries. It becomes quintessential in an FWB to be crystal clear about what you can give to the connection and what you want to receive. The reason it can be hard, though, is because of the friendly nature of the dynamic – where stating sexual needs and differentiating them from emotional needs might make you awkward in the beginning.

Related Reading: 9 Types Of Situationships And Their Signs

7. Ethical considerations in casual dating vs. friends with benefits

A lot can be concluded about a person by the way they conduct themselves when their partner is not around. 

Casual dating: In a casual relationship, one must act upon strong foundations of self-awareness and principles. One must never kiss and tell. It is common knowledge that both parties are seeing different people and that keeping it on the down-low is always beneficial for the long run. 

Friends with benefits: In an FWB, communication between the two parties regarding such ethics is essential. Mutual honesty works in the favor of everyone involved so that you know the answers to: Do we tell our mutual friends that we’re hooking up? If someone from our circle finds out, how okay are we with that? Is it okay to share with one closest friend from our group? And so on.

Casual Dating Friends With Benefits 
Meeting their parents MaybeNot likely 
Meeting their friendsLikelyLikely, if you have mutual friends 
Dinner and movie datesLikelyNot likely
Existence of a physical relationship MaybeLikely
Discussion of your futures LikelyNot likely
ExclusivityUnlikelyNot likely

8. Conversations regarding the future

When strict commitments and promises are a part of the relationship, it becomes easier to ascertain the future. However, with loose ends and unclear intentions, things get a little tricky. 

Casual dating: Casual relationships have been known to result in serious long-term commitments. But if you’re looking for signs that a casual relationship is getting serious, do not. Trust us, it is much easier to ask your partner what is going on than figuring things out on your own. Furthermore, with the awareness that there might be other people in the picture, you would only torture yourself with bizarre assumptions. 

Friends with benefits: The probability of a romantic relationship drastically drops in an FWB. If you’re in it for some short-term hot sex, it is the only way to go. Do not go around expecting a promise of a forever in places where you would least find it. 

Pro tip: Whatever you want out of either connection, remember to communicate!

9. Unspoken boundaries

In an article published by Tinder, over 19% of Tinder bios included the word “boundaries” in their profiles. Whether it be our familial relations or romantic, some lines must not be crossed and topics that must not be broached. If need be, tip-toeing around them is often advised. These become our own gentle ways of showing that we care. Let’s talk about the unspoken boundaries in casual relationships vs. friends with benefits.

Casual dating: Here are some boundaries in casual relationships:

  • Casual relationships take time to develop into long-term relationships, if at all. Therefore, any topic regarding this must be addressed carefully
  • You must not push the other person into any conversation that they do not wish to have
  • People have boundaries regarding certain activities that they may or may not want to do with you (going out on date nights, gifts, frequency of calls, etc.) Please respect them
  • The boundaries still might be a bit liberal in casual relationships since some emotional transparency already exists

Friends with benefits: The same goes for a friends-with-benefits situation.

  • Snooping around on their mobile phones or prying into their personal lives is a no-no
  • In an FWB, it would be unfair to discuss things that had been made clear before the inception of the connection
  • Keep your emotions in check and be mutually understanding of each other’s situations

Related Reading: 19 Examples Of Healthy Boundaries In Relationships

10.  Time spent together in a casual relationship vs. friends with benefits

Quality time for one person could indicate lying down on some green grass and gazing at the beautiful stars. For others, it could be the simple act of sitting down and talking to each other over a cup of coffee. For people engaged romantically or sexually, quality time could also indicate working on more sexual intimacy. So, what does it really mean to you? 

Casual dating: Casual relationships involve spending more time together to strengthen the connection. As mentioned earlier, going out on dates or meeting each other’s family could also be an active part of dating someone casually. Doing all this together could signify an intent of strengthening the bond but it could also just mean … nothing.  

Friends with benefits: Your friend with benefits might only meet you occasionally and would only satisfy you in one way than many. If emotional intimacy is what you are looking for, explore other types of relationships. Maybe an FWB is not the right fit for you. 

Key Pointers

  • Clarity only finds you when you communicate with your partner about what you want and how you feel
  • Casual dating and friends-with-benefits both outline relationships that do not have an initial deep-seated emotional connection. Are you willing to go ahead?
  • Casual dating comes with more emotional dependability than an FWB dynamic
  • Casual dating could involve going out on dates, movies, and dinners. Are you willing to invest?
  • Friends-with-benefits spells out a more fun-loving connection which could be somewhat synonymous to indulging in those late night ‘booty calls’
  • State your boundaries and expectations from each other
  • Know what you want from a connection or a person and invest accordingly, don’t expect them to give you things they have already said they can’t

Bottom line? Do not overthink or assume the status of your connection. Communicate and proceed. If you’re wondering how long you should date someone casually, the answer is for as long as you want. Do not be obsessed about shaping a relationship out of your casual dating situationship. This would pressurize you both and ruin the dynamic’s delicate foundations. Know what you want and commit accordingly.

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