Throughout America's history, dating had strict rules, and boys and girls understood their proper roles. Dating was almost unheard of past young adulthood. Things have changed radically beginning in the 1960s, with casual romantic and sexual relationships running the gamut from "hanging out" to "hooking up," and dating extending well beyond adolescence. Casual dating in the twenty-first century has taken on an entirely new meaning, and not just for young adults.
Casual Dating Defined
Casual dating is simply a social encounter with some romantic overtones between two people who want to enjoy each other's company with no expectations of further commitment. A casual date may be a blind date, a single date with an acquaintance or continuous dating between two people, but with the understanding that both parties are also free to date others. There may or may not be intimate activity between the two parties, but if there is, it is with no expectations of exclusivity.
"Hanging out" is understood as meeting one or more friends for entertainment. More often than not, the group of friends consists of both sexes, with some of the friends gravitating toward one another in informal pairs, either heterosexual or homosexual. The pairs may exist only for a single encounter, or become more or less established within the group (see Resources).
"Hooking up" for young people in their teens and twenties refers to casual sexual encounters with no expectation of an actual relationship. The nature of the sexual encounter may range from kissing to intercourse. Some commentators have suggested that girls and young women feel compelled to engage in hooking up when they would rather have exclusive relationships (see References).
Friends With Benefits
A "friends with benefits" relationship refers to a relationship where both parties feel a certain level of fondness for one another and also engage in intimate activity. However, the relationship does not carry the usual connotation of "boyfriend and girlfriend" or "partner." Friends with benefits relationships often develop when neither partner is dating anyone steadily, yet both parties desire intimate activity. Friends with benefits relationships differ from hooking up in that they are carried out consistently between two people over a period of time (see Resources).
Casual Dating for Adults
During the latter part of the twentieth century, adults entered the dating scene in numbers never witnessed before, largely due to a sharply increased rate of divorces. While many newly single adults enter the dating scene with the intent of finding new partners, others are content to engage in casual dating. While they may not use the same terminology as teenagers and young adults, much of the behavior can be similar, especially where casual sexual encounters are concerned.
While casual dating can be a legitimate way for people to get to know one another in a relaxed environment, there are some dangers involved, especially if sexual activity takes place. Proper precautions should be taken to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Another danger is that one party will act on the assumption that the dating relationship is casual, while the other person will hope for a commitment. Both parties should have a clear understanding and be in agreement concerning a casual dating relationship.