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Dos and Don’ts of Casual Dating

Lots of college students perceive campus dating culture as a binary – you’re either hookup buddies or in it for the long haul – and there isn’t even any “dating” involved. What? For some, the idea of spending time with someone one-on-one to get to know them before making a commitment seems a little too risky, a little too much gray area. And I agree that putting yourself out there can be scary. Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t have to be a big deal if you don’t want it to be. The most beautiful part of casual dating is just that – it’s casual. If you’re still skeptical, just know that I’ve only been on one date that ended with the guy telling me he was part of al-Qaeda, so I’m pretty much a dating expert. You can trust me on this.

Don’t let rejection scare you. Ask if your Person of Interest wants to grab lunch (everyone has to eat, I’m pretty sure), or coffee after class. These types of situations keep a first date to an hour or under, which gives each of you an easy out if it doesn’t go well. And if the aforementioned Person of Interest shuts you down, take a minute to check your vitals. Your heart is still beating? You’re still breathing? You survived! And now that you’ve done it once and emerged unscathed, you know you can do it again.

Do respect your date. Blam-o! A successful interaction with an attractive person! You’ve got yourself a date – what now? Let’s say you’ve arranged to meet for coffee at 4:30. I strongly advise against showing up at 4:45. Your date has other things he or she could be doing, but they’re choosing to spend time with you. Likewise, don’t arrive at 4:15 and make your date feel bad about arriving on time. I once showed up for a lunch date – on time – to find that my date had been there for a while and had already ordered and paid for his food. (And now that I’ve brought up the whole “who pays?” thing, a good rule of thumb is that whoever does the asking does the paying. You can alternate or go Dutch thereafter.)

Don’t assume anything. Ever. It’s hard not to read into what your Person of Interest says, and it’s just as hard not to read into what he or she doesn’t say. For example, let’s assume your coffee date goes well. You and Person of Interest begin texting fairly regularly, and he or she tells you to check out a cool song. Just because the song may have some romantic content does not mean you should assume this person wants to lock that down (that’s a saying, right?). Likewise, if Person of Interest doesn’t respond to a text, that doesn’t mean you should assume he or she is phasing you out. You don’t know how anyone else’s brain works (or even how your own brain works, if you’re like the average human being), so it’s best not to act like you do.

Do have fun getting to know people. Because you’re not in middle school, you probably know that going on one date does not mean you are “actually dating” or even headed in that direction. Unless you and Person of Interest have mutually agreed not to see other people, guess what? You can date as many people as you want! Most of the time, people are the worst, but sometimes they’re actually interesting and passionate and attractive and have lots of cool things to say. And even if a casual date doesn’t go any further, you might be able to repurpose it as a learning opportunity. I guarantee you will learn at least one helpful information nugget about a particular person or place or job or food or yourself.  

Do only what you want to do. If that means you ignore everything you’ve just read, so be it. Trust your instincts. Don’t continue seeing someone who un-ironically listens to Nickelback or thinks Two and a Half Men represents the height of comedy (unless that’s what you’re into, I guess…). Be yourself and respect yourself, all the time, always.

Just your average soul searcher from East Jesus Nowhere, Illinois now studying English at Davidson College. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a cautious adventurer, detail-oriented list maker, slow runner, awkward dancer, novice hiker/backpacker, binge Netflix watcher, avid reader, hopeless Cleveland Indians follower, and passionate postcard sender (and receiver - hint hint).
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