So you’ve found yourself with someone you can’t really call your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, but you’re definitely… something. And for whatever reason, be it dating app swiping fatigue, being busy with work or just not wanting to be pinned down in a relationship, this casual thing is actually preferable. You know that you don’t have to do an overwhelming pub reveal to your mates, you definitely don’t have to introduce them to your family and you’re not obliged to message them every hour of the day, or even see them all the time. But when you do need them – for sex, to be your plus one at a party, or to avoid being own your own on a Friday night – they’re there, like a reliably comfy pair of knickers.
Thing is, casual relationships always have a shelf life. One of you could meet someone else; one person might develop deeper feelings for the other, creating an imbalance in the relationship; or the situation can become too casual and fizzle out.
Whatever the reason, ending any kind of relationship can leave you feeling some type of way – even when you don’t think you’re that emotionally invested. And it’s really normal to want to process the feelings around it, but how do you do that exactly? Follow the below advice, duh.
When you’re not officially in a relationship, it’s sort of hard to end something that never was. But whatever your reasons for breaking it off, you need to be firm about putting boundaries in place. Explain that you can no longer sleep with each other, which means no more late night hook ups and no more flirting or sexting. Since this is a casual relationship, ending things doesn’t necessarily need to be done face-to-face, but it does need to be said explicitly (no, not that kind of explicit), so no ghosting. This is especially important if your relationship was prone to long periods of no talking, as silence can be interpreted as a break and leaves the possibility of opening up communication again.
Breaking the habit
Even the most casual of relationships form habits. You might not have been sending each other good morning messages every day, but maybe they were the person you could send annoying memes to, and you’ve gotten used to having that semblance of regularity. In need of a confidence boost? Perhaps they were the person you’d send a selfie to, since they were just a WhatsApp away. This needs to end. And just like with breaking any habit, you need to distract yourself and reward good behaviour.
Unless willpower alone is truly awful – you don’t need to go nuclear and fully block them. But you do need to hide, archive and mute them on social media. When you’re tempted to contact them, do literally anything else: message a friend, put a film on, hunt for new music, look at some art, read a book, make yourself some food, have a bath, call your mum… the list goes on. Each time that urge comes, stop and distract yourself.
Depending on the situation, you might end up wondering if you’ve made a mistake. Maybe they were proper relationship material, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. It might even hurt a bit.
But you need to remember exactly that: it didn’t work out. And ultimately, if a proper relationship is what you’re after, that situation didn’t reach the level of commitment you wanted and deserved.
Stop re-reading old texts – in fact, delete them. Don’t look at their social media searching for clues about new relationships or ask mutual friends if they know anything, because it’s likely you won’t like what you find. Concentrate on figuring out what you do want out of a relationship going forward.
Take some time for yourself. This doesn’t have to mean heading straight into the bath with a sheet mask and bath bomb, but more reflecting on what you actually want. Did you actually enjoy those Friday nights in watching a new Netflix show and having sex on tap? Or did you value having your own freedom as well as a fallback person, and it just sucks that you don’t have that anymore?
If you do want to pursue a more meaningful relationship moving forward, take this time to work out both what you want out of it and what you want to put into it. Think about everything you liked and disliked about the casualness of the relationship, and how you’d like to develop that with someone else going forward. Maybe that means seeking out more serious relationships, or perhaps it means keeping casual flings even more, er, casual. Whatever it is, nail this down before you hit the dating apps again.
It’s an old saying, but the best way to get over someone is by getting under someone else. But while shagging someone new does take the sting out of a break up – casual or otherwise – make sure you don’t jump into anything too soon. Prioritise yourself to ensure you don’t end up in the same situation again. One night stands are fine as long as that’s all they are. Don’t let them develop into another casual thing with a best before date.
When you are ready to start looking for something more substantial, think about what’s most important to you in a relationship. Do you value having things in common, like an active lifestyle or a love of travel? Is having different politics a deal breaker? Or do you want someone who’s starting to settle down? No one is going to tick every single box, so too much rigidity on these preferences will mean you’ll never end up being happy. But you don’t need to compromise on everything for the sake of being alone.
And last but certainly not least, make sure you sound a person out to make sure they’re looking for something serious too – without sounding like an unhinged keeno, of course.