The Casual Relationship and Code

We've talked about code, haven't we?

Only usually when I tell people about code, I'm telling a committed couple to talk in code so that they're not overtly saying something crude and off-putting like, I'm really kind of frisky so if you don't mind, would you please take off all of your clothes right now?

For some people that might be sexy, but not if one of those people has two X chromosomes.

Thus I've suggested that the person with the Y chromosome use an overture that is more mysterious and romantic, such as, I have something for you and I want to show it to you. Come with me to the bedroom.

(If both individuals have Y chromosomes then adjust accordingly.)

But that, too, might be a little too obvious, I want to show you something. Perhaps, Let's take a nap is better. No matter what the time of day.

I thought I knew most code, but recently I learned a new one and thought to myself, Wow. I'd better tell my readers about this. What if they don't know? It's the
casual relationship
This is code for sexual relationship. Whenever two people are up for it they have a casual relationship. They think this way: We're both adults. We know our bodies. We're not ready for commitment. So every week or so, we hook up.

Which is fine unless the definition is applied at what might feel like the end of the relationship, not the beginning.

Oh. In the beginning . . .

It was romantic, it was hot and heavy. Calls every day. Vacations together. Long talks into the night about philosophy, life, children, work, relationships, and childhood pranks.

Then six months later she (usually it's a she, unless this is a double Y couple) notices a certain distance, lack of interest, and surely there's less time spent together, fewer calls, no momentum. She mentions it to him and he says, No, nothing wrong! This is great. There's no problem, dear. We're good.

But it does feel emotionally distant. He forgets to take her to his grandmother's birthday party, even though he'd mentioned it once before. In the beginning it was, Oh, man! I can't wait for you to meet my parents! They're going to love you! And they do, they do love her. They send her affectionate thank you notes for little gifts she's dropped by at family barbecues, holidays. She feels IN. She thinks, THIS IS IT.

Until that distance sets in. It often happens following an argument, when she has spoken her mind, become possessive or worse, angry. Anger, I think I've told you, is a huge turn-off. It's the least sexy emotion, unless you're sick and sociopathic (as in, you like rape). Women tolerate anger in general, I feel, much more than men, but not necessarily. It's a turn-off for both genders.

Once the distance sets in, once the phone calls become fewer and farther between, she'll want to discuss it and she'll bring it up for serious consideration until she has an answer. He'll evade her, protest that Nothing is Wrong. But he has a chance to think about how to approach this, and he discusses his dilemma with others. He knows she's not happy. But he's okay.

Finally, finally, finally, someone tells him about the NEW CODE. Neither has really heard it used this way before. But it's perfect. It's wonderful. It'll work, at least for him, and he knows it.

He eventually has the opportunity to give the speech with a hint of self-righteousness saying,
Honey. This always was a casual relationship. I never said I'd marry you. I'm not a commitment kind of guy. I've been honest with you from the start (and this is often true, except his actions led her on). Ours is a wonderful, honest, sincerely great relationship. You're an adult. I'm an adult. We're single. We like the way we feel when we're together. We have a great time. We have GREAT sex. But we're good when we're not together, too, we don't crowd one another, we're not dependent upon one another. There's nothing WRONG. It's called a casual relationship. That's what this is. Didn't you know?
Didn't you know?

I call it gas-lighting.

Casual. It's a casual relationship. Maybe we go out and have fun, take off our clothes, make at least one of us vulnerable, waste months of our lives. But it's casual.

I don't know about you. But I read casual as code for something else. And why anyone would want that type of relationship is simply beyond me.



Its Dopimene Norepinephrine and Oxytocin...

is it not?
Guilty Secret said…
Great post, therapydoc. Pretty much a description of the constant cycle of some of my friends' love-lives!
Maybe I'm old-fashioned (although I think I'm too young, really to be old fashioned). I don't get interested in sex until there's a real emotional bond between me and my partner, and when that bond is disrupted, so is my interest in sex. I've never been interested in casual sex (which I always think of as sex outside a real comitted relationship) for that reason. I've noticed that some of my peers and friends (both of the XY and XX variety) don't feel the same way. I always wonder if it's me that's weird or if it's them. ;)

Anyway, great post!
Jay said…
I can actually see why people would want that kind of relationship if they went into it intentionally. The problem with the scenario you describe isn't sex without commitment, it's different, untested assumptions about the nature of the relationship - and misleading behavior on the part of one participant. Sex isn't the problem. Lack of communication and dishonesty are the problems.
Anonymous said…
Jeeez....Doesn't high school ever end???
therapydoc said…

Okay, for the record, there's no judging anybody in this post. We're getting to self-esteem any day now.
therapydoc said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
I don't believe there is such a thing as a healthy "casual" sexual relationship -- at least I have yet to see one.
Unknown said…
It sounds like you're blaming the man here. "Gaslighting" is a pretty heavy accusation.

What about women who are so dead-set on reeling in A Great Catch that they actively ignore all the signals that the man is NOT looking to be reeled in?

Or women who really want sex but whose values don't match "casual," so they convince themselves they're in a "committed" thing.

But then, I only know these "casual" deals from the outside, I've only heard the wails of both parties. He: clingy freak! She: slimy cheat!

In the only real relationship I've been in, our code was writing "sex" on our joint to-do list. But UnGroom and I were both okay with that.
therapydoc said…
Maybe I saw the movie too many years ago, but I remember "gas lighting" as deliberately trying to deceive someone. But maybe it was deliberately making someone feel "crazy."

FD says I should have said "smoke screen," but that's not what I meant.

What I meant was that saying it was always casual when it was anything BUT casual is deceitful and hurtful. Just say, I really thought we would make it, but I haven't got the staying power.

I'm looking for more honesty if a relationship is starting to flag.
Anonymous said…
TD, That's the irony, of course. If a relationship is starting to flag, then there is far less commitment to honesty or communication... The primary concern is how to get the heck out of Dodge... oh, and the fear of getting into an uncomfortable conversation that does not have a happy ending no matter how you see it. Just try to imagine the response to "I haven't got the staying power".... it's not pretty no matter what he/she says next.

That's why the relationship isn't working to begin with..... if the "departing party" could identify "the problem" and articulate it for his/her partner, then they could make some mutual decisions about what happens next, right?
therapydoc said…
Right. And with no binding contract, the motivation to work on a relationship (avoid a punishing divorce process) may not be there.

That makes the go from there, a GO from there.
Anonymous said…
You don't understand why the man would want it? of course you do.

Why would the woman? Because she's been fed a bunch of tripe since the 60s about how the Sexual Revolution improved her life, and that unattached sex with someone who doesn't care about her is fun. And she wants to have fun. And she wants to act like everyone else. She doesn't want men to act like she's an alien. She doesn't want people to see her as different. All these other people say that it's lots of fun, all she has to do is keep working at it, and it'll be fun for her, right? And if it's not, then it must be HER, right? So can you help her figure out how to get over it? She really wants to know.
therapydoc said…
FINALLY somebody puts it into words. Maybe, ALLISON, I'll cut and paste your comment and make sure everybody reads it (if they stop here, of course).

Jut have to see exactly what I want to title it. If that's okay with you. If not, I won't do it.
Puffy Fingers said…
Lately, I've been looking up things about casual relationships, as I'm in something of the sort right now.
It's really not that bad; it gives both parties quite a bit of freedom, and it's not nearly as painful to break apart for a while if both people keep communicating and getting along well enough. And, of course, things are much better if both parties actually care about each other, and all these circumstances apply to this
... 'fling', I guess is an almost-appropriate term, that I'm in.

I take that back; 'fling' would be too shallow. Then again, this relationship I'm in is more of the
monogamous sort, so it would be closer to a committed relationship in that sense, also. Though really, it's not that deep, as we still have a lot to learn about one another; but it's too close and intimate to be called a 'casual relationship', I suppose.

It's just really hard to describe without sounding like I'm being 'gas-lighted' and I'm in over my head for the other person involved in this relationship.

However, the whole 'friends with benefits' thing doesn't seem so awful to me now that I'm giving it a shot. I never really considered it (nor particularly cared about the idea) before, but expression of feelings isn't as tense and awkward for me as it would be in a committed relationship.

But, that's just me, and I suppose I'll stop before I write a comment longer than this article, lol.
Katy Murr said…
I'm with Jay on this one: if people know what they're looking for it's more likely to work, although of course it is easy for one person to get more involved than another, or trick themselves into believing they want it. But I think that sometimes, some people do want this, and that we should accept that. Casual can work.
Unknown said…
This was so interesting to me ... I think the main problem with these kind of relationships is when people pretend they're something that they aren't.

I had a "casual" encounter with a woman last year; it lasted about four months, and arose because we were in very similar head spaces ... we wanted sexual intimacy, but were far too emotionally unstable to give anything else in a relationship. We were very kind to each other, in ways that I actually hadn't experienced in my committed LTRs. We talked quite a bit when we were together, but we didn't date. We didn't do things together. We didn't meet each other's friends. And so neither of us was confused about what kind of relationship it was.

At a certain point, due to the lack of genuine involvement in each other's lives, the novelty of the sex wore off, and we painlessly went our separate ways. We haven't spoken since then.

I probably wouldn't do this again, but I also don't think it was a bad thing.
Anonymous said…
From an outside source i found out that my bf mentioned our relationship as a "casual thing". We've been dationg for about 5 months now. In the beginning it was amazing. Long walks, holding hands and movies and spentevenings watching the sunset. Then he went on a trip to Japan with one of his friends who is a girl. Apparently that trip was planned even before we started dating. He asked if it was okay, and i said yes. Well actually after he left i realised that i really miss him but the thought that he was there with some other girl (eventhough he called her his friend) i was very upset. We dont even have good phone conversations anymore. We hardly spend weekends together. We do chat online, but its usually a casual chat. And after hearing that he calls our relationship casual has hurt me. I guess i wanted more of a committment and respect. Doea being in a casual realtionship mean that if one day he finds someone whom he likes he will move on and leave me? Shall i make a move and sit down and talk. If things go wrong then i am afraid we will have to end what ever we have. But its just that i know i will have a hard time forgetting him and i will miss him for sure. But i want to know if he ever felt strongly about me. What do i do. I guess i could continue in this so called casual relationship, but what if i fall in love with him and he still thinks we r just buddies yet "gf/bf's". HELP. But i am not in love with him yet. I am planning to talk to him asap about whether he wants quits or not.
Anonymous said…
I think what you described is not the "casual relationship" but rather a situation where one party didn't have the guts to own up to the difficulty of ending a relationship and used 'casual relationship' as an easy out!

A true casual relationship, in my opinion, has boundries from the beginning. It is as much or as little of a relationship as the partners are comfortable with. The boundries need to be adjusted occasionally over the course of time (to keeping things 'on track', or deciding making a JOINT decision to pursue something more or even ending it because one is desiring more then the other is willing to give). Its a 'relationship' by two consenting adults who enter into it with the full intentions and expectations of it being only that, often just sex.

I (a female) currently have a casual relationship going, and enjoy the freedom, simplicity, and convenience of it. When either of us get a text or BBM from the other, we know the other is looking to set up a meeting. We don't call or txt otherwise, We don't 'date'. We meet, we engage in small talk and friendly conversation, meet each others needs, and then casually part ways. We don't expect anything more from each other. We've known each other for years, occasionally work together every few months, have a few friends in common, and live nearly an hour from each other, so we don't run into each other in daily life. Our hook ups are not common knowledge amoung our mutual friends, so there are no outside influences and makes for a clean split if we decide to go that route in the future. If we can't fit each other in our schedules its no big deal, we try again another time. Sometimes its weekly, sometimes it'll be a month or two between hook ups. If either party starts to 'cross the line' we simply steer the conversation/ behavior back within the boundries. no harm, no foul. It works for us. I do not however advocate it for everyone. I have friends whom I would never advocate having casual relations. If you're the jealous type, or are constantly trying to figure out 'what s/he meant' by something they said or did, or why they haven't contacted you, its probably not a good choice for you!

To answer why anyone would ever want to have this kind of relationship: Its doesn't work for everyone and certainly isn't meant to be a substitute for a 'real' relationship, but it is a much safer alternative to meeting our physical needs with someone whose sexual history we trust on a regular basis then some 'random' whose history we don't know!
Anonymous said…
Have been in a FWB for 1-1 1/2, He was the one who told me he wanted to spend the rest of his days with me, (i didnt ask him, he just up & told me this was on his mind) We have been camping, hiking and biking together since then, and have some current plans for an upcoming bike trip, and and more camping/hiking trips in near future.
However, he tells me he wants to spend the rest of his life w/me, but he's not in love, but he is open to it if it happens. He says he enjoys my company , and thinks that being w/someone you enjoy is better. Says he wonders if he has ever been in love (despite being div. w/ 3 kids). After we spend time together, sex or other wise, he disappears, no calls until he wants to come over again. Tells me I belong to him, and I would have to beat him off w/ a stick to get rid of him.
I am a bit confused as to what exactly I am in. He has nvr met my freinds/ fam, nor have I met his, but he says this will happen. He tells me he is thinking about my living with him, or him living w/me.
I dont ask questions, and this stuff he volunteers on his own.
But I think what probably confuses me the most is the disappearing acts. His actions do not match his words.
My gut says this is bs a game, but why hv the game in the 1st place. I knew it was a FWB from the git go.
Any comments / or views would be welcome
therapydoc said…
Thanks for sharing, Noel. My feelings on the disappearing act are much like yours. I'll have to post on it, have seen people disappear on people so many times.

In this situation it is as it appears, I think. Got what he needed and as wonderful as that is, he's what matters.

To him, at least. I'd love him to see him prove me wrong.
YogaMcburger said…
I'm of the opinion that casual sex can exist and does exist in some healthy relationships. Certainly it's not extremely common, but the stigma has more to do with a specific moralistic stance; what's inherently problematic about casual relationships is also problematic about non-casual relationships as well. In certain "fringe cultures" there are acceptable means of of drawing up contracts, boundaries, etc (ie swingers, s&m culture) that can be beneficial for all involved. I really don't see how having "aggressive fantasies" is a bad thing (when explored in a safe, sane, consensual environment)...obviously, acting on them in a way that harms others is.
Props to : MollyB, Bloggerin, "Or women who really want sex but whose values don't match "casual," so they convince themselves they're in a "committed" thing."

I was so correct, so straight on things I never explored feelings as they come or see people and just see how things go... I always wanted the COMMITMENT thing when there was nothing to commit to, or we didn't even know each other.

I am now learning to just get to know each other, as I entered a bwf relationship that is turning into intimacy, dating, casual thing. And it is fine with me, I have from this relationship a lot more I ever had from a COMMITTED one. I think some of this guy's fears and baggage makes him go so slow but is good with me because it is teaching me to learn to know the person first before any PSEUDO RUSH COMMITMENT.
Anonymous said…
thnx for this article and comments thereafter!

im in a casual relationship right now and I almost made the fatal mistake of demanding/wanting more from my guy.

I just want to add that on the other hand, casual relationships are very truthful. My guy didn't give me false hope nor told me sweet nothings. It is straight forward, you dont need to impress the other. You can be free to talk about anything!

....but i'll never do this again though, its not as satisfying as I thought it would be. I realized I need a boyfriend... but i dont regret making this casual relationship.

everything happens for a reason learning a lot about myself and relationships because of this "fling"
Sally said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for writing on such an important topic. I am currently in a 4-month long long "casual relationship" and boy is it killing me softly. I agree that these type of relationships are not for everyone, especially when you are the more interested party. I was in a casual thing previously, in fact nearly everyone who is in a committed relationship started off by casually dating before they decided to commit to each other. Once I was in a casual relationship and the ball was in my court, that is, I was dating a guy until something better came along, it was all good. I did evenually fall in love with the guy, but this does not always happen.

In my current casual relationship, I am the more interested party, which often leaves me feeling as if I have to remind my lover that I am alive. I try hard not to let this hurt me, but it is difficult because I like him more than a friend. I have been practicing "mirroring" techniques, to make sure I do not cross any boundaries. For example, I do not text, call, or make plans with him if he does not do so first.
therapydoc said…
Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this post. My personal opinion is that casual relationships are unqualified bullshit, if you'll pardon my French, born from an amazingly cheeky mentality. It reminds me of the mentality of a person who goes to perfume boutiques for the free samples, with no intention of buying. Either be in a relationship or don't be in a relationship, and accept the advantages of disadvantages of whichever one you choose. That's the only way to keep people, and indeed one's self, honest.
Anonymous said…
Honesty. It can go north or south really. Does a "commited" relationship absolutely ensure which? When it comes to human beings, I would say no. All is fair in love and war right? I had to look up the meaning of a casual relationship, which lead me to this thread, because I had never been in one this good before. Ive been back and forth through the ethics and moral implications of this, not to mention the derivisions drawn upon ones self-worth and -respect when agreeing to such an "in-human" polygimous arrangement. But being a woman, a modern woman and coincidently a bittered and jaded woman (made so by the scorn of a long term relationship gone sour), I've concluded that in life we have many choices, some hard and some more difficult, but remaining to "stay" with a guy where mutual respect exhists and pleasentness is thrown around like confetti from a broken pinata, withour the heavy blows and tolerance of a commited relationship, why would I leave?
therapydoc said…
No one would blame you for staying, Anon. My problem with it is hearing people abandoned "wasting" good (attractive) years. Of course we can lose a spouse, too, end up alone. Commitment is one of those convenient words. When the relationship is healthy, then commitment is a snap. And there's someone there at the end, when we can't make it up the stairs.
Anonymous said…
Well written and it describes perfectly the nightmare of a relationship that I'm in.
cali said…
I'm sorry to read that so many people are having problems with relationships but it does get better!
CG13 said…
Last fall, I walked away from a situation like this. We were friends before we were anything more, and he knew from prior discussions that I wanted to get married again one day.

He knew this. He knows I don't do friends with benefits.

All was great, in the beginning. He got me involved with his family and friends right away. We did many fun things together, travelled everywhere, and he seemed to be genuinely happy to be in this with me.

Of course, I'm trying to just let things BE, go with the flow. We are both older, not worried about having kids, etc. We really clicked on so many levels.

I'll skip all the gruesome details. In the end, after him saying some very thoughtless things and dismissing me when I try to talk to him about what's going on...I finally practically had to sit on him to get his attention to TALK. He says that he loves me, but he doesn't know what he wants. He admits he can't move forward due to fear of what MIGHT happen.

Well. Just as I thought.

How can an educated, experienced, intelligent man sit there and tell me that he doesn't know what he wants? This person, who has made many decisions in his life. He's the one always talking about OUR future plans. Why get me so involved in his life, his family's life? This is utter and complete bull. Thing is, he won't admit to NOT wanting to be committed, or tied down, or it what you will. He won't OWN it. It's like he is there just enough to look like he's in it for real, but only if he's really not. The vagueness when he talks drives me nuts. One foot on either side of the fence. Talk about making you crazy.

I left. Enough. I never heard from him again. This, after knowing each other for 8 years (we weren't together all that time). Were we ever friends at all? It's like he was too chickensh*t to really be in it, and he was too chickensh*t to man up and get out. I had to do it all. He's telling everyone he doesn't know what happened; we had a discussion, I got mad about something he said, and I left. All that is true, but he left out a hell of a lot of stuff. So now I'm the bad guy.

It's very hard to reconcile this part of him with the generous, gregarious, fun, easy going side that everyone associates with him. I should have left earlier, but my heart just didn't want to believe that he is not the honest person he makes himself out to be, at least as far as relationships go. By the end, the voice in my head was yelling at me to face reality and do SOMETHING. I don't know that he is necessarily a bad person, but it's apparent he has got some serious issues with emotions, intimacy, and love in general. From some things he said, I think it has a lot to do with his dad.

I know I needed to walk away for my own sake, but it hurt. My life is important too. I never felt down on myself during this time, but I sure was confused by the on/off behavior.

I saw a therapist for a while after this because I was really angry. She pointed out some things to me that I hadn't realized (or I didn't know what to call it), like the lack of empathy for my feelings, the misleading, manipulative behavior, and the lack of connection. It makes me really sad for him. If he had just been clear and honest with me from the beginning, we could have stayed friends. If I had never forced the issue, we would be together forever (as far as I know), just as we were. When I try to tell him what I feel, he never GETS it. He refuses to SEE me.

I've been angry with myself for letting him in, when I should have just kept him as a friend. Things in my own psyche that I thought I had mastered are back again, but I can tell you will never happen again.

It really boils down to this: how do treat people...anyone. Are you honest? Do you consider their needs as well as your own? He didn't care about what I wanted, as long as he got his. When I stepped up and asked for what I deserve, he just disappeared. Poof.
therapydoc said…
What a story. I wish it were something new. Right, never again. Best of luck. There's better out there.
Anonymous said…
I'm doing this right now. He is a friend. We talk and share each other's deep thoughts and it has been very satisfying for both. We have been mutually supportive of each other. Last Saturday night we went out with a group of friends and someone who did not know us asked very loudly if we were together. Our friends all made comments that they knew we had been seeing each other. We both freaked out and he told me he was very contented with me. I have started thinking of him as more but I still question whether he is someone I 'want' to be in a relationship with. Now everything has changed. Seems it is time for another talk about expectations. Even casual relationships are hard work as they constantly change. Not sure it's worth the trouble - just admit you like each other and have a normal relationship that runs its course, whatever that may be... if you like each other enough to have sex then there must be something there

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