We Were Only Casual But I Caught Feelings and Now I Can’t Move On!

I’m using a ton of mental energy wishing things were different, and want to refocus that energy on myself. 

Most of us have been there: A fun, casual fling goes on longer than expected, and one day you find yourself ‘catching feelings.’ After months of casually dating, one of you wants things to get more serious, and the other doesn’t. In one instance, someone wrote to me about casually and non-exclusively dating a person for nine months (nine months!) and then realizing they wanted more: 

“It’s been six months and I’m still crying myself to sleep about it,” they wrote. “I know he’s not for me because he’s not available. But I’m having a really hard time letting him go. I’m leaving him alone. We don’t talk, but I’m using a ton of mental energy wishing things were different. How do I refocus that energy on myself?” 

First off, rumination can be a way to deal with circumstances when we’re young, whether that’s ambivalence, uncertainty, or painful situations we experience as kids. As adults, it can become a form of self-sabotage. We’re not moving forward, or maybe we even feel guilty about moving forward, or shameful for not doing it sooner and choosing ourselves earlier. It’s normal to feel hurt after a relationship ends. It especially hurts to feel like the time we invested in someone was not time they were willing to invest back in us. 

But it’s worth asking why you spent so much time casually dating someone. What were you waiting for? How did you hope it would end? What did you really want? And did you ever ask for it or declare it, or were you too afraid? 

One of the steps in my Dating 101 course is setting your intention and really getting to know it. No more settling for less than what you really want. No more unclear communication, or wishy-washy behaviour like choosing someone who only wants to keep things casual. We’re not fucking around — we’re here to define and find the relationship you actually want, which means sorting through what is not it and becoming the type of person who gets to have that relationship. 

Most people go into dating with a mindset of, I’ll just date enough and eventually this casual thing will turn into the relationship I want. But that’s so rare and unlikely. The idea that casual relationships turn into serious, committed relationships is a myth at worst, and a rarity at best. Oftentimes people who are tolerating casual relationships use this as a way to justify their circumstances. I was one of those people, so I have no judgement around it (and I’m pretty good at calling my own smelly BS from my past). 

It can be frustrating to want to move forward and feel stuck thinking about and mourning the past, and yet the first step is looking back to integrate the lessons. Where did you abandon yourself, and why? Where did you not voice your desires around exclusivity? Did you want a relationship and not declare it? Or were you allowing low accountability behaviour to maintain a connection? We need to own the places where we were acting from a place of low accountability, which often stems from believing we’re not worthy of getting the thing we say we want. 

We claim that what we want is this lower or lesser version of something, but what we actually want is this higher or more evolved version. We lower the bar because we’re afraid we won’t find anyone who will meet it. But that doesn’t work, or maybe it does for a moment, but in the long term it’s just more unnecessary pain and suffering because you’re constantly finding yourself in situations you didn’t really want, or with partners who aren’t a good fit. You’re settling. I hold a ton of compassion for this, because most of us are taught by society and culture to lower our expectations to accommodate or make allowances, settling for people who can’t show up for us. When we do this, we’re ultimately abandoning ourselves. We’re not showing up for ourselves and our needs. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can start to change the pattern, and attract what we really want.