Expert-Backed Tips to Go from a Casual to Committed Relationship

It's all about communication. Here, expert-approved tips to go from a casual to a committed relationship...if that's what you want.

two people showing affection for one another, one is kissing the other on the forehead
Photo: LeoPatrizi/Getty

Despite what your mom seems to think, long gone are the days when dating was as simple as asking your crush to "go steady" — and just because you went on a few dates, that doesn't necessarily make a relationship official. Let's face it: Going from a casual to a committed relationship in the Wild, Wild West that is dating in the 21st century is a bit more, well, complicated.

Still, it can be frustrating if you've been seeing this person at least once a week for a few months and still have no idea where things stand. So, what are you supposed to do when you want to turn this casual coupling into a committed relationship? Sorry, but there's no simple answer. "Every person and relationship is different, and there's no magic phrase or action that can get her or him to commit," notes Terri Trespicio, a lifestyle and relationship expert based in New York City.

However, you can use these communication tips to make sure you're being clear about what you want and to find out if they are on the same page...or on another planet.

How to Go From Casual to Committed Relationship

Make sure you want this.

So, you think you want something serious with this special someone — but before you do anything else, make sure you actually want to go from a casual to a committed relationship. Step back and ask yourself some serious questions, suggests Trespicio. Do I have fun with them? Is my mood elevated when I'm with them? Do I feel good about myself after we part ways? Do they improve my life? Do I feel respected?

In addition to asking yourself those important questions, you should also think about the "J" word: jealousy. If they're acting extremely jealous or policing your every move, you might want to reevaluate things before officially going from casual dating to a committed relationship (if at all). And, importantly, you shouldn't tell yourself, "Well, they're a nice person and haven't done anything that wrong, so I guess I should be with them."

Why? "That's convincing yourself of something that's probably not right," says Trespicio. Bottom line: Be in a committed relationship where you feel good when you're without them, but you feel even better with them.

Don't rush to DTR immediately.

It seems counterintuitive, but when going from casual dating to a committed relationship, take a breath before bringing up the DTR conversation (aka define the relationship, or that "what are we?" question). "It's like going to a party, turning off the music, turning on the lights, and asking, 'Are we all having a good time here?'" says Trespicio. "A good relationship is built on momentum, and putting a stop to the fun to 'check in' is a surefire way to kill the romance," she notes.

Of course, this isn't the case for every couple — although it might go over better if you don't bring up this burning question in the middle of, say, a dinner party with their friends. And if this potential partner has admitted or shown signs that they're nervous about commitment, that's even more of a reason to put feelers out before dropping the question. "People who are wary of commitment want to feel like they're the one choosing to be with you — they don't want to feel like they're being coaxed into a cage," adds Trespicio.

But if you need reassurance that this casual fling might have serious potential, look at the evidence: Do they try to see you whenever they're free? Do they seem genuinely interested in what you have to say? Do they have as much fun on dates as you do? Yes, yes, and yes? Well, great: These are likely signs they're in it for real, so enjoy being with them and try not to stress about making things "official."

Bring it up lightly.

Don't feel like you need to stay in the dark forever, though. If it's been about six months and they haven't dropped one hint about where they see this thing going, speak up, says Jennifer Kelman, L.C.S.W., a relationship expert and certified personal coach. For example, if you'd like them to meet your parents, ask if they'd be up for going out to dinner, but let them know there's no harm if they're not quite ready for that yet. Above all, keep the tone light and maintain open lines of communication.

If you feel confident at this point that you want things to be serious, go ahead and tell them that you're ready to move from a casual to a committed relationship, says Trespicio. "Explain what kind of relationship you want and why, defining what commitment means for you without giving an ultimatum," she suggests. If they aren't open to a discussion, let them mull it over for a couple of weeks. But if they still don't respond when you bring it up again, it may be time to rethink the relationship. "You have to decide which you want more — someone who's committed or this person, even if he won't ever be," says Trespicio.

Unplug to connect.

Think beyond dinner and drinks for your next date. "The best type of date allows you to stop texting, put the phone down, and really foster a deep connection," says Kelman. Restaurants can be nice, but try something a little outside your comfort zone from time to time. For example, check out a craft beer festival, see a local band at some hole-in-the-wall, or challenge them to a mountain bike race. A new adventure can fortify your relationship since it gives you shared memories to reminisce about later, and that stronger bond can help both parties progress from ~cool and casual~ to a committed relationship.

Plus, the dates your partner comes up with can also give you some insight into how they feel. "If they suggest seeing the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit because they remember you like her art, that's a sure sign of romance," says Trespicio.

Let your selfless side shine.

Spending your free time volunteering for a cause you support or doing something small for a stranger, such as helping an elderly person carry their groceries, may help your potential partner see you in a more serious light. (Not to mention, doing good deeds on the regular is the right thing to do.) In a recent British study, people rated potential sexual partners to be more attractive for a long-term relationship if they had altruistic qualities. "Giving back to others shows your good heart and integrity," says Kelman.

That's not to say you should be fixated on finding opportunities and acting in specific ways just to impress your partner. Rather, a worthy significant other should (and hopefully will) be able to see you for all of your amazing qualities and, thus, be down to go steady — whether or not you volunteer every week. Still, even the smallest acts of kindness can boost your own mood (seriously, studies say so!) and make your hopeful S.O. straight-up swoon.

Maintain your autonomy — and theirs too.

It's easy to let parts of yourself go when you meet someone you think is the partner of your dreams. But don't. "Trying to be someone you're not is so transparent," says Kelman. Not to mention — and this is important! — a deserving partner (and you too, for that matter) should celebrate your personality, quirks and all. So, if you'd rather pull out your own teeth than watch football or hit an art museum, don't pretend to love the Steelers or understand abstract art just because the person you're seeing is a fan.

Passionate about puzzling? Can't get enough of gardening? Own it! Not only is it important to stay true to yourself, but maintaining your own interests can also help demonstrate how exciting your life is, with or without your partner. "You want to be the fast-moving car that they want to jump into, not the one sitting in the parking lot, waiting around," says Trespicio. So, keep up your long runs on the weekends even if they want to hang out, and don't expect them to skip weekly basketball games in favor of seeing you. "The most appealing thing to a partner is someone who has her own autonomy and strength," says Kelman. Not to mention, you'll avoid putting your relationship over your own sense of self.

Show you care.

If you're into this person, you should show that you care about them — no one wants to be on the receiving end of indifference. So, when you're out to dinner, make sure not to constantly check your phone or dart your eyes around the room. To be clear, this is the standard your partner should be held to as well, so note if they're showing you the same interest and affection.

It's dating 101, but show you're interested in what they have to say and ask about their life. "People appreciate and want to be with someone who makes them feel amazing," says Trespicio.

Updated by
Locke Hughes
Locke is a New York-based marketer, editor, and journalist specializing in health, wellness and lifestyle content, and the lead editor of health content for Oura. Her work has appeared in Oprah Magazine, Women's Health, Self, MindBody Green, and more. She is the author of Melatonin: The Natural Supplement for Better Sleep.
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