In a perfect world, summer love would be just as smooth as the Justin Timberlake song of the same name. (You’re welcome!)
But, as we all know, that’s pretty much never how it works out in real life. Sure, keeping things light and casual for a few months may sound like less work than a full-blown relationship, but the non-committal approach comes with minefields all its own.
Maybe you see your partner strictly as a booty call, but they’re secretly planning your meet-the-parents brunch. Perhaps you’re in a steamy rebound relationship and wondering why you still aren’t happy. Or you could be juggling multiple suitors and realizing that it’s way harder than JoJo makes it look on The Bachelorette.
“We can go into a summer fling thinking, Oh, I’m just gonna have fun. But if we’re connecting with someone—and especially if we start having sex with them—it’s not that black and white,” says life coach and Gen-Y expert Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangover. “When it comes to the heart, we can’t control it.”
To be clear, she’s not saying that all summer flings are a bad idea—after all, good sex makes you happier (it’s science). But it is important go into them with the right attitude and communication skills to make sure everyone’s satisfied in the end.
Here are eight things to keep in mind when setting out to have a healthy summer fling—the kind that Top 40 tunes are made of.
1. Know thyself
So, this is it: the summer that you’re finally going to have the sort of fling that you’d never tell your grandkids about. But before you pull the trigger, Hassler urges you to consider your motives carefully.
“I think we have to ask ourselves, What am I really looking for, and is a summer fling the best way to have a fun and fulfilling experience? You really have to know yourself and be honest with yourself,” she says.
So if you’re someone who thrives in committed relationships, can you truly handle the uncertainty—and potential jealousy—that come with casual dating?
Hassler notes that another pitfall comes when you’re seeking out a summer fling to fend off boredom—in which case, she says, “you’re just using that person.” (Sound familiar? Maybe just go on a healthy vacation instead.)
So what’s the right reason to find a friend with benefits? “If you have a really awesome life and you want to connect and share it with people—and have some good make-out sessions—that’s great,” she says. “But if it’s filling a void, that’s when you’re stepping into dangerous territory.”
2. Set the ground rules
If you’re not looking for anything serious, says Hassler, it’s important that all your potential partners know that from day one. “Be really clear about your boundaries,” she says. “Both people have to be in agreement that the relationship is not a long-term fit.”
She says this is extra important when sex is involved. “It gets tricky when we start sleeping with people because then you have to think about protection and STDs and all that stuff,” she stresses. “Again, honesty is key—[saying] ‘Okay, we’re not in a relationship, but are we sleeping with other people? Where are the boundaries around that?’”
Yes, that means you’ll still have to have a talk (even if it’s not the talk).
3. But don’t force those rules if your fling surprises you
“If you really like someone, you can’t say, ‘In August or September this is over,’” Hassler explains.
While she says that many relationships do have expiration dates, it’s not up to us to set them arbitrarily based on the calendar. “Expiration dates are based on when you’ve learned everything you can in a relationship, or you’re growing in different ways,” she notes. In other words, don’t date like there’s a timer counting down to Labor Day.
4. Look beyond the dating apps
The ideal way to meet your fling isn’t from behind a smartphone screen, according to Hassler. “The best place to meet someone is when you’re doing something you love or trying something new. If you’ve always wanted to take a pottery class or improv class, go do that. If you’re someone who works from home, get out of your house and go work in a coffee shop.” (Outdoor workouts are another good option, as is CrossFit.)
And if you just can’t quit Bumble, make sure you’re swiping with the right intentions. “I see too many people do it when they’re sad and lonely,” says Hassler. “Consider walking into a bar with that energy…. It’s not gonna go well. Only be on the apps when you’re feeling good and confident about yourself.” And if you are on them, don’t be afraid to make the first move.
5. Don’t forget to do you
If you’ve got more than one fling happening, it’s easy to let your crushes take over your life. But that can backfire, says Hassler.
“If you’re with a different person every night of the week, you’re going to feel out of balance because you aren’t taking time for self-care,” she says. “If you’re dating multiple people, don’t forget to date yourself, too.” And really, when was the last time you ghosted yourself? Exactly.
6. Avoid the rebound
Hassler can’t stress this enough: Do not embark upon a summer fling if you’re fresh out of a relationship and still hurting.
“This is the time when you need to feel your feelings—otherwise, you’re just putting a Band-Aid on the grief,” she says. “If you allow yourself to be distracted by another person, you end up having the same problems in the next relationship because you never fully healed.” (If you can relate, here’s how to get over an ex the right way.)
7. End things gracefully
The definition of a fling is that it inevitably ends—and Hassler has a foolproof way to create closure. “I always like sandwiching things,” she says. “Start with acknowledgement first: ‘You’re amazing,’ or ‘I’ve had so much fun.’ Then comes the meat, in ‘I’ language: ‘I’m just in a place where I need to focus on me,’ or, ‘I don’t think our values are aligned.’ And then end with gratitude.”
Whatever you do, she says, don’t wait too long to cut ties when you’re no longer feeling it. “People delay ending things because they don’t want the other person to get hurt, but that’s impossible,” she says. “It’s so much more honoring to the other person to end it rather than stringing them along because you’re scared to tell the truth. That’s totally selfish.”
8. Consider a non-romantic fling
While a fling can be a fun way to get down, it also doesn’t have to be about sex at all.
“We put romantic relationship on this pedestal, but there’s so much richness to be found in dating yourselfand creating community with friends,” says Hassler. “Maybe your fling is you get involved with a nonprofit for the summer, or maybe it’s about extending your tribe. But it doesn’t have to involve another person.”
And that might be the most shocking—but fulfilling—relationship of all.
If you’ve got your summer fling sights set on your fitness instructor, it might not be the best idea—here’s why. You’d be better off checking out this fitness-focused dating app instead. And if you get lucky? Take some advice from these powerful women on how to stay safe and confident in the bedroom.
originally featured on Well + Good