Your Call: Can You Downgrade 3-Year Relationship to “Casual”?

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We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

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Dear Em & Lo,

I have been in a relationship on and off with a guy for 3.5 years. The longest break we have had was our last break up which has lasted 5 months. There was no contact during that period of time. We bumped into each other a couple of months ago on a night out and ended up hooking up that evening and seeing each other a couple of times in the last two months.

Our break ups were always down to him. One minute everything was amazing, we never argued, had lots of quality time together, and the next minute he was gone saying “my feelings have changed,” “I dont know what I want.” Within a month or two he would be back again wanting to “try again.”

After this happening a number of times, my patience wore thin, and each time it happened the break up “aftermath” got worse and worse. My reaction to it got angrier and angrier, and this resulted in huge fights during each break up period. The ironic thing is that we only argued when we WERNT together.

The position I am in now is this. He tells me he loves me, enjoys spending time with me but is frightened and reluctant to commit for fear of “getting cold feet again” and having the fallout from me that that would cause. He says he doesn’t know what he wants but knows he doesn’t want to lose me from his life entirely either.

He has suggested that we start a “casual relationship” with no expectations or goals as he doesn’t know what he wants because of his track record for jumping ship, so he can’t give me any commitment or reassurances of where it could lead.

I really don’t know what to do. Having a history with him and having feelings for him makes a “casual” agreement difficult. I don’t understand his reluctance to commit to a relationship on the grounds of him fearing he will jump ship again, because at the end of the day he can do that anyway in a casual relationship.

I question if his desire to have a “casual relationship” is his way of absolving himself from any guilt of hurting me if he did jump ship again. After all, if I agree to a casual setup he is then able to say, ” Well, it was just casual, free of commitment with the freedom of changing my mind any any point.”

— Woman Overboard

Leave your advice for Woman Overboard in the comments section below.



  1. Where do I begin? He just wants a ‘casual relationship’ because when he jumps ship again (and he will), he is hoping you won’t get as mad as have been getting recently when the relationship falls apart.

    He could be afraid of committing or he simply could be waiting for something better to come along. That is nothing against you, it’s just that you aren’t the right fit for him.

    I suggest you do what many of the other’s have said: end things and move on. There’s better out there for both of you. You’re missing out on something great by being strung along by this guy who doesn’t know what he wants. You’re better than that. Hold your head up high and know that you deserve someone great, and that someone isn’t anywhere close to this guy.

  2. Dear Woman Overboard,
    Strangely, I’ve been going through the exact same thing. In my case, fear was the same root cause. With each break up my man caused I got angrier & angrier also. My man misunderstood most everything I said when we had serious talks but we were always good excluding a few exceptions. My answer is from my own personal reaction to almost the same situation:

    Tell him that you know he cares for you as you care for him also. Then be very honest with him. For me I told my Mr. Right (right now scared) that it was ok if he didn’t know what he wanted but the arguing and breaking up had to stop one way or the other. I also told him what I was looking for from my life, someone who wanted to be with me & knew it as well as having the type of qualities that I could see myself marrying one day otherwise there was no need to date a man that didn’t want the same things. Went on to note that there was no time frame for marriage but that’s what I wanted & I just couldn’t settle for less. I love him but relationships take 2 & if he’s not willing to change on his own then why am I willing to compromise myself any further when I’m miserable not feeling safe in my relationship.

    Since I laid it out very calmly this has been working. He tried the I did this and that and I just said ‘Well, ok. If that’s what you want’. The next day he spent picturing life without me. The end of the story has not been written but men rarely know what they want and you have to show them they need to figure it out because you’re worth it and if they don’t feel that you’re worth it, then do we really want them? No, we don’t. But value yourself in a healthy way and put up those good boundaries and let him either come with a commitment or leave the best thing he may ever have.

    Wishing you blessings!

  3. It sounds like he is very scared of commitment. I think the real question is why that is. I don’t think he is going to change unless he finds out why he is so afraid of it.

    If you really want to give it another try I would highly recommend (couples) therapy. Having a third party to mediate and interpret each of your wishes and thoughts is immensely helpful. Make sure you find someone you both feel safe with though.

    I’m also wondering if maybe you should ask yourself why you keep taking him back. I don’t want to speculate too much from that short text, mostly want to raise the question of whether or not you know why you keep getting together? (from your perspective)

    It sounds to me like a casual relationship would be one-sided (he wants it, you don’t). In the end however I think that you are the one who decides what is right for you. Just make sure that the decision is based on making your life better. Again I would highly recommend therapy to better be able to reflect on your choices.

    Good luck!

  4. This guy is a jerk! Imagine if your sister or best friend came to you with this same situation- you would tell her to get out(hopefully)!
    Your instincts are right- leave him for good. He’s just trying to see what he can get away with. You clearly don’t want the same things, don’t waste your time. A man who wants to be with a woman will – although he sounds like a little boy.

    He’s just not that into you.

  5. Ditch the jerk. Everyone deserves to have someone in there life that wants to be there. Period. It seems like a causal type situation isn’t what you’d like ultimately so let him go and wander the casual dating sea while you look for something that will make you happy. You only have one life, why spend it in doubt and worry.

  6. Delete his number; block him on facebook; tell any mutual friends, and your family what a jerk this guy is. Get rid of him. You deserve real–even if real, for you is polyamory and a farm with goats (or whatever). You deserve better, and odds are, it’s out there for you.

  7. Why would you have taken him back more than once in the first place? Why were you apparently too scared to argue with him when you were together? Please have a think about all this, because you’ve been treated very badly. Walk away, never look back, and open yourself up to being with someone who wants to be with you and treats you with respect.

  8. “I question if his desire to have a ‘casual relationship’ is his way of absolving himself from any guilt of hurting me if he did jump ship again. After all, if I agree to a casual setup he is then able to say, ‘Well, it was just casual, free of commitment with the freedom of changing my mind any any point.'”

    Yes, that’s exactly what it is.

    This guy’s jerking you around. A casual relationship is fine if that’s what you both want, but it’s not what you want, it’s not what you have, and he knows this.

    Do yourself a favor and delete this guy’s number.

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