A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

What Is a Fling Relationship? 12 Signs You Might Be in One

Updated: May 15, 2024

You met someone, and you're completely over the moon. But is your partner on the same page, or is this just a fling? Here are the red flags to look for early on.

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What is a fling relationship?

There comes a time in any relationship where you need to know if there’s actually a relationship. It isn’t always clear if you’re on the same page regarding your future together, but it can be scary to just come out and ask. The shock of realizing that you’re far more invested than the other person holds a special kind of pain and embarrassment, so it’s better to figure this out sooner rather than later—before you start developing deeper feelings. So how can you tell if what feels like a true romantic connection and healthy relationship for you is just a fling for them? And what is a fling relationship, exactly—aren’t those two words mutually exclusive?

The answer is … sort of. A fling relationship is a type of relationship. The difference between a “real” relationship and a fling is the level of commitment both partners feel for each other. The main goal of a fling is to have fun, usually through a sexual relationship, without any other obligations to each other, explains Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and relationship expert who has been counseling couples and individuals about relationship issues for two decades.

Are flings healthy?

In some circumstances, a temporary relationship like this can be useful. Perhaps you just got out of a long-term relationship and want to test the waters before diving back into anything serious, or you simply don’t want to be in a serious relationship right now. And sometimes flings do turn into longer-term relationships, so it can get really confusing, especially the longer it goes on. The key to having a fling is that both people have very clear, open and ongoing communication about their expectations so that everyone is on the same page.

That said, having physical intimacy without emotional intimacy doesn’t feel fulfilling for many people. Plus, fling relationships can open you up to some dysfunctional or toxic relationship behaviors, pressuring you to compromise your needs. “Too often people fall victim to sexual attraction and overlook all the other red flags in the other person,” Hafeez says. “This is a situation where you need to be really tuned into yourself and trust your gut.”

Of course, that’s not always as easy as it sounds, which is why we asked Hafeez and Shlomo Zalman Bregman, a rabbi, relationship expert and matchmaker based in New York City, to share their tips for decoding confusing signals. Read on for the telltale signs that your partner sees you as just a fling—and what a more serious relationship would look like.

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About the experts

  • Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, is a neuropsychologist and relationship expert, the founder of Comprehend the Mind, and a faculty member at Columbia University in New York City. She’s been counseling couples and individuals about relationship issues for two decades. 
  • Shlomo Zalman Bregman is a rabbi, relationship expert and matchmaker based in New York City. He’s also an attorney, author, Jewish Torah expert and film producer, and his diverse talents give him a wide range of experiences to draw on when counseling couples.
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They read your messages but don’t reply

Sending a text, Snap, video chat or other message out into the ether, seeing the person you’re dating read it and then not getting a reply is one of the more painful modern problems. It makes you question yourself and your importance to the other person. “In this day and age, there’s simply no excuse for not communicating with your partner,” Hafeez says. “Even if you don’t have the time to fully reply to their call or message, it takes two seconds to push a button with an auto reply or emoji. A partner who is committed to your happiness won’t leave you on read.”

It’s true that there are some people who don’t love texting or digital communications, but it’s also true that this is a primary way people communicate these days, Hafeez adds. Even technophobes can send a simple note like, “Thanks! Excited to talk with you about this later!” or something similar.

Real relationship: If you make a bid for communication or support (electronic or otherwise), a more committed partner will tend to respond in a reasonable amount of time—ideally within a few hours, but certainly within 24 hours, Hafeez says. If they have a job where they can’t have their phone, they would ideally communicate that to you so you’ll know not to expect a reply from them during those hours, but they’d also make a point to respond as soon as they can.

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They are constantly on their phone when you’re together

Being glued to a phone, even when they’re with a real, live human, is a cross between bad manners, bad phone etiquette and relationship red flags. “When you’re on a date with someone and they are looking at their phone excessively without excusing themselves, it’s incredibly disrespectful and shows they do not prioritize their time with you or the relationship,” Hafeez says. Not to mention that if they see you as a fling, they may even be fielding messages from other flings.

Real relationship: Phone notifications are relentless, but a committed partner will either silence their phone or turn it face down while speaking with you (and you should do the same). If they’re waiting for an important call or need to keep an eye on something, they’ll tell you that upfront, be brief when checking their phone and apologize for the interruption.

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“Commitment” isn’t in their vocabulary

This shouldn’t need to be said, but if your partner can’t even talk about commitment, they likely aren’t ready for a real relationship with you (or possibly anyone). Yet too many people excuse this behavior as their partner being “bad at communicating feelings.” The problem, however, isn’t the communication; it’s the commitment. “If someone avoids the topics of commitment or exclusivity like the plague, it’s probably a sign that they don’t see any longer-term future with you,” explains Bregman.

Real relationship: Each person should feel safe to ask questions and share their feelings about the status of the relationship in a clear and open way. “Obviously, the appropriateness of this talk, and what it might look like, will vary depending upon the stage of your relationship (i.e., eight weeks vs. 52 weeks),” Bregman says. “However, if your partner takes you seriously, he will realize this is a reasonable human expectation, be open to talking about it and want to address your feelings.”

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You’ve never met their friends or family

If you’re hoping to get an introduction to friends and family but your partner prefers to keep those relationships separate, it could be a major red flag. “Someone who views you as a fling will only make last-minute plans that always entail seeing you alone,” says Bregman. And if your partner puts friends before you on a regular basis, it could also mean he doesn’t take you seriously as a potential future partner. Not introducing you to their inner circle can also have a dark side, adds Hafeez: “They may be hiding your relationship because they’re married or dating someone else, and they’re worried their family will say something to you.”

Real relationship: Within a few months of starting to date, you both introduce each other to your friends, family and loved ones. “If someone is really into you, they will eventually want to show you off,” Bregman says. “They’ll want the broader circle of people they care about to know that they’ve met someone terrific.”

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It’s purely physical

Sure, physical attraction is super important for a successful relationship, but if you’re focusing solely on that connection, it could signal fling status. “There are many facets to a relationship, and being physically involved with someone else is only one possible point of connection with another human being,” says Bregman. “If the person you’re seeing is only interested in physically connecting with you, it probably means that they are not trying to get to know you very deeply and is a sure sign that their intentions for this relationship will remain in the realm of the casual and superficial.”

Real relationship: Someone who envisions a possible future with you will make an effort to date you along with the physical stuff. They will ask you a lot of personal questions that cover a broad spectrum of life’s experiences and will want to get to know you on a multitude of levels—and you’ll be interested in learning the same about them.

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You’re always the one to reach out

Are you the one who’s constantly getting in touch, sending texts and organizing dates? That’s a major red flag that your relationship is one-sided. “You shouldn’t feel like you are constantly chasing the other person,” Hafeez says. “They should want to spend time with you and look for opportunities to do that.”

But perhaps you are just the more proactive type and your partner is more of a go-with-the-flow personality? Try this: Don’t reach out for a few days, and see how your partner reacts. If you don’t hear anything after three days, it might mean you’re on different pages.

Real relationship: In a healthy relationship where both partners want in, it’s typical for communication to go both ways, as well as for the initiation of plans to be pretty even. A key sign of an invested partner is a willingness to bring a sense of fairness, balance and reciprocity to the relationship. If you find that you’re doing most of the emotional or connective work early on, it’s also often a red flag that the person won’t be an invested partner in the long run.

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Plans are always last-minute

While being spontaneous can be great for a relationship, if you’re unable to make actual, solid plans with your significant other, it could mean they see you as just a fling or a backup plan. Texting at, say, 11:03 p.m. on a Saturday night is disrespectful to you and is likely a booty call. “If the person you are seeing never wants to make proper plans with you and only reaches out at random, spontaneous times, it’s probably a sign that you’re in the fling category,” says Bregman.

Real relationship: Your partner asks you to go on real dates or is thrilled if you plan a day or night out together. You set the date and time well in advance, and put it in your calendars. If they hem and haw, or cancel at the last minute, you might want to reevaluate the relationship.

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They haven’t had long-term relationships before

Sure, if you’re on the younger side, a lack of experience may be overlooked. But if your partner is past their mid-20s and has never had a relationship that lasted more than a couple of months, there’s a reason for that, according to Hafeez. While it could mean they just haven’t found “the one” yet, it’s more likely that it’s because they aren’t ready for a commitment with anyone. “This is a matter of having different goals and priorities, and they should be honest about that,” Hafeez says. “If they make a lot of excuses, blame previous partners or won’t discuss it with you, that’s a red flag they are stringing you along.”

Real relationship: You discuss previous relationships with your partner. While you don’t necessarily need to get into the nitty-gritty just yet, depending on how long you’ve been seeing each other, the other person will ideally be forthcoming about their dating history and not seem cagey when discussing past relationships. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of honesty and transparency.

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You always meet up at the same place and time

Think about what activities you do together. If you always meet up alone, at the same random bar on Tuesday nights at 9, it likely means they only want one thing from you and this is the quickest route to get it. Also take note if plans generally entail coming to your place to “Netflix and chill.” When you only meet up at a secluded place at night or your plans always involve alcohol, these are all clues that the other person sees you as a fling, says Bregman. (They can also be a sign your partner is cheating.) Even if you enjoy this type of date, it shouldn’t be the sole thing you do together.

Real relationship: If the other person thinks of you as a potential partner long-term, both of you will want to do a variety of activities together to strengthen your relationship. And above all, if they like you you will never feel like a secret.

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You don’t show up on their social media

If your partner doesn’t want to connect with you on social media, doesn’t post pictures of you or talk about you, leaves their relationship status unchanged or even blocks you from seeing their socials, it could mean your partner isn’t interested in a real relationship with you or they are hiding something, Hafeez cautions. Sure, there are people who aren’t on social media at all and that’s different, but if your significant other does have an online presence and you’re not a part of it, it’s a red flag. “It could be that they don’t want you to be able to see all of their pictures, including all of the other men or women they’re seeing or hanging out with,” explains Bregman.

Real relationship: If your partner isn’t hiding anything, they’ll be open to you seeing their various social media accounts without restrictions. If the relationship is moving forward, you might expect to be included on their timeline as part of their regular life. If this isn’t happening, ask respectful questions about why this is the case.

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All your conversations are superficial

For a relationship to reach a higher level, you’ll need to transition from talking about the weather, sports and your latest Netflix binge to more pressing, meaningful issues and really open up. If you’re not at that point after a few dates, it could mean your partner isn’t looking to get there with you. “Common experiences and values are the ties that bind, and you discover what you have in common through having those deep, heart-to-heart talks,” Hafeez says. “It really only takes one to three dates to figure out if you want to see this person more, so if they haven’t opened up about the big stuff, at least a little bit, during the first few dates, that’s a warning sign they see you as just a fling.”

Real relationship: Try to bring up more impactful topics, and gauge your partner’s reaction. If you can talk about the big stuff together, that’s a great sign and will help you build trust in your relationship.

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There are large gaps in time where you don’t hear from them

When they’re with you, things are hot and intense, but then they suddenly disappear for days on end with no explanation. Sound familiar? If you routinely go long stretches of time without hearing from or seeing your partner, and you don’t know why, it is a major red flag that they’re not in it for the long haul, Hafeez says. Don’t dismiss this behavior as your partner just “not being tech-savvy,” “having ADHD” or “being forgetful.” Those may be explanations, but they shouldn’t be used as excuses. “This is about respect and care for your feelings,” she explains. “Not knowing where your loved one is or what happened is a terrible feeling.”

Real relationship: “A committed partner will keep in regular contact,” Hafeez says. Even if they’re not great at texting or forget to check in, they will find a way to communicate that works for both of you. For instance, they may set a calendar reminder in their phone to check in with you once a day, or if they don’t love texting, they can call you on their commute.

Why trust us

For over 100 years, Reader’s Digest has explored the nuances of relationships, working with such luminaries as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, John Gottman, PhD, and Leo Buscaglia (“Dr. Love”). We ran a decade-long relationships column and have published a compendium of features, Love and Marriage: The Reader’s Digest Guide to Intimate Relationships. For this piece on defining a fling relationship, Isadora Baum tapped her experience as a relationships writer, and then clinical psychologist and life-fulfillment expert Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of The Joy of Imperfect Love and Date Smart, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. We support this information with credentialed experts and primary sources such as government and professional organizations, peer-reviewed journals and our writers’ personal experience where it enhances the topic. We verify all facts and data and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.


  • Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist, relationship expert and Columbia University faculty member; phone interview, April 4, 2024
  • Shlomo Zalman Bregman, rabbi, relationship expert and matchmaker; interview, October 2019