10 Ways Millennial Dating Is So Much Different To Gen Z

For years, people have been using the word “millennial” as a catch-all term to describe the entitled youths of the day. But millennials are quickly aging out of youth (if not entitlement). Born between 1981 and 1996, they are now anywhere from 26 to 41. Behind them are Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012. And while millennials and Gen Z are often conflated, their experiences and worldviews diverge greatly. Nowhere is that more apparent than in dating. Here’s how.

Millennials didn’t start dating on apps. Dating websites have been around for decades (Tinder turned 10 this year), but most millennials started dating before apps were the predominant way to meet people. These days, Gen Z-ers are meeting their first-ever partners on apps. As the Tik Tok generation, a large proportion of their social interactions take place online, and they take it for granted that dating is no different. For millennials, however, dating apps still don’t feel completely natural. They’re resigned to them, but most would rather meet people IRL.

“Hookup culture” existed on campuses, now, it’s everywhere. For a lot of American teenagers, college had less to do with education than with socializing. Although casual sex is as old as sex itself, hookup culture made a name for itself in the early 2010s when academics and psychologists started wringing their hands over the lack of emotional involvement in sexual interactions among millennial college students. These days, Gen Z has made hookup culture mainstream. Many newer dating apps are even intended exclusively for casual sex.

Swiping is so 2015. Just when you resigned yourself to the fact that you’ll have to find your future spouse on Tinder, Gen Z has killed traditional dating apps. Swiping on endless photos is now obsolete, with new apps increasingly incorporating Tik Tok-friendly video features into their interfaces and removing the swiping function altogether. One platform has taken things to new levels of bluntness: if you accidentally swipe on a profile, Snack gives the error message, “swiping is old af.” Ouch.

Millennials are still ashamed to admit when they’re only interested in hooking up. Even though millennials practically invented “hookup” as a term, they’re still not ready to own it. Despite the prevalence of hookup culture on dating apps, many millennials are still attached to the notion that hookup culture is confined to college campuses. With many of them approaching or exiting their 30s, casual sex feels juvenile. Gen Z is happy to own it. For them, casual sex isn’t a statement of youthful rebellion against romance, it’s a way to explore their bodies and sexual preferences.

For millennials, the biological clock is ticking a little louder every year. Like it or not, fertility is finite. At some point, we all have to ask the big question: Do I want kids? Millennials are holding off on answering this question longer than any other generation. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that fewer women under 30 are having kids than ever before, while the only demographic experiencing an increase in birthrate is women over 40. Dating is a completely different ballgame when you’re considering becoming a parent. All of a sudden, the man-child who plays guitar and flaunts Buddhist tattoos isn’t looking like the most attractive sex partner. Instead, you’re grilling new guys about their SAT scores and 401(k)s.

A lot of millennials have kids. While millennials are choosing to hold off on child-rearing longer than any previous generation, Pew Research shows that, as of 2018, more than half of millennial women had already had a child. And if you thought dating was hard when you’re looking for a future co-parent, it can feel impossible when you already have a kid. Not only do you have to navigate the stigma of being a single parent, but you also have to sort out childcare, deal with your child’s other parent, figure out how to explain the concept of dating to your kid, and, most importantly, ensure their safety. In other words, it is a massive headache that can, at times, feel like some version of hell. Meanwhile, Gen Z is having carefree, no-strings-attached sex with the nearest, hottest stranger like you used to.

Millennials have a comparatively narrow view of what a relationship is. For Gen Z, there is a seemingly endless number of relationship configurations–open relationships, friends-with-benefits, polyamory, solo polyamory, ethical non-monogamy, and more. Millennials have a less varied approach to dating. While data suggests that they are even more progressive about gender norms than Gen Z, when it comes to relationships, they see a binary: monogamous or non-monogamous. The expansive and nuanced arrangements pioneered by Gen Z are just too complicated for many millennials to get their heads around.

For Gen Z, “keeping your options open” is implied. Some commentators suggest that Gen Z is more “pragmatic” when it comes to love. They embrace dating around, partly because they are clear-eyed about the instability of the world around them. For them, nothing is “official” until both parties verbally agree to it. For millennials, on the other hand, having multiple partners is still a “monogamy gray zone“. While Gen Z has fully embraced a pragmatic approach to dating where the benefits of having several options far outweigh traditional ideas of faithfulness and romance, millennials are conflicted. The result is that many date around (some estimates suggest that seeing anywhere from five to nine people at once is the sweet spot) while feeling shady and icky about it.

Millennials find ghosting offensive. Another example of Gen Z pragmatism is their acceptance of ghosting as a valid method of breaking up. For them, it makes sense: why go through the emotional discomfort of explaining to a casual partner why you’re not interested in them anymore when you could just let them work it out themselves based on your silence? In that light, ghosting seems like the kindest option: no one is humiliated and you avoid awkwardness. For millennials, however, ghosting is still a sign of disrespect, cowardice, and immaturity.

Gen Z is realistic about love. According to recent studies, Gen Z overwhelmingly rejects the idea of romantic soulmates or even long-term partnerships. For them, the only certainty about the future is uncertainty, and finding a “forever partner” is unrealistic and impractical. Their focus seems to be on personal stability–financial, social, and mental. For millennials, a generation brought up on Disney and 90s rom-coms, romance still dominates. The idea of a fairytale wedding and living happily-ever-after is so deeply ingrained that it overshadows the increasingly evident futility of believing in “The One.”

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