No one ever said dating was easy. But this is certainly not your parents’ dating scene.
Millennials have redefined dating as online social networks change the paradigm for how people look and find love. Gone are the days of private dates and long courting phone calls, young adults are instead firing off quick texts and going on group dates.
The tough economic times have changed the dating landscape for young adults, but experts also pin the blame on something else for millennials’ dating drama: Hollywood.
Elena Sheppard, culture editor at PolicyMic, says the romantic comedy films that saturated theaters in the early 2000s set unrealistic dating expectations for the real world.
“We grew up on all of those 90s 2000s rom-coms starring Kate Hudson working at an ad agency, going on dates with guys who have it together, its 1000x not what we anticipated.”
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Case in point: in the 2003 film “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” Hudson plays a successful magazine writer in New York City who falls for Matthew McConaughey’s character of a smooth-talking advertising executive.
Both portrayed characters around the same age as today’s millennials, with solid jobs and spacious apartments in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But here’s the reality most millennials are current living: weak hiring prospects, lower wages, massive student debt and living at home with mom and dad.
All this, experts say, is changing the dating game. The current dating scene includes group dating, trolling the internet for free or cheap events to take dates and an endless array of options of other eager singles to choose from via casual texts and late-night hookups.
And Sheppard says finding people who are serious about dating, and have it together, may prove challenging.
“It’s almost an embarrassment of riches situation [when dating],” she says. “People just don’t want to commit...What happens is that no one ever really chooses one person. It allows for a much more casual dating environment and expectations.”
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Tough economic times are forcing more millennials to also become part of the “boomerang” generation, meaning they’ve come home to live with mom and dad after college, which can hurt those looking for love.
“The growing up process is taking longer. Living with your parents does put a weird pin in dating, it’s hard to go on a date with someone and say, ‘I live at home.’ It feels like a failure, and we are conditioned to think it is.”
And beyond the living situation, Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Makeover says the generation has struggled to establish itself in a struggling economy.
“The great recession and difficulty in getting jobs means these people see less opportunity to settle down or establish themselves in the workplace. They also carry an unprecedented level of student debt. This impacts the ability to settle down and have a family—so they are saying, ‘I can afford to wait.’”
The New Online Dating Scene
Economic uncertainty has forced many young adults to postpone many major life events, including buying a home, getting married and starting a family, which also changes their approach to dating.
24-year-old Jake says he is in no rush to settle down. He lives and works in New York City and uses many different free dating apps. He has gone on several dates coordinated by Grouper, an online social club that sets up drinks between two groups of friends for $20 a person, which covers the first round and reservations.
From there, it’s up to those at the table to sort things out.
“I didn’t feel the responsibility that the guy would pay—we offered, but there is definitely not as much pressure as there is on a one-on-one date,” he says.
Grouper founder Michael Waxman puts it best: “they’re just being casual,” he says of millennials’ dating approach.
“We think keeping it casual leads to the highest likelihood of success, regardless of what you are looking for,” he says. “You also know what you will get—if you don’t like the other people, you have only committed to one drink to enjoy with your friends. You don’t have to take time and money to go out with someone you just met at a bar or on the internet.”
And money, he says, is key. “Grouper takes the pressure off of the awkward dance of who will pick up the tab. Every person is in it for themselves.” While Waxman declined to give specifics, he says the site has sold “hundreds of thousands” of drinks in the past two years.
Another new site dominated by no-strings-attached millennials is Tinder. The free online social network shows consumers pictures of fellow users who are located in close proximity. If a user likes another’s photo, and the other user agrees, they can message one another and chat.
“It emulates the way the real world works,” says Tinder CMO and cofounder Justin Mateen. “When you meet someone at a bar or coffee shop, you look for commonalities when you speak to them. Mutual interests, friends—we put those things at the front of the card.”
The site free price tag helps make it popular, but that doesn’t make users’ less serious, Mateen says, just “less desperate.”
And he says the sites’ stats show its users are not just looking to hook up.
“The stats show they take it seriously—we have had 30 marriage proposals since January of this year,” he says. “Even when people initially sign up, all it takes is one good conversation to take it seriously.”
Is Instant Gratification the Problem?
The millennial issue may not be a lack of commitment, but too many choices, says Hannah Seligson , Gen Y expert and author of New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches.
“It’s infinite options,” Seligson says. “[The dating pool] used to be the people you went to high school and college with, but now it’s like there’s always something better around the corner. You can just go on Tinder again the next day. It makes dating and people disposable.”
But Mateen argues it’s not so much about instant gratification, but lessening the pressure.
“The casual nature makes it less scary and removes the stigma associated with dating. Our generation [millennials] looks at dating in a different way, and all we want to do is increase our odds of meeting the right person.”