To a generation like Gen Z, love seems to remain a puzzle. Although it has been proven that 1 in 3 Gen Z’ers want a relationship — more than half of the people using Tinder are between the ages of 18 and 25 — Gen Z does seem to be a lot more single than previous generations. Or, at least, it looks like we’re staying true to our stereotypical reputation of independence and self-involvement: Love is to be achieved as every other goal is, rather than something to simply fall into.
But how are these dating trends manifesting among our generation, and what do they say about us? Relationship experts spoke to Her Campus to break down the ways in which Gen Z's dating habits differ from other generations, and why that is.
How does Gen Z date?
Of course, it could be that we are new to it: After all, we’re just now reaching adulthood and adolescence (the youngest of Gen Z’ers is, like, only 9 at this point). We’re still growing into life and its emotions. But, if you take into account this generation’s discourse surrounding love, from TikTok trends about everything from “icks” in potential partners to “how the young me was excited to fall in love [but would eventually be left disappointed by real life],” it looks like we simply relate differently to the big L word.
“Gen Z loving is different when compared to other generations because most of this generation is so self-driven,” psychotherapist and sex and couples therapist Dr. Lee Phillips tells Her Campus. According to Dr. Phillips, when it comes to dating, we are very realistic about the process.
As most of us are self-absorbed in our own careers and on the pressures of graduating and having a job after college, she says that we tend to just want to date and see where things go. “Most of them have reported they are being mindful without too much pressure on themselves because they are so busy,” Dr. Phillips clarifies. This phenomenon goes as far as 66% of Gen Z being accepting of relationships that are momentary and don’t really mature into “real” commitment.
On the other hand, Carmel Jones, relationship expert and writer at The Big Fling, adds that, while we welcome situationships, if we don’t believe that a person is worth our time, then it’s a no go. “This is a valid way to date, but sometimes it burdens the ability to truly connect, let walls come down, and learn about one another,” she observes.
Jones also states that this leads to a more physically guarded posture (after all, Gen Z is not having as much sex when compared to other generations), but also one a more emotionally raw and open attitude.
Gen Z’ers, in the end, love being in touch with the world. Quite literally, actually: 3 out of 4 Gen Zers prefer to spend their free time online, and this spans through activities like texting friends, accessing entertainment, learning new things and even doing schoolwork. Even one of our core traits of being more vocal socially and politically is linked to the Internet, as over 41% of this generation have turned to social media to protest.
We're more inclined to take things slow on dating apps.
Therefore, given that the biggest Gen Z stereotype (and, to be honest, trait) is being a population of “digital natives”, it makes sense that a lot of our connection with others also comes down to social media.
“Gen Z is diving into dating apps because they are coming into dating after a worldwide pandemic,” explains Jones. But mixing the online with real life isn’t something as new: We have, according to her, “relied on devices to alleviate loneliness for quite some time now.”
Although dating apps like Tinder and Bumble have been around for a while (and we are not the first ones to tap into those apps), the wave of new, young users have taken a different approach to using them. Slow dating — that is, getting to know people through the internet for a long time before actually going out — seems to be the thing if you’re looking for the perfect match online.
Tinder CEO Renate Nyborg perfectly summarized slow dating in an interview with Fortune: “You match with someone, you chat, you go on an Animal Crossing date, you chat some more, you exchange Spotify playlists, and then two months later, you might go on a date.”
Gen Z might be living up to its reputation as the "loneliest" generation.
Still, even if it’s slow, dating through the internet takes away from meeting people more organically, in public settings and real life scenarios, says Dr. Phillips. “Gen Z is often referred to as the ‘loneliest generation’ because of social media. I have seen more of this generation isolated because of it,” she adds.
Besides, social media plays a huge part in Gen Z’s dating lives even outside of dating apps. TikTok users give unsolicited relationship advice and tarot readings to their followers all the time. They spoon feed you reasons why your partner is definitely cheating on you and how you should totally manipulate your situationship. Nearly 40% of Gen Z prefer to search on TikTok and Instagram over Google Search and will probably take those things to heart, setting a dangerous precedent for the impact of social media on dating behaviors.
Social media and dating apps both have also considerably expanded our dating pool: Because they bring us closer to people we probably wouldn’t get to know in real life, it gives us the feeling that maybe, if you swipe just enough, you’ll find someone that is perfect for you and is everything you’ve been looking for (even the unrealistic parts). Or, at least, someone “better” than the ones you surround yourself with IRL.
The media is giving us unrealistic expectations for love.
“Gen Z is flooded with what relationships ‘should’ look like on social media. Previous generations got this information from books and movies,” Jones tells Her Campus. About social media, she argues, “We are blurring the line between reality and fantasy." This is eerily familiar to the hyperrealistic idealization we used to associate with media and entertainment.
A concept coined by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, hyperrealism is the inability to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality. That is, in postmodern times, we try to mirror our real-life relationships after what we see in fiction, whether those scenarios are within possibility of happening or not. This can bleed even into, you guessed it, social media: Often bombarded by picture-perfect moments and perfectly timed videos, we set them as the standard we should seek out. AKA, #relationshipgoals. But, as stated by Baudrillard himself in his book Simulation and Simulacra, this creates a “generation by models of real without origin.”
Or, a generation that follows standards that don’t even exist outside of the screen. By expecting our life to play out as if it were a fanfic or a romcom, we are often left unfulfilled in our own relationships. This goes hand in hand with the high standards set by trends like “he’s a 10 but” and made-up red flags.
“Gen Z’ers are seeking transparency, authenticity, and longevity in relationships. However, they are bombarded with endless options and constant ways to compare themselves, which leads to short-term connections,” says Jones.
So, “loneliest generation” label aside, this does mean something — and that is that, yes, Gen Z loves more cautiously than other generations, and may tend to be more picky with potential partners. But then why shouldn’t we date differently, since we are so different from other generations in everything else as well?