If you’ve ever wasted an hour of your life swiping left on a dating app or made unusually long (and not unpleasant) eye contact with someone in a café, only to walk out with your grande coffee and never see them again, you may agree that the modern dating scene is tricky. In fact, millennials really do suck at dating.
Going out and meeting people, not to mention garnering up the courage to actually say “hey, I like you, let’s go out” has always been tough. Millennials, however, are especially bad at it (So if you thought you were alone in that struggle here’s the good news- you’re not). But why is our generation so bad at building connections and engaging with the people around them?
Well, there are a number of answers to that question, some of which are explored in this short, but marvellous, video by the Atlantic.
According to the Atlantic video, young people today have become extremely “stranger averse” due to having grown up with “stranger danger” campaigns in the 80s and 90s. Parents taught their children not to talk to strangers and the message stuck. This is great when you want to avoid getting abducted, but not wonderful if you’re out in the world as a human adult and looking for a mate. As if that wasn’t enough, we all look extremely unapproachable with our AirPods in, and our eyes glued to our collection of devices (Nobody wants to be that person who interrupts and does the “please take your earphones out” mime. you know the one). In the words of Ashley Fetters, staff writer at the Atlantic, “meet-cutes are hard when nobody wants to talk to strangers”.
In fact, talking to strangers has become so undesirable that many of the interactions people previously had with strangers have become digital and automated (think robotic customer service phone lines, and the self-checkout at the supermarket). We can avoid going out and being in a restaurant full of strangers (and potential soulmates?) thanks to the rise of food delivery apps like Uber Eats. And let’s be real, the chances of your Uber Eats delivery person being The One are, statistically, quite slim. Long story short, according to Fetters, less exposure to new people means less chatting to strangers, which translates as less flirting with said strangers.
Another idea explored in the video is that, with the popularity of applications like Tinder, Hinge and Bumble, the entire dating experience is disconnected from the rest of our social experiences. As Elisabeth Sherman writes for Rolling Stone, “online dating seems to have further complicated the already mysterious process of falling in love”.
Communication is based largely on texts and not on real-time, face-to-face conversation. On top of that, there’s added pressure to live up to the outgoing (and not broke) version of ourselves from our social media profiles when we do encounter the people we chat to in the real world.
When we text the cutie we met online, it’s easy to craft witty responses and showcase our best selves. We can spend hours pondering the perfect caption to go along with the photo we got our dad to take fifty times before he got it just right, and nobody will know. It can therefore induce a fair bit of anxiety when the afore-mentioned cutie is standing before us and smelling really good, and expecting us to say something clever and funny (and horrifyingly unscripted) a la all our neatly composed Instagram captions.
It can therefore get awkward trying to live up to our online doppelgangers. According to Sherman “most Millennials project an outgoing version of [themselves] on social media that [they’re] too cautious to actually live out in reality” because they’re afraid of getting hurt emotionally or, as mentioned previously, abducted by a stranger with an unmarked van. We all want to look like we’re confident and outgoing, but many of us are too afraid to really put ourselves out there, especially if it means maintaining conversation with the person next to us on the train or in the line at the supermarket.
Not only that, but dating apps and social media have created a culture of belief that there’s always something better out there. This chronic dissatisfaction extends from travel destinations, to fashion, and of course to our relationships. Regardless of the wonderful person standing next to us, our real soul mate may be just another right swipe away (or perhaps delivering our next Uber Eats order).
It’s therefore easier than ever before for young, single people to opt-out of having in-person social experiences, and this may be harming the way we do act when we’re trying to create new relationships in the real world. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to create meaningful bonds with others, it just means that we have to find ways of figuring it out, and this is a struggle that generations before us, and generations after us don’t have.
Sherman explains that millennials are in an in-between space that is hard to navigate. “The generation ahead us is fluent in technology; those now-teenagers were raised on it. But Millennials live in two worlds: one that didn’t need the Internet to fall in love, and one that almost requires it”. Straddling these two worlds is an uncomfortable balancing act which, predictably, involves a lot of awkward silences and lame jokes, as well as snapchat filters and sentences comprised of only emojis.
The Millennial dating landscape is an awkward space, but then again, dating has always been awkward. I guarantee your parents and grandparents have bad date stories and dad-joke moments too.
It’s not all gloom and doom for us, though. We are now more likely than ever to date across racial, ethnic, or religious groups. The challenge now is just to put ourselves out there, honestly, openly and in person, the way the boomers had to do it. It just so happens that now we have more options and more efficient ways to keep in touch once we have approached that person in the café.
And THAT, my fellow Millennial singles, is very exciting.