The Millennial Dating Game
Dad didn’t get it.
My sister took a deep breath and condescended, “Snap-chatting is the new tweeting is the new Facebook messaging is the new texting is the new calling is the new letter-writing is the new caveman drawing.”
His gray-tinged brows furrowed in perplexity. He still didn’t get it.
“What happened to picking up the telephone, calling a girl and asking her on a date? If you like her, you like her; if you don’t, you don’t! None of this snap-tweet-gram business.”
My 66-year-old father was trying to grapple with one of the many conundrums of Generation Y: the evolution of the dating game.
The communication landscape in America has changed drastically in the past 20 years due to the digitization of Millennials’ social and romantic lives. Our generation has set out to overthrow the simple, long-standing rituals of courtship, and instead introduce social media to the mix… leaving traditional “dating” or “not dating” stamps behind. In this age of ambiguous text messaging, Facebook stalking and morphing gender roles, research shows that Millennials are having an increasingly difficult time navigating the path from casual hook-ups to the ultimate title – FBO (Facebook official).
I agreed to get drinks with a fellow from my History 140 class, Luke. He’s a stout wrestler with Backstreet Boyesque gelled hair, distractingly well-groomed arched eye-brows, and a scent reminiscent of a Miami nightclub. He also decided that prematurely calling me “babe” was smooth. If I’m honest, I agreed to drinks mostly for the obvious: free drinks.
From class, we scuttled to the nearest bar, Top of the Hill. Over the course of the next hour, I discovered that I had more in common with the Jersey Shore wannabe than I ever would have thought; we were both avid fans of Quentin Tarantino and the Yankees, journalism majors and skiing enthusiasts… admittedly, all broad enough passions to be mere coincidence.
Then things got weird.
Mid-sentence, he name-dropped my sister, Neely.
A chill ran up my spine as if Freddy Krueger was smelling my hair from behind. I had never mentioned my sister’s name to Luke, much less that I even had siblings.
“Hang on – how’d you know about Neely?” I inquired, half-jokingly.
“Oh, uh, you mentioned her earlier!” Luke spit out.
I didn’t bother holding my tongue.
“No I didn’t…”
He was trapped.
“Ok… this is sorta embarrassing… but I think I saw her in one of your Facebook pi-“
I downed my drink and ran.
…Not really. I made a swift, polite departure.
Things didn’t work out between Luke and me… shocking, I know. However, thanks to him, I gained three gratuities: two Dirty Shirleys and an invaluable lesson on 21st-century dating. Ladies and gents beware: that person sitting across from you could know more about you than you know about yourself – before having even met you.
Thanks to Google and Facebook, all the interests traditionally introduced on a first date by face-to-face conversation (gasp!) – background, education, politics, etc. – can be covered beforehand, face-to-screen.
Some men, like UNC-Chapel Hill Sophomore Harrison, find the social media loophole in dating to be a convenient and even economically-sound tool.
“Honestly, it’s nice to be able to predict and avoid disaster dates through Facebook stalking… I don’t have the time or money to take a bunch of girls out blindly and hope that one’s cool. Facebook gives me a good idea if we’ll get along or not.”
This almost Darwinistic approach to dating – using Facebook to weed out the weak and unfitting – has become a common practice amongst Generation Yers, female and male alike.
I’m guilty. I have a strict “three selfies and you’re out” Instagram policy. If his only visible Facebook communication is with his mother, red flag. And don’t get me started on Twitter… if Nickelback lyrics, sex jokes, incorrect usage of the word “your,” or the phrase “turnt” appear on his page, I’m judging. Hard.
Call it merciless, call it cheating, call it creeping… whatever it is, online lurking has become an essential step in the dating process.
“I’ve gotta like ‘virtual you’ just as much as I like you in person,” University of Arizona senior Hollie Dowdle says.
While the Internet can be a useful tool in accessing and communicating with a sea of potential mates, the whole process is eerily similar to online shopping, objectifying people as well as relationships. What’s missing too is what social psychologist Eli Finkel calls the “gut level evaluation—momentary, affective reactions to each other.”
One morning in January, something unusual happened. I was chased down, quite literally, while on a run. His name was Dan. He said I caught his eye and that he’d love to take me to dinner. After my initial speechlessness, I agreed. Not because of his smile or his pecs, but purely because I was amused by his anachronistic boldness. Later that day, I described the incident to my roommates.
“He did WHAT!!?!”
My friends sat in stunned silence. Then, finally, a quick verdict from Megan.
“What a weirdo.”
When did it become taboo to woo?
In the pre-Facebook era, which was also the pre-cell phone, pre-answering machine era, a guy would have to surmount several intimidating barriers to ask a girl out. He’d have to call her home and face a parent answering the phone. Or he’d have to call a dorm hall and potentially face going through the girl’s peers before talking to her. He’d be asking her out cold; no feelers put out or digital flirting on social media. It was all about the chase – intrigue, mystery.
Now, she’s accessible, unveiled, a click away. No intimidating dad to maneuver through. No palm-sweating phone call, after a couple of rehearsed speeches. No pleasantries and small talk – the guy already has all the knowledge he needs.
In addition, morphing gender roles (the rise of the alpha female) have led to a world where it’s unclear who should take the lead in heterosexual relationships. Seventy-six percent of girls say guys don’t make an adequate effort, while sixty-four percent of guys say girls should take more of a role initiating relationships. Millennial dating expectations are more jumbled and confused than Miley Cyrus’ wardrobe choices.
This summer I found myself in the boonies of Missouri with a bunch of 12-year-olds shipped in from inner cities all over the country. In charge of a cabin-full of preteen divas, I got an intimate glimpse of what the next generation is shaping up to be.
Confiscating phones and ipods was a nightmare. Many girls acted as if I had macheted their parents; they swore that they wouldn’t last the week without Instagram, Tinder, Twitter, and a plethora of other apps I’d never even heard of.
One comment of protest was particularly memorable:
“But Tyson has been liking my pics all week, and if I stop instagramming now, he’ll stop liking me!”
Looks like Generation Y is passing the torch.