It’s a tale as old as time: the boy meets the girl at a college party or sitting in class, and the rest is history. However, as time moves forward, this story may be less of a reality and more of a rare tale within the younger generation.
Generation Z and Millennials have been a topic all their own for the past few years. With their changing ideals on society, style and living, it’s no wonder that they often clash with the older, often more traditional, generations. However, one of the largest topics of debate among many is one surrounding relationships, and more specifically, a certain question: is Generation Z improving dating culture or making it worse?
“I think a lot of it has to do with changes in women’s roles and their goals,” said Susan Stewart, professor of sociology at Iowa State. “It’s kind of thought that the women are always the ones who want to get serious; that is not true. Women have plans: you want to go to grad school, go get a job or move to a new city. Well, you can’t do any of those things if you have a serious boyfriend.”
Back not even two decades ago, it was incredibly common for life to have a pretty clear roadmap. Go to college, meet somebody, graduate, start a career, get married and have a family. It was simply the way of the world, and many were slow to question the standards that had been set. However, as the current generations have grown up, we have begun to see a large shift in how individuals are choosing to live their lives.
“I think it’s developmentally very normal to not be in long-term, committed relationships, and you can see that if you look at the average age of marriage, which is 30 for men and 28 for women,” Stewart said.
However, women are not the only ones whose lives may not be ready for a more serious commitment. In fact, it may be more normal than one thinks for younger individuals to simply not want to settle down.
College students are at an incredibly pivotal time in their lives, often trying to figure out what they want to do, who they want to be and where they want to end up in a very short span of time. This can commonly mean that priorities among young people will not be the same, and it can be difficult to find somebody who may share your view on relationships or what you want out of one.
Casual dating can sometimes be used as an escape from the pressure young people feel during this time of their lives.
“Our generation has put more of an emphasis on casual dating and hookups, so I think it’s harder to find someone who wants a long-term relationship in college,” Alainna McAuliff, junior in marketing, said.
Hookup culture has been an idea that has existed for years and certainly before Generation Z or Millennials. But for many, coming to college may be the first time they ever felt open to that experience, which may largely be the reason for hooking up being so widely seen as a college phenomenon.
“I do want to point out that young people, even though they’re doing this hooking up and causal sex, it’s still that the majority are only seeing one partner at a time. It’s a short-term deal, and a lot of them do turn into something more serious,” Stewart said. “But the point of hooking up versus not is just that there’s no commitment and no promise, which can make things really confusing and can cause a lot of hurt feelings.”
This clash of ideologies can often put individuals in a tough position. Sometimes people may feel inclined to act a certain way, even if it may not be how they really feel, or try to create a facade around who they really are in order to try to make themselves seem more appealing. Oftentimes, people simply don’t know how to act in dating scenarios.
“As a woman, I think there is still a lot of stigma for how we should act in a relationship,” McAuliff said. “For example, you want to show you care, but you don’t want to come off too strong because many men see that as clingy.”
On the other hand, men may often feel as though they need to seem ultra “masculine” or “strong” in order to impress women and suppress any emotion or strong feelings.
“Often, young men are in a very difficult position because they are told these very traditional messages of how to be a man and to be tough and strong and not cry,” Stewart said. “But on the positive side, a lot more young men are being taught about consent, which can improve the relationship, and in terms of the quality of sexual relationships, it’s much better.”
All of these ideals put together can often cause a strain on students and become just another part of their stresses in college. Some may even put off the idea of dating in order to avoid all of the complications that can seemingly come along with it.
“Overall, I think the ideas are negative because we put so much pressure on ourselves to find the right person that it adds a lot of stress and anxiety,” McAuliff said. “I think it can have negative impacts on our other relationships too because we try so hard to find that right person that we can end up hurting other people in the process.”
However, it is important to realize that perhaps these ideals are also simply coming from the change and freedom that the current generation is allowing themselves.
“I think we are becoming more individualistic as a society and, in general, more often keeping our options open, and there’s so many more opportunities,” Stewart said. “I think people are shying away from commitment, in a way, in many parts of life.”
Ultimately, however one feels about the new era of dating that is being ushered in, it is clear that people feel more freedom of choice than ever before. Waiting longer to make large life choices may not be such a bad decision but simply more of a thoughtful way to plan out your life.