Cuddles and commitment versus Netflix and chill: A guide to millennial dating

Image credit: Adrian Mathew Lam

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, RAG blind date just behind us, and daily submissions pouring into Crushbridge, love is definitely in the air and there has been no better time for me to take on millennial dating.

The first thing that springs to mind when I think about millennial dating is that no-one really takes it as seriously as in previous generations. Your parents may well have met each other at university or college (mine did) and yet now we find ourselves at their age, with – for my part at least – no immediate plans to meet the one, settle down, and start saving up for an Aga cooker.  

Since those distant days, the rules of romance have been thoroughly deconstructed. It’s now okay to be looking for casual dating only, or nothing at all, to get married and start a family later in life or not to, to decide exactly what it is you want or don’t want and to pursue it. Our understanding of sexuality is broadening and the double-standards which women have always faced in dating have begun gradually to change: it won’t be quite the scandal for me as it might have been for our foremothers to say that I don’t want to get married, or that my career comes first for now. 

Initially these trends make dating as a millennial seem somewhat terrifying because the rulebook has been thrown out and no-one really seems to know what they’re doing. But when you take a moment to consider the fact that the rulebook was written by the brother forces of religion and patriarchy, it can begin to look incredibly freeing, particularly if you’re a woman and/or LGBT+. Love, sex, romance and relationships are all very complex and distinct things, so trying to constrain them into sets of rules, protocol and even laws has always seemed somewhat bemusing to me. 

I understand that these changes mean that some people find that they don’t know where they stand in the world of dating (which in itself is becoming a slightly outdated concept) and it might seem depressing if you would choose cuddles and commitment over Netflix and chill. But I have faith that as the voices of those who have previously been ignored gradually become clearer (and I do not exaggerate here: men used to ask women’s fathers for their daughter’s hand in marriage) so too will what people actually want from one another and what is and is not okay. 

It’s not okay, for instance, to try to hit on someone when they’re wearing headphones or reading a book – no matter what the infamous 'Modern Man' blog might tell you – yet it would be okay to speak to that same person later if they were sitting next to you at a bar. It’s all about context and consent – the same way you might approach a celebrity for an autograph after a gig but not while they’re having a meal with their family – and really doesn’t have to be that hard to grasp, although it’s horribly capitalised on by so-called pick up artists. 

It’s for this reason that I’m going to defend one of the major players in the millennial dating world: Tinder. There are many, many criticisms I could make of Tinder (with safety being number one and superficiality perhaps being number two) but the double-swipe policy is basically the definition of consent. It also helps to fill the vacuum of uncertainty left where the rulebook has been thrown out, empowering people to take control of their own love life. 

The obvious drawback here is that such a conversation is over text rather than in person, and people can be very different online, but I’ve personally seen Tinder conversations blossom into dates, sex, relationships and even marriage. I saw a tweet not too long ago that read something along the lines of ‘I meet men the old fashioned way: never’ and I think that alone demonstrates how Tinder – or Grindr, OkayCupid, Bumble, Happn and so forth – can be a good thing. 

They’re also a good thing for people who want to date or talk to new people but don’t have the confidence to talk to someone in person, or perhaps suffer from anxiety. Millennials are increasingly busy, career-focussed and under immense pressure in our daily lives, so a quick-app based solution seems to me an innovative and a preferable solution to Dutch courage, and not just a lazy short-cut. 

What makes Tinder actually work for millennials, however, is the fact that it’s gone mainstream amongst young people. Not too long ago online dating was generally considered a last-ditch attempt for the desperate, and was usually associated with the middle-aged, divorcees and catfishing: you certainly wouldn’t admit to your friends that you met your partner online. Although first seen merely as a hotbed of hookups, Tinder has helped reverse these generalisations and made online dating more popular and socially acceptable, as well as accessible for people of all different tastes and interests. 

I could argue that the reason for this popularity is because of our diminishing attention spans, obsessions with technology, and need for validation; I could argue that it’s our entitlement to quick-fix solutions of basic needs (I’m looking at you, Deliveroo), as so many others have. But maybe the real reason we’ve taken something once seen as desperately uncool, layered it up with our characteristic attempts at self-awareness (“my mates signed me up”, “I’m just on here for jokes”), is because we can see that it works and, at the end of the day, we’re all just human and need to be loved. Just like everybody else does. 

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