Dating Habits Of 3 Generations

The generation you were born into can affect everything from the way you meet dates to how you prefer to communicate with a partner — including what you expect from a relationship. Read on…

By Laura Schaefer

ave you ever dated someone born in a different generation than your own? Was it challenging? Illuminating? Fun, even? We recently got to wondering if baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials have different expectations and habits when it comes to romance, so we did a little digging to find out. It turns out that there are some big differences between the generational cohorts, and, says that they have nothing to do with the magazines they subscribe to or discounts available to them on dates. Check out each of them below, started with the youngest group of daters in their early to mid-20s...

Dating Demographic #1: Millennials
Less structured dating, but with more frequent communication
“Most millennials (who are now in their twenties) are a much more laid-back and casual group when it comes to dating and love,” explains Justin Szabo, salesperson for Dara’s Diamonds in Los Angeles. “Previous generations were more structured;
Today, couples keep in constant contact through text messages and Facebook.
couples set up specific times for dates and outings, and usually, no one else tagged along. Today, couples keep in constant contact through text messages and Facebook. They communicate with each other throughout the workday, while commuting home, or when they’re spending time with other friends and family.” This constant need for communication can really alter the texture of new relationships. “The advent and proliferation of social networking sites and other social tools — Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. — makes my life and my partner’s life far more transparent to the other person,” observes Adam Nelson, 23, a graduate student in Minneapolis, MI.

Yet, as much transparency as millennials already have with their partners, there’s also been a subtle effort within the group to “curate” their interpersonal communications — something that can get a bit tiring after a while. “There is so much less face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact happening now,” explains Allison Dostal, 25, a graduate student living in Minnesota. “We say things in a text message or email that we could never say in person. We compose clever responses in hopes of shining a better light on ourselves, and in the end, it isn’t purely honest. Honest moments are harder to find — at least in the early stages of dating, anyway.”

High expectations about love — served with a side of anxiety
So, what makes millenials such successful daters? “Because they’re the ‘I get what I want’ generation, they’re much better at the chase than any other generation is,” notes Yue Xu, dating sociologist and owner of You see, younger daters see open doors where others may not. However, displaying surface confidence can often mask underlying social stress within. “People in their twenties live in a state of higher anxiety about dating and their love lives in comparison to older individuals,” says Dostal. “We are less stable in so many ways — financially, emotionally, and in our lifestyles. This can translate into feeling a bit of uncertainty in the dating world as well.”

The good news is that millennials are finding new ways to define both themselves and their romances. Having so many choices can lead to feeling more confusion, but it can also create more authentic experiences with others when they date. “Millennials are much more accepting of non-traditional relationships and open to change,” adds Szabo. “They don’t want to have ‘manufactured’ interactions between the sexes, where each person puts on his or her best face for a date in hopes of winning the other person over. Instead, for better or worse, they bare all — and want acceptance and love for who they are.”

Dating Demographic #2: Gen Xers
Living with so many options makes choosing the right partner difficult
“Generation X daters take the online off-line,” says Yue Xu. “This group grew up appreciating the Internet and technology, because it wasn’t handed to them from the very start. So, they’re the first ones to jump on trying out new online dating sites and dating apps. The biggest blunder for this
There’s a sense among boomers that there’s no reason to waste time.
generation is having too many options available without a concrete filter to help them narrow down their choices. They get what I call the ‘Buffet Effect’ when it comes to online dating; i.e., they want to try it all and always think there’s a better option out there.” Though some may find it challenging to balance these high expectations with reality, most Gen Xers have already learned some valuable love lessons at this point in their lives, which can also serve them well in the dating field. There’s nothing like having gone around the block a few times already to make relationships easier to navigate, right?

Less rushing into relationships, but greater appreciation for what they already have
“Gen Xers have either already been married before or they’ve been dating for so long that they know it’s a process, so there isn’t a rush or pressure to move things forward,” says Angela Dupont, 32, an event planner in Fort Worth, TX. “There’s no need to discuss our ‘status.’ A lot of Gen Xers have already gone around that merry-go-round before, and they are more appreciative of what they have found [in their relationships].” And Gen Xers can serve as valuable guides into this new romantic reality when they choose to date younger people. “I will say that dating someone older has made me become more focused on my future and which path I want to take in life,” says Kristin Andrzejewski, 23. “I am college-educated myself and can’t help but want to be able to provide for my girlfriend and her kids.”

Dating Demographic #3: Baby boomers
Certainty in wants and needs makes forging a new relationship challenging
“We know some things about life, and hopefully, we know ourselves and feel comfortable inside our own skin,” says author Ellen Pober Rittberg. And Aimee Elizabeth, best-selling author of Relationships & Dating Sucks! Internet Dating Horror Stories, agrees: “We are old enough to know exactly what we want in a relationship — and more importantly, what we don’t want in a relationship, so we tend to be more rigid and inflexible.” This can make meshing two individuals into a solid couple somewhat challenging for this generation. “By our fifties, we have developed habits that are hard to break and even harder to live with,” says Nanci Williams, 52, boomer dating expert and author of the memoir, Fishtails. This is especially true when the topic of money comes up. “Boomers do take someone’s financial means into account,” says Washington, D.C.-based dating and relationship coach Amy Schoen. “For example, a sixty-something widow expects his partner to be financially responsible, to have her own income, and to contribute fully to the household. Also, for my boomer clients, having children is not usually part of the dating equation. It’s more about ‘Will this new person get along with my kids (and grandkids)?’”

When it comes to dating, no time-wasting is allowed
“I cut right to the chase,” says ghostwriter Becky Blanton, 57, regarding her method of expressing interest in someone new. “I’m direct only because it makes things so much easier than fantasizing for weeks about people at church, work, around town or wherever, only to learn later on that they’re married — or gay. If I’m interested, I let them know.” There’s a sense among boomers that there’s no reason to waste time — even if most of them aren’t in a big hurry to settle down. “After years of marriage, divorce, et cetera, many are thrilled to be single and out of their previous relationships that didn’t work,” says Mary Jo Fay, a relationship expert, author, and coach living in Colorado. “They are having sex much more quickly than they did when they were 18. They are living together more, but not necessarily getting married.”

Regardless of whatever generalities people might make about any of these age groups, when it comes to love, pretty much everyone is still looking for the exactly same thing. “Deep down, I think boomers and everyone else are still just teenagers at heart,” asserts Elizabeth. “We want love, romance, time, attention and affection. That never changes!”

Laura Schaefer is the author of Why We Fall Out of Love and Planet Explorers New York City: A Travel Guide for Kids. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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