For those of us in the 40s and 50s, “Dating” as teenagers was very straightforward. With no dating apps, we had far fewer potential dates since we were limited to classmates or friends (or friends’ friends). The only decision we had to make was “Do I like this person?” Our parents only jobs were to teach us the “birds and bees”; make sure they met our date; and that we came home by curfew time.
Fast forward twenty years…as parents of this generation we now have to contend with a much different dating scene where the predominant culture is defined by dating apps and online dating. To quote the great Bob Dylan, “The Times They are a-Changin”. As parents, it’s important to understand the new dating culture and social norms. In this article, Cocktail Chatter will try to distill the major characteristics of our children’s dating culture.
- Throw out Traditional Gender Labels and Welcome Gender Fluidity: To understand today’s culture requires understanding that there has been a fundamental shift in the two most basic components that defines a relationship, how a teen views their gender and sexuality. In our time, the concept of “gender” was binary; you were either a male or a female. Now, more teenagers are rejecting the gender labels of ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ in favor of gender fluidity which is basically the concept that gender is not “an either or” but a more flexible spectrum in which someone views their gender. In their study involving 81,000 9th and 11th graders in Minnesota, the Journal of Pediatrics researchers found that 2,200 of the 81k students identified themselves as transgender or gender non-conforming. The 3% who self-identified as non-traditional labels in this study was much higher than the .7% of teens aged 13-17 years in a study done three years prior by UCLA. Noted Daniel Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, “Youth are rejecting this binary notion and are asking adults to keep up”. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also sent out an advisory to pediatricians advising them to use gender-neutral terms and encourage teens to talk about their emerging sexual identities. Because there are so many new terms that parents need to be aware of, we have a separate post that list and defines new terms related to gender and sexuality. Bottom Line: Mom and Dad, don’t fight it and accept that our kids prefer to be gender-fluid when it comes to their own self-identity.
- Young Adults and Teens are Sexually Fluid: In addition to believing in gender fluidity, today’s teens ascribe to “sexual fluidity”. Like the term ‘gender fluidity’, sexual fluidity is rejects that there are only the traditionally defined sexuality (such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bi-sexuality). Rather, sexuality is seen to flow along a spectrum that can also change at different times in their life. In a recent survey of 1,000 U.K and U.S. people aged 13-26, 57%, of the teens said that they did not fit within the traditional definition of heterosexuality, and 47% said that they prefer not to strictly define their sexuality, operating on a more fluid scale.
Why has there been such a dramatic shift in how gender and sexuality is viewed by our children’s generation? Many experts believe that these attitudinal changes are the result of social media and the increasing influence that celebrities wield. One celebrity who has almost singlehandedly brought about an openness to sexual fluidity is Miley Cyrus who has spoken openly about her own sexual identity confusion and evolution. According to theK research, 90% of those polled said that the internet makes it easier to explore their sexuality free from external pressures and at their own pace. Millennials are also predisposed to sexual fluidity. According to a survey of 33,728 participants conducted by the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of men reporting male sexual partners had doubled from 1990 to 2014. For women, that percentage was more than doubled in response to having sexual experiences with other women. The acceptance of these sexual interactions quadrupled for American adults. Compared to the period of 1973-1990 in which the acceptance of these sexual practices only increased from 11% to 13%, the percentage jumped to 41% of all adults and 63% of Millennials. Noted Ryne Sherman of Florida University, “Millennials are markedly more accepting of same sex behavior than Gen Xers were at the same age.” If you’re interested in the wide range of sexuality that now exists, read this article.
- Understand What “Pansexuality” Means: One of the most popular sexuality along the sexuality spectrum for young adults is “pansexuality”. Put simply, a “pansexual” is someone who is attracted emotionally, romantically and /or sexually to people of all genders and sexes. There are a lot of false characteristics ascribed to “pansexuality” such as it being the same as bi-sexuality. If you want to learn more about pansexuality, read our post on “The 10 Things You Need to Know About Pansexuality”.
- Familiarize Yourself with the New Pronouns That are Gender Neutral: With the rise of gender fluidity has come a whole new set of pronouns that are meant to address gender neutral people. It is very important to be mindful and respectful of genderqueer people by referring them to their proper pronoun in your personal and professional interactions. In this article, we provide a more comprehensive guide to the use of non-binary pronouns and a chart of what they are. If you are unsure of which pronoun to use, the safest approach is to use traditional gender-neutral pronouns or terms such as “they”, “them”, “their”, “everyone”, and that “person”. For example, one might say, “I met the marketing manager and “they” said “they’d get back to me”. Yes, for all “grammarphiles”, usage of pronouns in the manner required for gender neutrality is grammatically incorrect. But, isn’t a person’s identity more important than grammatical errors?!
- Our Children Use Dating Apps to Meet Dating Partners: Who says dating apps are just for adults? According to the most recent Pew Research Survey, the use of online dating sites or mobile apps by young adults has nearly tripled since 2013! For the 18-24-year old’s, from 10% in 2013 to 27% in 2019. The Survey found that a substantial percentage of growth was due to this age groups increased use of mobile dating apps. Currently, about 22% of the 19-24-year olds used mobile dating apps versus 5% in 2013. Where are parents had less responsibilities because of how simple our dating lives were, today’s parents must be more proactive. For tips on how to handle if your child is using dating apps for online dating, please read this article.. Of special note is that dating apps have made it easy for criminals to meet, seduce, and hurt young teens, and special caution is needed to avoid being “catfished”. Please go here for how to handle predators in the digital world.
- Many Romances are Carried Online without Ever Actually Meeting: Talking about how pervasive the concept of virtual reality is in our lives… many young adult romances are kept online for an extended period of time, and in some cases, indefinitely. So, Cocktail Chatterers, just because your teen hasn’t brought around boyfriend or girlfriend to the house doesn’t mean that she may not have a boyfriend. He could just be lurking in the digital world! According to a Pew Research Survey, one-third of people who have used online dating have never actually gone on a date with someone they met on these sites! In a fascinating article, “For Teens, Romances Where the Couple Never Meets are Now Normal”, Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Mims noted this phenomenon. In one of his accounts, a 24-year old teacher related her online affair when she was 15-years-old. Over a year, she and her then online boyfriend constantly texted, chatted over voice apps, and even skyped. After a year, she finally met her boyfriend (only because they happen to be in the same state) and within 20 minutes broke up with him! What’s really shocking is that this girl’s parents have never known that their middle school daughter had a boyfriend for an entire year. In another example, a woman told of how she found out two years after breaking up with an online boyfriend whom she had begun dating at 14 years old that he was in jail the entire time of their online relationship! Bottom line is that even though you don’t physically see any boyfriend, don’t be surprised if your sweet little girl is dating online
- “Hookup” Culture: One of the biggest differences between our generation and that of today’s is the dating culture. In the past, “dating” referred to a natural progression of liking someone, spending time with that person on dates, and if successful, developing a steady relationship. This dating sequence (quaintly known as “courtship”) involved a fair amount of time in which partners got to know each before becoming intimate. In today’s dating culture, young adults bypass this courtship for “hookups” in order to fulfill their emotional and sexual needs. The American Psychological Association defines “hookups” as brief sexual encounters without the promise, or desire for, a more traditional romantic relationship. The term “hookup” can range from kissing, touching, to vaginal penetration and is usually short term (often a single incident). For any of us in our generation, it’s really important not to jump to conclusions when you hear that someone had a “hookup”. It is estimated that between 60-80% of college students have engaged in a hookup during their college years. Although “hookups” may satisfy an immediate emotional and sexual need, many experts caution against hookups since hookups can create a sense of false intimacy without having had a true deeper emotional connection develop. Professor Cronin of Boston College who has created a course in dating explains the need for real dating versus hooking up in this video.
- The Divisive Political Climate and Feminist #Me Too Movement Has Confused Both Genders on Dating Etiquette: Similar to what is happening in our society, the dating world has also been affected by our current polarized According to a 2017 study conducted by Yale and Stanford University, political similarity is a top priority for daters. New dating sites based upon political bent have been created. One new dating site, TrumpSingles.com has signed up over tens of thousands of daters. In the dating app OkCupid, 72% of their users said that supporting President Trump would be a deal breaker in their relationship.
Similarly, movements like the #MeToo has led to confusion of dating protocol and what is acceptable behaviors, on the part of both genders. One dating site, “Three Day Rule” found that a poll of 3,000 revealed that single daters are “extremely confused” about dating, especially in the first three months following the #MeToo Movement. “Men are concerned about crossing boundaries, having their actions misinterpreted, or even adhering to traditional gender roles like paying for a date”, said Talia Goldstein, CEO and Founder of Three-Day Rule. On the other hand, women complained of being too worn out by inappropriate behavior, or triggered by news, to want to spend time with men. Meanwhile, dating apps which offer a way to meet a ton of people to date has created a more superficial dating feel and expediency. After all, if you don’t like this fish, you just throw it back in the water and voila, dating apps like Plenty of Fish will supply you with a new stream of fishes!
- Some Frequent Patterns of Young Adult Relationships That You Should Be Aware of: The influence of the “hookup” culture is reflected in the relationship patterns you may notice, with many seeming to not be based upon the romantic notion of love, but on convenience with no sense of true emotional commitment that lacks being authentic. For example, “digital soulmates” in which partners interact as if they are boyfriend/girlfriend cannot be considered a “real relationship” because it is based upon what someone ones to show of themselves (“ the idealized version”) and chances are that these partners will never meet in person.
- Young Adults are Less Likely to Marry or Postpone Marriage: With the convergence of “Late Adulting”, less economic prosperity, and a dating culture of hookups and dating apps, it is not surprising that the percentage of marriages in the 20s and 30s have declined. One survey taken of the 25 – 34 age group in 2000 and 2015 supports this point. In 2000, the data showed that the number of married 23-34-year-olds outnumbered their unmarried cohorts of 55% to 34%. Fifteen years later in 2015, that statistic was reversed with unmarried 20-34-year olds outnumbering married cohorts 53% to 40%.
Parents, Caretakers, and Youth counselors, you can see that our children face a far different dating world in almost every aspect: (1) how they meet prospective dates; (2) how they develop their relationship; (3) confusion over dating etiquettes like who pays on the first day; and (4) a far different polarized world that has taken the magic and fun out of dating. So, the next time your daughter or son bemoans their dating situation, or you wonder why your 20 year has never dated, you’ll understand and empathize that it’s not easy these days!
****Cocktail Chatterers, did this article help you understand the dating scene for our younger generation?****
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