I am the youngest of a generation in an Irish-blooded, Catholic-brainwashed and Boston-bred family. Both of my parents come from families of six children, with various offspring scattered across the Northeast. By some timing-related phenomenon, my 1998 birth marks me as the only member of my entire extended family past the cusp of being a millennial, and instead I reside in the same cohort as my Gen-Z classmates.
Wrapping up my college career, I live in a microcosm of perpetually horny kids in their very early twenties often too unsure of their own sense of self to navigate sexual or romantic fields with any measure of competence.
As my fellow liberal arts scholars and I make terrible mistake after terrible mistake in hopes of establishing any form of interpersonal connection, I regularly have the opportunity to watch my older brothers and our cousins make serious commitments to their various partners.
And, after comparing my and my peers’ romantic experiences to those of my older siblings, I have been able to identify some of the differences between how Gen-Zers date and how millennials date. Below are the three big ones.
1. The Boring Is Everything
Both my older brothers are hardened to the post-graduate world at this point. The resilience that the college lifestyle had instilled in them has faded in exchange for their degree; they are too deep into their real lives to get actively excited over cheap wine and free meals anymore.
The free-love environment that I have become accustomed to, where kids are so terrified of commitment their sense of individuality can literally crumble a relationship, contrasts greatly with the lives they live.
It would appear that, in conjunction with the obligations of the “real world” coming to call, millennials often bask in the conflicts of minutiae in an attempt to attain some form of inner peace. This acts as a blessing and a curse. While the idea of taking great joy in the simplest forms of recreation, such as eating a decent meal, is a prospect that appeals greatly to many of my peers and I, it is accompanied by a degree of complication.
Once romantic partners integrate one another into the quotidian aspects of their less-exciting lives, the space one has to escape from romantic conflicts becomes essentially non-existent. The simple activities they rely on to get through the day are potentially corrupted by incorporating a partner into them.
One of the biggest fights my brother has ever had with his girlfriend of nine years was over a game of Risk; another older friend of mine ranted to me for 20 minutes about a book his girlfriend made him read that she then neglected to read herself — what seemed to him a monstrous betrayal. (I promise you, no matter how trivial that sentence might have appeared to read it felt exponentially dumber to type. These are just a small number of the issues that could come from the deep-seated commitments of my predecessors’ generation.)
2. Long-Distance Is Much More Standard
The culture at my mid-sized liberal arts college is so compressed that seeing a completely new face is nearly impossible. The homogeneity of my generation’s cohorts saturates itself with almost identical circles of peers whose overlap in cultural fixations is staggering.
In an environment where it’s inconceivable not to encounter someone you know within a half-mile’s distance, the idea of participating in a long-distance relationship has a strong sense of taboo around it. Gen-Zers borderline suffocate one another with their physical and digital personas, and the thought of withdrawing from this exchange is unheard of.
After college, it seems like this has the potential to change. Perhaps it’s the lack of a guarantee that you’ll be surrounded by similarly aged, like-minded people, but a switch must flip at some point.
As a personal example, both of my older brothers have been fostering long-distance relationships for years. Surviving off iMessage and FaceTime, they somehow (inconceivably to me) attain regular emotional satiation via pixels on a screen.
I am completely unaccustomed to relying on anyone’s remote presence in my life to influence its trajectory, yet something about not having an academic, extra-curricular-centered lifestyle must shift gears in the brain’s emotional center to accommodate for this.
3. At Least Dating Apps Still Play the Same Ambiguous Role
Despite the changes that will come upon college graduation, by all reports it seems that neither generation that came of age in the era of Tinder have come to a unanimous conclusion about how you’re supposed to use it appropriately.
Everyone I know between the ages of 18 and 28 knows someone who has found a long-term romantic partner via Tinder, and these same people also witness their peers rely on the app for the carnal satiation of a one-night stand.
The final constant I’ve picked up on in the romantic sphere of millennials is the over-bearing pressure of watching your peers get married. My brothers attend weddings several times per year, and with each one comes an inescapable sense of pressure to follow suit.
As intimidating as some of these radical changes to the romantic scope appear, I suppose that when the prospect of marriage becomes a desirable one, any attempt to distract oneself from that stressor will appear viable.