Teenage Gen Zs are forming romantic relationships in a post-apocalyptic world, and they’re learning from the mistakes that Millennials have made before them. Much as with social media, Millennials are playing the role of guinea pig. Millennials adopted social media in their formative years, made plenty of mistakes, learned some lessons, and paved the way for Gen Zs who have adopted a wiser approach to crafting their digital personas.
Now the same is true in the dating sphere as Millennials have tested the waters of dating in the digital era, learning the ups and downs of platforms like Tinder, Happen, and Bumble and the long-term effects they can have on one’s romantic outlook. As teens today get serious about dating, they’re not only leveraging the learning from their predecessors but also bringing their unique generational values to bear on their relationships.
Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history, and that is driving their open-mindedness when it comes to relationships. Much like Millennials, a majority have already or are open to dating someone of a different socio-economic background, someone with a different religion, or someone of a different race, according to our research.
However, a key shift among Gen Z that makes them quite different from their Millennial counterparts is their radically progressive ideas of gender, including when it comes to relationships. Millennials struggle with evolving roles and norms among men and women, and, as a result, they don’t know how to act in romantic situations; but Gen Z doesn’t think the situation is all that complicated. For example, Zs are more likely than their older peers to feel couples should split the cost of dates, whereas Millennials would prefer to avoid the question altogether and bear the burden themselves, regardless of their gender.
Zs even go one step further, being more open than Millennials when it comes to dating an effeminate male or a masculine female. They also have a surprising level of maturity in their teen years, with 9 in 10 believing that men and women can be friends without forming romantic attachments, compared to 8 in 10 Millennials who feel this way.
Although they’ve learned to avoid many of the pitfalls of online dating, technology has a significant impact on teen dating life. Gen Zs are working on building their EQ (Emotional Intelligence), but a significant level of their social interaction happens online and on mobile, and that doesn’t replace face-to-face communication, which is particularly key in romantic relationships. It follows that 66% of teen Zs say technology makes dating confusing.
Our research also found that Zs are far more likely than Millennials to use digital messaging to stay in touch with their significant other throughout the day. A third of teen Zs (33%) even acknowledge that they use emojis to express their romantic feelings for their boyfriends or girlfriends. While this may be somewhat skewed by their adolescence, such habits formed during their formative years can be hard to break as they grow older. Digital communication, including its ease and convenience as well as its challenges in conveying emotions accurately, will likely be a long-term factor in Zs relationships as they grow older.
Despite all the changes Zs bring to modern dating and relationships, there are still some standard issues for teens and dating. A third acknowledge feeling social pressure to date or be in a relationship, and more than half admit that they over-analyze their relationships. Likewise, they still appreciate classic romantic moments: their ideal dates still involve dinner, movies, and listening to music.
Considering the evolution in teens’ dating lives, it’s no wonder that marketers have failed to keep up with the times. More than half of teens feel brands and marketers don’t accurately depict modern dating and relationships in their campaigns. Teens’ open-mindedness goes well beyond questions of race, religion, and background to include a very different perspective on the roles of men and women in relationships, which is rarely reflected in advertising.
At the same time, Gen Z’s reliance on technology for dating reveals an opportunity for brands to make connecting a bit easier, such as how Tinder teamed up with Spotify to unite singles who like the same music. Dating is still one of the toughest parts of one’s “awkward teen years,” and, like the generations that went before them, Zs would welcome help from brands to ease the sense of stress and anxiety around navigating romantic relationships.