The following was cowritten with our go-to millennial, Sarah Marcantonio:
Not only is it challenging for Generation X to understand the new millennial mating rules of the 21st century, it's difficult for millennials themselves to understand them, since there's often so much grey area. Here, we try to define the terms explicitly, so we can all get on the same dating page. Even though dating is dead.
- Dating or Going on Dates: This does NOT happen anymore. It's too old fashioned, too formal. The best you'll get is coffee, a casual drink, or hanging out at someone's house or apartment. If you want to be taken out to a nice dinner, take yourself. Even if people do get together in a way that an older generation would consider an official date, millennials will never call it a "date."
- "Talking": This means texting between two people who have a clear interest in one another in some romantic or sexual way, but who aren't ready to make anything official. It may include face-to-face communication and/or sex, though it's not a requirement. A.k.a. hanging out.
- Hooking Up: Some kind of early sexual exchange without commitment. This can be anything from intercourse to just making out, though its usually more NC-17 than PG. Hooking up, no matter how good the sex is or how many orgasms were had, does not determine or inform seriousness, exclusivity or commitment.
- The Quick Jump: After talking or hooking up, if both parties are interested in a relationship, they will eventually become significant others. There is no in between phase where they are going on dates. Things are quicker today: it's a yes or a no, a few short weeks of being unofficial, followed by a serious relationship. There is an extreme casual and an extreme formal, and pretty much nothing in between.
- Dating Apps: The method of choice among young millennials for meeting new people for sex and/or relationships. Tinder is the go to app, but others include Happn, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, and, for an exclusively LGBTQ crowd, Grindr. With Tinder et al, connections can go in either one of two ways: 1) There's a mutual understanding that the two people want sex only -- that can be explicitly said or come across through the language that's being used (for example, "Do you wanna come over and watch Netflix?" implies sex). Or 2) actual dates are made (even though they're not called "dates"), gone on, and repeated before the sex is had. While the goal might be a real relationship, the likelihood of that ultimately happening with Tinder is about as likely as going on a "date"...with Johnny Depp.
- Online Personals: OKCupid, Match, et al, are totally acceptable ways to meet people. There is no longer any stigma. Generally, online personals are used by a slightly older crowd, for more serious relationships -- though online personals do still work for casual sex. The meet-ups that result from online personals may resemble more traditional dates, but again, they're never called "dates." Contrary to popular belief, online dating is not that different from dating in the "good old days" (i.e. the 20th century) -- now there's just technology involved.
- Communication (or Lack Thereof): You might think, with all of this new technology allowing people to connect and stay in touch via websites, apps and texting, that communication about romantic expectations and assumptions might be better than ever. You'd be wrong. While these terms are widely used by this generation, they are still incredibly ambiguous, and different people have their own, different definitions. This often leads to total confusion and misunderstanding. (And that's not even counting catfishing, the act of purposely misrepresenting yourself online in order to get attention, love, a cheap thrill, etc.)
- Ghosting: This is the very uncool phenomenon of disappearing on someone after you've "hung out" for a bit. Just dropping off the face of the earth -- poof! -- because you don't want to deal with the messiness of breaking up. You figure, hey, this isn't official, there's nothing really actually to end, so I'm just going to pretend we never existed. No texts, no calls, no explanation, nada. And when your INsignificant other reaches out via technology for some kind of closure, you just ignore them until they get the hint. A survey from Plenty of Fish say 80% of millennials have been ghosted. Real nice.
- Gender Roles: While men are still usually the ones to initiate talking, hanging out, and hooking up, it's much more common -- and acceptable -- in the 21st century for women to initiate than it was in the 20th century (and now women are being rewarded for it, instead of shunned). Similarly, casual sex is much more acceptable for young women to engage in without shame these days. Perhaps that's because casual sex before a commitment is the rule now, rather than the exception. Even though that happened plenty in the 20th century, there seems to be less wishful thinking about it now (i.e. there's no "I'm really hopeful that giving him oral will really show how much I care and am interested in something more serious"). It's much more universally understood that unless serious, deliberate words have been exchanged about exclusivity and commitment and intention, there should be no meaning attached to hooking up. Just because you got naked together, assume nothing.
- The Best Way to a Relationship: While dating apps and online personals can work, most young millennials begin real relationships from either long-term friendships, work connections, or by meeting friends of friends. Again, there are no dates. (Can we make that any more clear?) People begin to "talk" via text or in person; this is followed by "hooking up" a few times; and eventually there will be a discussion about whether or not both people want a commitment. A lot of people like to argue that the millennial generation is less prone to be in serious relationships, monogamous relationships, or relationships at all. But that's just not true. The difference between the generations is not the relationship status of most of the population--it's just how they got there.