published Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Hanging out, hooking up: Traditional dating is spurned by many Millennials

Julian Suarez talks on the phone while hanging out with friends at Moccasin Bend Brewery.
Julian Suarez talks on the phone while hanging out with friends at Moccasin Bend Brewery.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

MILLENNIAL TOOLKIT

Some dating websites and apps to connect to your next conquest.

OKCupid: A free dating website, where users upload pictures and a bio and can link their Instagram accounts. An algorhythm rates the percentage chance that you'll get along with a prospective mate, based on questions like, "How would you feel if your boyfriend or girlfriend had dinner with their ex?"

How About We: Mostly free, lets users suggest a date idea: "How about we ... go to CiCi's Pizza and play in the arcade." "How about we ... ride the 27 bus all the way to the end of the line."

Tinder: A smartphone app that allows users to browse pictures of singles nearby and message them. Swipe right for yes, left for no, and only message with mutual admirers.

Down: The hook-up for hookups, linked to your Facebook account. Swipe to ask for a date, a hookup or swipe them away forever.

Tingle: Check in when you're out and about and see who's in the vicinity. Grindr is another version of this for gay men.

Lulu: This app lets women review the guys they have dated or hooked up with, using a number rating and hashtags.

SnapChat: A picture-sharing site that lets users send a picture ... that disappears forever after 15 seconds.

The last date Becky Ribeiro went on ended badly.

She had connected with him on Tinder, a smartphone app that connects nearby singles, and met him for drinks. Halfway through, she returned from the bathroom to find another girl talking to her date. When she got home, she did some research on the date thief and discovered they had mutual Facebook friends.

Ribeiro found a post by one of the mutual friends, commented on it and tagged the guy involved, which spurred a lengthy comment thread. Later that week, a picture posted on Instagram showed Ribeiro that the guy and the date thief ended up going out days later -- after he had broken plans to meet Ribeiro. She blocked him from all her social media circles.

"Needless to say, I never heard from him again," she says.

Sound complicated? Welcome to the world of millennial dating, which is heavy on technology and light on labels, trends the media has had a field day puzzling over in recent years. A USA Today survey reported recently that 69 percent of a group of 2,647 singles in the 18 to 59 range were confused about what constitutes an actual date.

Long gone is the traditional model of one-on-one dinners, movies and various dating excursions for several weeks or months, all leading up to "going steady." In fact, just forget about "going steady."

The date has been replaced by the "hang out," casual and ambiguous activities that might include getting drinks, going out in a group or staying home with friends.

The term "hookup culture" -- often alcohol-fueled sexual encounters with no strings attached from either side -- has also emerged from the buzz. For some millennials -- anyone born between 1982 and 1994, though some stretch that to 2000 -- having several intimate relationships, open relationships and casual sex are all viable options, albeit personal choices for the individual to make.

What's caused the supposed fade from traditional dating? Statistically, millennials are hitting major life milestones -- marrying, having kids, buying a home -- much later than their parents' generation. Millennials say they feel less hurried to get married and have children, not just because pre-marital sex and cohabitation are culturally accepted -- such behaviors have been in vogue since the 1960s, after all -- but because their slow-blossoming careers put them in a state of transition for longer than their parents.

Millennials also are the first generation of children to grow up witnessing mass divorce, which makes them worry that relationships are so risky they constantly hedge their bets, Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and a research professor in psychology, told the Chicago Tribune.

A divorce, coupled with the comings and goings of Mom and Dad's subsequent romantic partners, can frighten some, making them insecure with relationships and intimacy, he said. Being able to bolt at a moment's notice makes them feel safer.

Still, even if they play the field for longer than previous generations, 90 percent of millennials say they want to get married at some point, according to a study conducted at New York University earlier this year.

At 29, Ribeiro calls herself "notoriously single." She is active on social media and online dating venues such as OKCupid, Tinder and SnapChat. She has two Facebook profiles, one of which she often uses to vent about her dating drama. Beautiful and confident with a cascade of dark brown hair and brown eyes, Ribeiro is a receptionist by day at Concierge Office Suites.

By night, she's a member of several local bands, including The Communicators, The MaleMen and a wedding band (the irony of which is not lost on her). She stays busy, rising early to work out before her 9-to-5 job and heading to band practice most nights after work. She barely has time to date or meet new people, which is one reason she uses online dating websites.

She's the sole female in most of her bands, but she's sworn off dating musicians. "Which is unfortunate," she says, "because musicians are totally my type."

Ribeiro says she usually doesn't date anyone for longer than what she calls "a season," around three or four months.

"Every time I try to have that conversation with a guy about where things are going, they immediately disappear," she says. "Even if people want a relationship, they're too scared to come out and say it. So you just keep hanging out and hanging out until something else comes along, and it ends."

A generation hit hard by the effects of the economic recession, millennials might also be dating with their wallets in mind.

"I can't possibly pay for myself and another person to go on a really nice date," says Julian Suarez, 28. "Especially if it's a multiple-activity evening."

Suarez has a master's degree in theology from Lee University and works in the media donations department at McKay Used Books & CDs. He's contemplative and friendly, a bit of a romantic. He prefers long drives and homemade meals to dinner-and-a-movie dates and scoffs at the notion that group hangouts are a dating no-no.

"I find the whole concept of [the traditional] date kind of gendered and boring," he says. Contrary to stereotype, he says most of the women he dates make more money than he does.

Julie Baumgardner, CEO of First Things First, a local marriage advocacy organization, and cheerleader of all things marriage, says casual dating without labels is a protective mechanism.

"This generation grew up witnessing this divorce culture and came to the conclusion that marriage is a source of pain and loss," says Baumgardner, who writes a Sunday column about the ins and outs of marriage for the Times Free Press. "They consider relationships really risky, so they're basically trying to redefine the whole idea of relationships."

Technology has taken a toll on relationships, she says. At First Things First, she teaches high schoolers not to break up by text message and coaches married couples to limit their use of technology, too.

And don't even get her started on the dangers of hooking up.

"Guys play at love to get sex, and girls play at sex to get love," she warns.

Her attitude mirrors the hand wringing of Donna Freitas, author of "The End of Sex: How the Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled and Confused about Intimacy."

"The sheer amount of repression and suppression of emotion required for living in the context of hookup culture teaches young adults (or tries to teach them) not to feel at all,'' she writes.

Voices like Freitas' have sparked a slew of responses from those who say casual experimentation can be healthy and empowering, and that the word "hookup" is a vague misnomer, since it can mean anything from kissing to intercourse.

While millennials tend to be less stressed about hooking up, Suarez himself can barely bring himself to say the phrase "hookup culture." He recently had a brief fling with a girl he met online. She would come over to watch Netflix -- what he calls "college dorm dating"-- then spend the night. When eventually they tried going on actual dates, they found they had little in common.

"It's not a challenge to try to get a girl's phone number -- that's the easy part," says Suarez. "The harder part is figuring out if I want to proceed with them or not."

Ribeiro also dabbles in the occasional hookup. For her, it's about being straightforward from the beginning.

"I hate the part where I'm sitting across from someone getting drinks and asking myself, 'What are we doing here? What does this mean?'" she says.

Contact Anna Lockhart at alockhart@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6578.

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