The Rules of Dating, According to Gen Z

Finding "the one" doesn’t matter, but politics do.
Nana Baah
London, GB
The Rules of Dating, According to Gen Z
Photo: Getty Images

There are an abundance of stats about Generation Z and how people in this age bracket differ from their predecessors. Those born after 1995 supposedly shag less than teenagers in the nineties, and are less likely to want a serious relationship. It’s no surprise then, that the way today’s teens and young adults approach dating differs wildly to Boomers and Gen X, but also millennials – the group closest in age to Gen Z (if not in Harry Potter fandom).


So, what does dating mean for the generation characterised as being able to turn anything into a TikTok trend and do a better job of saving the planet than people twice their age? We asked a bunch of Gen Z’ers (18 to 23-year-olds) for their thoughts on dating apps, ghosting, talking politics with your crush and finding “the one”.

Here are the six rules for Gen Z dating, according to Gen Z.


Research conducted last year by the American think-tank Pew showed that the majority of Generation Z holds liberal and progressive views, an analysis supported by the resurgence in support for Black Lives Matter among young people this year, as well as school kids’ involvement in climate protests across the world.

Given these this strong political awareness, it’s important for Gen Z’ers to know that the person they’re dating isn’t supporting causes in a performative way – they have to mean it.

“It’s hard to distinguish between people who are just posting stuff on Instagram and are vaguely ‘anti-racist’ and the people who actually actively are,” Maddie, 22, says. “If I was just hooking up with someone and they had a couple of questionable irrelevant things, I would shag them and it would be fine. If it was fundamental stuff like they’re a racist or they’re anti-feminist, then that’s a deal breaker. But I guess I don’t vet people unless we’re properly dating.”

Indeed when VICE reported on the trend of “wokefishing” – the practice of pretending to support progressive causes in order to impress a date – we found that many Gen Z daters had been misled about a partner’s political leanings.


Others like Rory*, 21, say that they avoid this by bringing up politics before they go on a date. “I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone who isn’t liberal,” he says. “I tend to bring something up just to test the waters and so far, it’s been alright.”

Photo by Sian Bradley

Photo: Sian Bradley


Researchers may like to make out that Gen Z is too preoccupied with social media to care about shagging, but the way today’s teens and young people view sex is slightly more complex. As the generation that grew up in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, many Gen Z’ers are more worried about university, job prospects and financial stability than finding a partner. Add in a pandemic, and dating is hurtling further down the list of Gen Z’s priorities.

“Finding a job and being stable, comfortable and having some sort of income will bring me more joy than dating,” Sophie, 23, says. “I feel like a job is more reliable. I’m very hardworking, determined and career-focused, so I put that over finding love, maybe even making new friends.”


So, you’ve been on four dates with someone and they’ve introduced you to their friends and family. It would be safe to assume that you’re properly dating this person, right? Not according to Gen Z.

“I think you definitely need to outwardly say it – I’m really uncomfortable with trying to guess,” Maddie says. “I’ve been on three dates with this girl, but I don’t know if we’re dating. We’re seeing each other, I guess. Before, I was with this guy for, like, five months and my friends were like, ‘So you and your boyfriend…’ and I’m like, ‘We’re not official’. We didn’t have that conversation until I was drunk. I was like, ‘Am I your girlfriend?’ and he said yeah.”

The Rules of Dating, According to Gen Z

Photo: Sian Bradley


We’ve all had the gut-wrenching experience of matching with someone on Tinder, talking about your favourite Peep Show episodes and then moving to WhatsApp when… There it is. Two blue ticks to your last message and no response from them. You, unfortunately, have been ghosted.

Sadly, it seems Gen Z hasn’t figured out a fix to the ubiquitous dating trend.

“When I start talking to a guy, I would rather they say something that makes me want to ghost them than me get ghosted, because then at least I’m the one calling the shots,” Sophie says. “As horrible as it sounds, sometimes it’s nice being that person that kind of pushes someone away, it does build your confidence in terms of being like, ‘Oh I don’t actually need them’.”

James, 23, has had one experience of being the ghoster, and says it comes down to not knowing where you stand with someone.

“This girl was really upset when I stopped replying. I didn’t mean to ghost her actually, but I thought she wasn’t interested in seeing me anymore,” he says. “She was definitely seeing other people at the time but told me she was waiting for me to make it official.”

And what would Gen Z’er James’ advice be for anyone who has suffered ghosting?

“I’ve been ghosted loads,” he says. “It’s not that deep, you can definitely get over it.”


Another unfortunate facet of modern dating life that Gen Z shares with older generations is dating apps. They aren’t fun for them either.

Maddie says that apps like Tinder encourage a certain type of “look”, which often doesn’t correspond to the person you meet IRL. “If I’ve been on my male friend’s Tinder and they’re looking at girls, it’s very straight, conventional,” she says. “But there are queer girls on Tinder with the exact same profile as well. It can’t all be from complete freedom of choice and desire to do this thing. They’re all super skinny and have straight hair and fake eyelashes on and wear big heels. But then you meet them in real life and you’re like, ‘You’re so nice, why is your Tinder profile so terrible?’”

Photo by Sian Bradley

Photo: Sian Bradley


Most millennials grew up watching rom-coms and hearing about how their parents got married at 25, so the idea of finding “the one” was drilled in from an early age. But for Gen Z’s woke teens, soulmates are less important.

“In your early twenties, people put an emphasis on casual sex to find what you like and kind of get it all out of your system before you settle down in your late twenties or early thirties and start thinking about marriage and having kids,” Sophie says. “I feel like it’s a ‘just in case’ thing. Get it all out of your system so you don't have any regrets later.”

The concept of “the one” is entirely lost on Ryan. “I’m not sure ‘the one’ exists anymore and how likely is it that I’m going to meet them on a dating app,” he says. “Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I think as a generation, we’re beginning to realise it’s about putting in work to make a relationship work. But who has time to do that in a pandemic?”