Gen Z Dating: Not the Puriteens They’re Made Out to Be

Are gen-z really the “puriteens” they’re made out to be? It kind of looks like gen-z’s dating ethos is a response to the dating apps, hook-up culture, and problematic behavior that was a fixture of millennial dating. The generation born after 1996 is a lot more pragmatic and seeks deeper connections over a series of one night stands. Gen Z’s dating priorities may be different, but that difference may actually be for the better. Zoomers are putting themselves first – advocating for their own needs more clearly and prioritizing personal and professional development before relationships.

We’re told gen-z aren’t dating, but are they really the puriteens they’re made out to be?

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and it kinda looks like gen-z’s dating ethos is a response to the dating apps, hook-up culture, and problematic behavior that was a fixture of millennial dating. The generation that grew up in the shadow of #MeToo – and that’s already known for being more progressive, and more politically involved – is putting their foot down.

Studies have shown that gen-z just aren’t having as much sex as any previous generation. But it’s not just sex, it’s casual sex. The generation born after 1996 is a lot more pragmatic and seeks deeper connections over a series of one night stands. Gen Z also happens to be drinking less, they spend more time online, and – thanks to a global pandemic – are reaching life milestones (like moving out of their parents house) later than previous generations…all of which has led to a decline in casual sex.

“What’s up, fuck-buddy? You call for some roadside assistance?”

- Bridesmaids

Zoomers are putting themselves first – advocating for their own needs more clearly and prioritizing personal and professional development before relationships. Staring down the barrel of the climate crisis and economic upheaval, who could blame them? Gen Z’s dating priorities may be different, but that difference may actually be for the better.

“We’re trying to tell you that the entire planet is about to be destroyed!”

- Don’t Look Up

Here’s our take on gen-z dating, and how it reveals that maybe previous dating habits weren’t always the healthiest.


The decline of hook-up culture is undeniably the biggest dating shift between millennials and gen-z. And the pandemic is largely to blame for fundamentally altering what gen-z are looking for from relationships.

By effectively eliminating the possibility of hook-ups, forced lockdowns changed what dating could be for this generation. Virtual dates on Zoom or FaceTime, watching movies “together” online, and the growth in popularity of outdoor, active dates were all born out of necessity, but had a significant impact. People were forced into trying to establish slower, deeper, more meaningful connections, rather than just immediately skipping the bases.

And COVID didn’t just change the dating landscape for Gen Z, it changed the entire trajectory of their professional lives. 39% lost jobs, were furloughed or were temporarily laid off by their employer. Those that were just entering the workforce found themselves in an unsteady job market…and with the prevalence of remote work, more gen-z-ers elected to continue living with their parents to save money. So, whether it was the lack of a paycheck or the lack of personal space – sex and dating became increasingly difficult.

“I’m living with my parents. I know, I know. I’m living with my parents.”

- Just Friends

Post-pandemic, love is still a bit under lockdown. Even though gen-z has the option to meet in person, they’re continuing to embrace low stakes dates like video chats that allow them to screen potential partners to see if they’re compatible. A study conducted by the dating app, Hinge, reports that 39 percent of users reported being pickier about whom they went on a date with since the pandemic, and 91 percent of those people say they made the change because they don’t want to waste time on the wrong person.

“Who are all losers?” “Oh, the men I’ve met on this dating app.”

- Truly Madly Deeply

But as gen-z seeks deeper connection – online dating as a whole has been taking a hit. Tinder, the dating app that changed the landscape of millennial dating (at least straight millennial dating) says it’s struggling to attract a younger audience. App users experiencing burnout and emotional fatigue from the constant swiping, getting ghosted, or getting catfished, which is another aspect of online dating that gen-z is trying to combat…with honesty. On the whole, gen-z are more open about their feelings when it comes to online dating, and they’re careful not to present a false image of who they are. The playful practice of reverse catfishing — intentionally making themselves look ordinary or unattractive on dating profiles, rather than inventing a fake, more attractive persona to dupe people online – is done in the hopes that it would lead to more satisfying, real-world connections.

“Don’t use snapchat filters, instagram filters. Do post at least 4 photos and make 2 of them activity photos.”

- viluong, Tiktok

But what this new found honesty has really done is made people feel empowered to cut things off if the sparks aren’t flying, rather than having an ultimately unsatisfying hook-up. While this may seem blunt, the alternative — ghosting someone — is being widely called out as a hurtful practice, more hurtful than straight up telling someone you’re not that into them. The uproar around serial ghoster West Elm Caleb, who was widely doxxed by multiple women on TikTok in early 2022, reveals just how much of a pariah ghosting can make you. Gen-z is so ghosting-averse that a new dating app aimed at them is making the practice a punishable offense – and users who ghost too frequently become less visible on its platform.

Ultimately, what lockdown did was force people to take a look at their dating habits and examine whether or not they were leading to good connections. The changes that have taken place since then may look drastic to a generation who saw online dating as a huge smorgasbord of romantic opportunity, but really the focus now seems to be on quality rather than quantity.


It’s hard to overestimate the importance #metoo has had in shaping the dating politics of gen-z. High profile sexual assault cases dominated the news cycle during their early dating years. Prior to this cultural reckoning, our conversations about safety and consent didn’t feel as urgent, serious, or prioritized. Now, these conversations – particularly around consent – are in full force, even impacting sex education lessons in schools. But the increase in the coverage of these cases has also created a fear response around online dating. Vogue’s Eleanor Halls interviewed a cross section of gen-z daters, most of whom cited personal safety as a main reason why they were abandoning online dating. Gen-z has reported significantly higher stress levels than other generations, and 67% of gen-z women reported widespread sexual harassment and assault reports in the news as a significant source of worry. Cases like The Tinder Swindler, and Stephen Port, also known as The Grindr Killer, have taken the excitement out of these dating apps, replacing them with distrust of the kind of people who may be lurking there.

“Designate a safety buddy, whether it’s your best friend, your roommate, whoever, just make sure there’s one person who cares about you who knows you’re going off to meet a stranger.”

- ohkairyn, Tiktok

Again, there is a generational divide here, and those who were dating before me-too are now seeing gen-z criticize practices that once felt almost mundane and everyday. This vigilance — like thinking befriending someone in advance of sleeping with them is predatory is what’s driving the puriteen label that gen-z have to contend with. It feels overly cautious, putting mild transgressions on the same level as genuine emotional abuse.

And other critics say it simply takes the fun out of dating. Danish dating app iConsent – which allowed users to send a contract to prospective partners before dating them, was described as plain unsexy.

Gen-z grew up in an almost overtly sexual digital landscape…so maybe we’re just seeing them try to swing the pendulum back the other way.

“As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace.” // “I think it really destroyed my brain.”

- Billie Eilish, Howard Stern Show


There’s a real irony in referring to gen-z as puriteens who are sucking the fun out of dating culture, while at the same time this generation are more open to exploring and engaging with their sexuality than any that have come before. They’re the least conservative on things like sex before marriage or LGBTQ+ relationships – in fact, a recent study revealed that 20% of gen-z identify as part of the community themselves. They’re far from adopting an old-fashioned mindset when it comes to relationships, if anything they’re more curious and open to exploring what a good relationship looks like for them.

“I’ve had to work really hard to love myself, and I won’t go back to hiding things about me again.”

- Sex Education

The knock-on effect of this is that now – practices that have been more common in queer culture – are becoming adopted more broadly. For instance, polyamory and so-called ‘ethical non-monogamy’ are both on the rise. And much like queer identity, there’s no one-size-fits-all version of this kind of relationship. Willow Smith has shone a light on her own “solo polyamory,” talking about how it’s in service of self love and self actualization. At the same time, there has been a steady mainstreaming of labels like pansexual, demisexual and asexual. While these identities aren’t new – because mainstream culture is talking about them more – they’re being adopted more widely, as people explore the kinds of relationships that work for them.

“Being pansexual means my sexual preference isn’t limited by gender identity.”

- Big Mouth

For a while it seemed that ‘situationships’ were the gen-z dating mode of choice

However, the ‘situationship’ hashtag on tiktok is now full of cautionary tales about catching feelings, being disrespected, and uneven power dynamics. But when allowing people to find their romantic-comfort-zone, try new things on for size, and see what suits them – you have to accept that sometimes things won’t feel as comfortable. Part of what feels different about gen-z’s approach to dating is a willingness to start over, rather than getting stuck in something that’s going to end up hurting them.


There will always be room in the dating landscape for the high school sweetheart story, but for a long time that was seen as the ideal. Over the past half a century it feels like there’s been a slow unpicking of that, illustrated by the amount of people getting married later, having kids later, or deciding not to do these things at all

While shedding these more traditional ideas, there’s now a reassessment of what dating should be, or can be. For millennials, dating apps gave everyone a huge license to meet lots of people and have lots of experiences. Gen-Z hasn’t completely abandoned that, but they’re also not siloed into it. Instead, there’s a curiosity about other ways to meet people, other kinds of relationships you could have, and other experiences that may be just as fulfilling.