MY daughter doesn’t stand a chance with dating. As soon as the word is mentioned, our living room turns into that darkened espionage HQ in every Jason Bourne movie. Within seconds, her intended profile is targeted and locked in. There’s no escape.
Those familiar questions, screamed at tech minions across banks of computer terminals, echo through the apartment.
“Get me his surname… Get me his family’s last-known address… I want a detailed breakdown of his parents’ occupations on LinkedIn … I want a full academic background check. And I want it now, people!”
Of course, the orders are met with utter indifference, as my wife and daughter look at me in the way you might look at a dribbling pet that needs to be put down.
“It’s OK, Neil,” my wife whispers. “She just wants to meet the kid for coffee.”
“Right, I want tag-team surveillance set up around Starbucks ...”
By this point, I’m talking to an empty living room.
With our omnipresent access to personal data of all kinds, Gen Z has more chance of disarming an assassin with a rolled-up magazine than planning and executing a first date undetected (the magazine scene was from an early Jason Bourne movie, not a really bad first date.) And yet, remarkably, Zoomers not only embrace these social media intrusions, they use them to their advantage, bending the tech to their will.
According to a 2023 Tinder survey, Gen Z values the authenticity of online dating apps, with 69 per cent believing they are updating dating standards for the future. While more than half of millennials agree that dating is healthier for 18-25 year olds today, than it was when they were the same age.
Naturally, I’m sceptical. A survey sponsored by a dating app suggesting that dating rituals are healthier today is a bit like a survey sponsored by meat farmers insisting that burgers are best.
No more bumbling into life partners for Gen Z
Besides, dating was a breeze back in the 1990s. I walked into my common room at secondary school, in a luminous yellow tracksuit, held up a newspaper and lamented West Ham United’s transfer market incompetence (some things never change). An 18-year-old woman witnessed this episode and 30 years later, we’re still together (no, I don’t get it either).
Rather miraculously, my wife saw beyond the loud, lanky prat dressed like a banana and caught a brief glimpse of the sensitive, lifelong work in progress that I am. I got extraordinarily lucky.
But Gen Z is less keen on luck than judgment, insisting on authenticity up front in their dating profiles, expecting such honesty from both sides as mental well-being and mutual respect are prioritised. According to the Tinder survey, 80 per cent of 18-25 year olds believe that their self-care is a top priority when dating and 79 per cent want prospective partners to do the same. It’s a lovely way to turn such intrusive tech to one’s advantage.
Just remember how hard it is to be brutally open, face-to-face, on a first date. I lied more often than a Trump tweet. That’s what a first date was, a chance to fabricate, to go a bit Method and turn into Daniel Day-Lewis. By the end of the first date, I was Martin Luther King meets Muhammad Ali, a lover and a fighter of the most righteous causes.
What was the alternative? Present the physical and mental truth of a painfully insecure, neurotic young man? That’ll go down well with a single bowling game. (I was already a cheap date in a yellow tracksuit. Hadn’t the poor girl suffered enough?)
Around the mid-2000s, I stumbled upon an event organised by the Social Development Unit, as it was then called. I was sitting alone in a Toa Payoh café when a group of singles suddenly surrounded me, swapping seats with each other as they did short meet and greets before shuffling along to the next prospective partner.
Despite the best intentions, the exercise felt like a cold, dispassionate Huxleyan nightmare, as strangers moved along a human conveyor belt in search of compatibility. How honest and authentic could a person be in such a staid, artificial environment?
But Gen Z can swipe left and skip that step. Declare everything at the outset in one’s dating profile and expect others to do the same. They’ll always be the odd charlatan, sure, but so many more will be filtered out at an earlier stage now. According to the Tinder survey, the value of presenting their ‘true selves’ is high on Gen Z’s agenda, even in sensitive areas. For example, 72 per cent of those surveyed are confident enough to proclaim on their profile that they rarely drink, if at all.
It took me almost 30 years to be similarly bold, to finally overcome the puerile demands of peer pressure and acknowledge that drunkenly peeing in the street whilst singing Wonderwall was not an attractive dating quality (or human quality to be fair).
Authenticity and transparency important
But Gen Z appears to have little patience for lengthy fact-finding missions on the quirks and foibles of others. Instead, they conduct and demand transparent personality profiles from the start. They seem less willing to succumb to peer pressure and conform to outdated social norms and prejudices. I know gay people around my age who still can’t cannot come out to their parents, let alone publicly. Zoomers are bravely declaring their sexuality in their Tinder profiles.
According to the Tinder survey, LGBTQIA+ members often use the dating platform as the first place to come out. Just wonderful.
Oh and 80 per cent of Gen Z said they had dated someone of a different ethnicity. Maybe one day, 80 per cent of all generations will be ready for a national leader of a different ethnicity, too.
In fairness, the Tinder report surveyed people from 18-25 and 33-38 year olds in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. Opinions will undoubtedly vary in Singapore and Southeast Asia. We may not all be willing to join hands and sing, We Are the World, with all races, genders, sexualities and religions just yet. Inclusivity still comes with caveats in conservative societies.
And for what it’s worth, I’m never holding hands with a Millwall supporter. We all have our limits.
But the survey findings are so positive and hopeful. I’m wrong about my daughter. She stands every chance with dating. Empathetic Zoomers are manipulating technology to date on their terms, demanding authenticity and inclusivity from the very beginning, in a way that just wasn’t possible on a first date at a bowling alley.
They know what they’re looking for and how to find it. They don’t need any advice beyond the obvious. Never turn up on a date dressed like a banana.
Empathetic Zoomers are manipulating technology to date on their terms... They know what they’re looking for and how to find it.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.