How Does Gen Z Want to Date in 2024?

  • Writer Alexis Castro
  • Additional Reporting Emily Russo
  • Designer Jasmine Bae

True love is just a swipe away—or so we thought. Speed dating and IRL events are on the rise, and so is growing dissatisfaction among singles with their digital dating lives. Against a backdrop of endless apps and Super Like fatigue, where are Gen Z singles looking for connection? We decided to get up close and personal with those in today’s dating scene to figure out where things went wrong, what singles are looking for and how sparks might fly for a new generation of daters, on the apps and IRL.

What’s Going on With the Apps, Anyway?

The Gen Zers we spoke to are having the same recurring problems when it comes to dating: the experience has become too digital, matches are fleeting and flipping through apps feels like a never-ending cycle.

“Even if you go on a date and it goes really well, you just go on the app and there's five more matches waiting for you,” says Felicia Dodge, 27, Director of Insights at a New York-based media agency. “Even if you really like someone, people are hesitant to take that farther because they think, maybe there's someone hotter or smarter or who is more aligned with my interests.”

I think when you're so chronically online for everything else…the last thing you want to do is have to sit on your phone and swipe through strangers for hours to have a few dull conversations that may lead to a date.

- River Jensen, Co-Founder of Unhinged

Some would prefer to opt out of “swipe” culture altogether and meet potential partners IRL. “My ideal way of meeting someone is through mutual friends or groups of acquaintances you see when you frequent similar weekend activities and spots,” says Elise Bang, Senior Creative Strategist at D1A.

Going From URL to IRL

So, are in-person experiences the path to finding true love, or at least, more meaningful connections?

Emily Russo, Associate Director of Story at D1A, took the plunge and attended a NYC’s Brightest speed dating event on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I felt the nature of the event lacked the level of curation we’ve come to expect from our dating apps,“ she explains. Without a filter or way to narrow down options as you might on apps (based on age, location or political beliefs), it was difficult to start from square one and connect with a group of total strangers.

It's not fair to expect the same efficient experience that dating apps offer at live events, because the pool is simply much smaller. However, daters are still looking for a more curated experience than the apps currently provide. The solution may lie in an approach that merges the benefits of both—the efficiency, convenience and curation offered by digital services and the potential for a more palpable connection, cultivated via in-person experiences.

Many Gen Zers have felt frustration at how apps have monetized getting a potential match’s attention with Roses and Super Likes. Refocusing to different paid offerings, such as curated events that create reliable outcomes for singles, would help apps build trust with their clients. It would also signal that they’re not just trying to keep them on as paid users, but instead are genuinely interested in helping them connect.

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Hopes For the Dating Future

Is it possible to strike the right balance between algorithmic curation and organic, in-person connection for Gen Z singles? There seems to be hope on the dating horizon.

Unhinged, a new dating event series started by River Jensen, 29, and five of her closest friends, is a hybrid dinner club, speed dating and wine tasting experience for hopeful singles to meet, dine and connect in-person.

The twist is: each attendee is vetted ahead of time to ensure compatibility with the other guests. Participants are either friends of the organizers, friends of other attendees or referred to the organizers by trusted sources. Unhinged’s aim is to create a strong group dynamic and ensure that each person has at least one or two strong potential matches in the pool of attendees.

“I think when you're so chronically online for everything else…the last thing you want to do is have to sit on your phone and swipe through strangers for hours to have a few dull conversations that may lead to a date,” Jensen says. “It's exhausting!”

Jensen explains how the event runs compared to more traditional dating events. “You are at a semi-communal table trying different foods and drinking wine. You have seven minutes to sit in your seat before you are dinged to go sit at a different one and meet someone new,” she says. “We think if we make the experience about food and wine and meeting people and having a good time—more than the pressure of dating—people will have an easier time connecting.”

Dating photo

I'm not selling you your boyfriend or your girlfriend. I'm selling an opportunity to be human in a new way,

- Allie Hoffman, Organizer of the feels

Allie Hoffman, 40, created the feels, another IRL New York singles event, as an antidote to the small-talk pressure brought on by events like speed dating. For those willing to invest a bit more cash into meeting new people, the sessions spark connection through various somatic exercises, which help participants form meaningful bonds more quickly compared to traditional dating events.

“I'm not selling you your boyfriend or your girlfriend. I'm selling an opportunity to be human in a new way,” Hoffman says. “I don't base my success on how many six-month relationships we create, because that's way too much pressure on the people who walk in the room. It doesn't feel like the point. We are going to be having a more alive, human experience if we treat ourselves and each other better.”

It’s becoming clear that Gen Z wants to date less online and meet in-person more, but IRL encounters have to be the right kind of organic experience. With this new picture of the dating landscape in mind, how can apps and existing IRL events build more intentional, curated experiences to help daters get closer to finding love?

Today’s singles want the comfort of knowing that the person they pursue has genuine potential to be a strong match. Events with niche focuses could start to move the needle towards this goal. What if there were more dating events that aimed to match partners based on their desired career paths, shared extracurricular interests or even a network of shared mutual friends or social media followers?

Hoffman agrees. “I think there's a real power in identifying what you're into, whether it's working at your local food co-op or rollerblading on the West Side Highway. Whatever ‘alives you’—doing that and then finding the other humans that are also alive in that way. Go find your people there,” she says.

The Feels Event Jan2024 Devin Armstrong 6183