When talking about how young people date, it’s impossible not to think about dating apps; they get both the credit and the heat for making Gen Z and Millennials’ dating lives virtual and a little messy. But when YPulse asks young people how they’re dating, social media is playing just as much a role as these dating-dedicated (or maybe not-really-dating-dedicated) platforms in finding partners. While dating someone you met on social media was once a bizarre idea—had you never seen MTV’s Catfish?—for Gen Z and Millennials, social media is as normal a part of their dating lives as a blind date would have been for their parents. And it’s as likely to make things as hopeful or complicated as any dating app would.
The sheer amount of time young people spend on social media, and how related to their real life it feels, means it just makes sense that they might find their next crush there instead of a dating app. None of Gen Z’s favorite social platforms have really leaned into this un-intended function—but Millennials’ go-to Facebook has. And our data shows 34% of Millennials who have use dating apps have also used Facebook Dating more than once, which is as many as have used Bumble and more than the amount who have used Hinge, which just proves that social media is a natural place to date now. But just because other apps haven’t created an official function to meet partners doesn’t mean that young people aren’t using them to find, vet, and foster romantic relationships.
YPulse’s Dating & Relationships report shows social media is impacting dating in a variety of ways, good and bad, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. It can be a relationship catalyst nearly as often as it can feel like a hurdle. These three stats show just how integrated social media has become in young people’s dating lives:
Whether surveying their options or stalking their Tinder matches, more than one third of young people now say social media is an essential part of their dating life. For some, social media can be a tool to break the ice with their crush (who they may only know from social media, but more on this later); first you become mutuals, then you like a few story posts, dm them a meme, and soon you’re into exchanging numbers territory where things get real. For others, it’s a way to vet someone they know IRL or from a dating app: what kinds of accounts do they follow? Are they as normal as they made themselves look in those six curated photos and quippy prompts? What coffee shop / bar / campus lounge could one conveniently and totally coincidentally bump into them at? Yes, they can glean all of that from one profile—and it could be make or break.
Gen Z especially has changed a lot about what it means to be committed, and some go so far as to say social media is a symbol of their commitment to a partner: 27% finish the statement “I am committed to my romantic partner when I…” with “post them on social media.” Being “Instagram Official,” though that’s not what Gen Z would call it, is the new Facebook “In a relationship” status. But it’s not just one post now that introduces your partner, it’s a series of “soft launches” leading up to the “hard launch,” so when it makes the main feed your followers know it’s serious. A soft launch might constitute a story post, or the last photo in a carousel, or maybe a dinner setting with two meals and their date expertly cropped out, and can all happen in the early, still unserious days of a relationship. But when a label is finally decided, or maybe on their three-month anniversary, it’s time for a whole post dedicated to their significant other so everyone knows they’re off the market for real. It sounds complicated (it is) but it is a reflection of their “private but not secret” approach to relationship posting, because despite it all, 59% of Gen Z agree “I don’t want to share my relationship on social media.”
Nearly two in five young people say that social media has been the origin of a romantic relationship. And when you compare this to how many are having success on dating apps, it really puts it in perspective: our data shows 29% have met a romantic partner on a dating app, meaning their feed is now more likely to give them a shot at love. In fact, it’s now second only to meeting a partner through friends or at school / college—and the latter is only beating it by a small percentage at 42%. Social media now far outpaces ways their parents may have met: 28% of young people say they met a partner at work, but only 21% say they’ve met a partner in a bar / restaurant / parties and 19% say they met spontaneously, out and about.
Anyone on their feed could be their next partner because of how easy social media makes it to get a look at someone’s personality before reaching out. From their posts, they can sus out if they have shared interests and values, and of course find selfies to draw little digital hearts around. But a dm can be the catalyst to a serious relationship, even if they’re a thousand miles away—YPulse data shows 27% of young people have been in a long-distance relationship.
Despite the possibilities social media opens for potential relationships, more than half of young people say it actually presents too many options; our What’s The Situationship? trend report data shows 55% of young people agree that it’s hard to be in a committed relationship because you see so many other options on social media. And in combination with dating apps, whose design is to show a never-ending stream of potential true loves, the options can seem truly endless to Gen Z and Millennials. This could be a contributing factor to their decreased inclination toward commitment, too: why settle down when they’re always seeing how many other fish there are in the sea? And further, how can they trust someone when they might be crushing on someone else from their feed?
So, while some young people are finding love though social media, 44% say it makes dating harder. Additionally, 49% of young people agree that they are jealous of some relationships they see on social media, making it feel like a comparison game to their own or the one that they want to have. Not only do they want a good relationship, they want one that looks good to everyone else—even though 79% agree, “Relationships on social media aren’t what they are in real life.”