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Forget love apps, Gen Z wants to date like cats

A recently released Harris Poll found a significant number of Gen Z valued independence over finding a partner online. | Qi Yang/Getty

Would you sooner clean your bathroom or walk across hot coals than go on an online date? If you’re a member of Gen Z, the answer may very well be yes, at least according to one of America’s top pollsters.

Commissioned by the Harris Poll, the recently released Singles in America Survey found that 40% of zoomer respondents would rather get elbow-deep in toilet water—and one-third said they’d risk scorching their tootsies on a bed of smoldering carbon—before enduring another hour of small talk over drinks. 

Millennials had a slightly more favorable view of online dating. A little over 22% of that cohort said they’d rather have their teeth pulled. Ouch! 

What’s more, the new poll—which surveyed around 2,000 U.S. adults—found that a significant percentage of the TikTok generation would prefer to model their domestic relationships after their floofy domestic animals. More than 30% of the survey’s Gen Z respondents said they’re not looking for a relationship at all, and almost 20% said they’d like to date like cats do—more on that later.

Overall, 79% of Americans feel like finding the right partner is harder than finding the right job. 

So does this new data mean that Gen Z is ready to break up with dating apps and coupledom altogether? 

Libby Rodney, chief strategy officer of thought leadership and futures at Harris Poll, said that the disdain for online dating among Gen Z isn’t necessarily a death knell for dating apps, but it does signal a desire among younger generations to date differently from their millennial predecessors who made swiping for romance the norm

“Online dating, it seems to be at a challenging place for Gen Z,” Rodney said. “They're the generation who really want to get back in person. So it makes a lot of sense that they have this desire to get off the online dating apps.” 

Move Over Dinner & a Movie 

But just because Gen Z wants to get offline to date doesn’t necessarily mean they have the dough to do it. Rodney observes that the desire to date IRL is at odds with current economic conditions and Gen Z’s spending power, reflecting broader attitudes toward dating and finances across the board. 

According to the survey, 61% of single Americans said that dating is becoming an unaffordable luxury and 49% said they can’t afford a relationship. Singles are also vetting their prospective partners more thoroughly by filtering their dates based on financial security (50%), getting to know someone more before meeting up in person (64%) or postponing a romantic date till later (54%). 

“It’s a challenging time to be young and have inflation and have a challenging job market that’s not working for them,” Rodney said of Gen Z. “I think you take those forces together and then it just makes it more challenging to date; it makes it more challenging to meet people and be out.”

Nearly 70% of singles seeking romance are choosing an alternative activity to going out to eat or drink, and a little over 60% are choosing a less expensive date activity—a category of date the survey has dubbed “hike and chill.” 

Nearly 75% of Gen Z respondents would take or be willing to do something like a hike instead, and 69% would choose a less expensive date activity; 83% would or would be willing to order a cheaper drink or meal compared to 66% of the population.  

“During the pandemic, we spent enough time in front of screens, now people want two things—IRL connections and nature,” Rodney said. “We are getting back to basics on human desires, and these activities also happen to align with our tightening wallets.”

Intentionally Single 

But the survey shows that being single is about more than just penny-pinching. It also shows that singles are embracing being uncoupled with enthusiasm. 

Nearly 80% of survey takers said they didn’t need to be married to have a fulfilling life, 49% of singles don’t long for companionship and 48% said being single is the most meaningful, authentic and fulfilling way of life. Over 85% of single Americans say they have more time to pursue their interests and passions because they’re single, almost 80% say they have more time to focus on their careers and 84% say they have more to time to dedicate to their personal growth.   

Millennials and Gen Z respondents saw higher rates of people deliberately choosing to be single in their social circles—60% and 56%, respectively—and 81% of millennials and 79% of Gen Z single respondents saw being single as a way to have more time to work a side hustle. 

“We're seeing this moment where people are opting to be single,” Rodney said. “There's this intentionality and this deliberateness of people choosing that for themselves.” 

Which may explain some of Gen Z’s preference to date like a solitary feline rather than prowling around for mates. Unlike older generations, like boomers who mainly yearn for the lifelong commitment-style of penguins, or millennials who want to experience a variety of partners like their canine companions, nearly 20% of Gen Z respondents said they’d prefer to pair up like a cat, allowing partners to come and go with an air of indifference. 

“They are known to be the more fluid, in flux this generation, right?” Rodney said of Gen Z. “And so they're in this kind of more ambivalent stage where relationships, people, things come and go.”

Christina Campodonico can be reached at