How dating has changed in the past decades

Liliana Greyf and Emily Shi

When Nick Khakee ‘83 was Junior Class President 28 years ago, he sold over 1000 carnations to students who wanted to make a romantic gesture to the people they were dating. Now, to the current generation of high schoolers for whom romance can look more like a post on Instagram, this image may seem like a scene from a romantic comedy. This can be credited to the drastic shift in dating culture since the last generation.
Khakee ran Carnation Day in 1982. That year, the school set a record number of carnations sold, he said. “We had so many that we didn’t just run out, we had to go to every flower shop in Riverdale and Yonkers looking for every last carnation.”
Khakee said that this anecdote is a metaphor for the dating culture of the time. “There were notes, and letters, and people would write romantic things to each other,” he said. “There was definitely traditional dating.”
At the same time, Khakee acknowledged that this was not the case for everyone — “There were definitely people who were going out and dating for shorter periods of time,” he said. “That certainly existed, but that wasn’t the culture. Moving from one person to the next was not common and was observable, it would definitely cause a sort of reputation.”
The dating culture of the current generation is vastly different than that of our parents, Maya Nornberg (10) said.
Unlike this charming and almost corny description of teenage love in the last generation, most students feel that high school romanticism is on a rapid decline. Nornberg described dating culture at the school as close to nonexistent. “It’s important that we realize that teen love is just that, teen love. Yes, some people have high school sweethearts…you’re not expected to marry whoever you date,” Dalia Pustilnik (10) said.
Even 10 years ago, dating in high school was not as common as it was for our parents, Sasha Leibholz ‘12 said.
An article in The New York Times titled “Should We All Take the Slow Road to Love” investigating the dating culture of millennials credits this decline of “teenage love” to factors including the rise of hookup culture, anxiety, screen time, social media, and helicopter parents.
Dating at the school is now deemed impractical due to an overcommitment to academics, Pustilnik said. “It can be difficult when you don’t have a lot of time, because everyone here is really busy,” she said.
As one gets older, this becomes even more of a problem, Olive*, who requested anonymity to avoid repercussions from her parents, said. “Especially in something like junior year, it’s a lot more difficult to manage having a social life and having SATs.”
Leibholz shared a similar sentiment, knowing how much strain a busy schedule can put on a couple. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that convenience in a relationship is up there as one of the most important things that you need,” she said.
However, Max Migdon (11) said that despite the workload of the school, students can work around them during free periods or on weekends with less work.
Often, people with similar amounts of work find it easier to be together. “That might actually be one of the benefits of dating someone in the school who is used to a really similar environment, because they won’t feel like they are letting the other person down,” Pustilnik said.
“There is a mutual understanding as to why someone that you are dating can’t spend as much time with you. It’s just about adapting to each other’s schedules and finding the little moments when you can,” she said.
Although there was a fairly large workload while he was at the school, Khakee believes that people made time for one another. “Even people who approached academics with the most intensity had time to date. They would just date while doing homework.” Khakee finds that even when students didn’t have time to go out after school, some would get together on the weekends.
A busy schedule while being in a relationship, while a difficult challenge, can be made more convenient using the constant support of social media.
The rise of social media is undoubtedly the biggest change between the last two generations, Nornberg said.
Social media creates an access to communication that was never present before, Pustilnik said. “You can contact each other virtually and there are ways to spend time with each other that aren’t in person.”
As a result of the modernity of social media, many aspects of dating culture have transformed to accommodate it. “The romantic ideals of that time were more personal- writing notes, talking in person – that’s all a little different from things we can do in this generation because of [the improved] technology,” Nornberg said.
Despite the increased prevalence of communication through social media, Migdon said that no fundamental change in his relationship resulted from new methods of communication.
Now, many of these technologies’ qualities are beneficial for those in relationships, Nornberg said. She believes that these apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and iMessage can help form successful relationships that wouldn’t have otherwise existed, she said.
Even in the last decade, the influx of new ‘dating apps’ have created a new set of standards for relationships. According to an article titled “How Tinder Changed Dating for a Generation” in The Atlantic, dating apps such as Grindr and Scruff were first created in 2009-2010 for the LGBTQ+ community, which later led to the creation of Tinder in 2012, which opened up dating apps to people of all sexualities.
With the rise of online dating, a study by the Pew Research Center finds that young couples who meet online also tend to be more diverse in education levels, political parties, and races or ethnicities.
Khakee observed that dating outside of one’s ethnicity or race, which rarely occurred during his time at the school in the 1980s, is now much more normalized, he said. Khakee was one of the first Southasian identifying students at the school, which was just barely beginning to diversify at the time of his graduation. “Dating outside of one’s ethnicity wasn’t accepted or practiced. It just did not really happen.”
Now, Khakee noticed that dating can break the boundaries of ethnicity, race, and religion. “That’s really new, but that’s also a huge improvement.”

“You meet someone on Tinder, or Bumble, or whatever you’re using, and then you stalk them on Facebook, and then on Instagram and you find out what they’re like based on that,” Leibholz said. “Back when I was your age, we never really had that, so social media didn’t matter as much. You met people face to face and that was your only impression of them.”
Olive said that despite the popularity of dating apps targeted towards millennials, high schoolers tend to use less direct forms of social media such as Snapchat. “With Tinder, you know you’re getting yourself into a relationship or hookup,” she said. “[With Snapchat,] you have to at least start talking to the person and getting to know them, and you’re not sure if you’re going to end up hooking up or going out with each other.”
The continual and addictive usage of social media in the context of relationships has had negative impacts on the culture they create, Nornberg said. Because people can post pictures of themselves with their partner, it can create a lot of unrealistic standards that interfere with other relationships, she said.
“Social media definitely gives people a platform to sort of flaunt their relationships,” said Payton* (11), who requested anonymity to avoid her parents finding out about her relationship. Although she doesn’t believe that this is objectively negative, “[it] can also generate a lot of unrealistic perceptions of being in a “perfect” relationship or whatever being a “perfect” couple means.”
Personally, Leibholz feels that romanticism can not truly be expressed online. “When I see posts or have those displays of affection being made, they feel very disingenuine,” Leibholz said. In fact, social media has created such a seemingly perfect world of dating that people’s personal mindsets have changed in the last generation, she said.
Because social media did not exist in the past, you were only exposed to the small group of people you encountered, Leibholz said. “Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but no one seeked perfection. If it worked, it worked. But now, we have so many options,” she said. Because of the choices that dating apps and other forms of social media provide, people have stopped accommodating negative traits in other people.
The choices created by media, Leibholz said, has had both positive and detrimental effects on dating culture. “On the one hand, people do not have to suffer through as much emotional turmoil. On the other hand, they are less likely to put up with small annoyances.” This often leads to less successful long term relationships, she said.
The uptick in social media use is a large factor of the new and widespread ‘hookup culture.’ The American Psychological Association described this term as “becoming more ingrained in popular culture, reflecting both evolved sexual predilections and changing social and sexual scripts. These encounters often transpire without any promise of — or desire for — a more traditional romantic relationship.”
In the past generation, these nonexclusive, or less serious relationships were extremely uncommon, Nornberg said. “My parents are actually not used to it.” Nornberg credits this rise in unrestricted ‘hookups’ to the ideals presented in social media.
Social media teaches students to reach for fleeting moments, therefore influencing people’s expectations of sexual encounters. “A lot of the time with Snapchat and social media, people look for a very momentary or temporary connection, something that is not necessarily long term.” Nornberg said. “That’s much more accessible with snaps and texting than it is with actually having to connect with someone one on one.”
“I think [hookup culture] has to do with a fast-paced culture that doesn’t want a lot of commitments – this is probably reflected in other things like Reader’s Digest which is like fast food reading – and just wants to experience highs really quickly,” Payton said. At times, this culture can lead to tension between people who are looking for a relationship with others who are searching for a temporary hookup, she said.
During Leibholz’s time at the school, hookup culture was already prevalent, she said. Leibholz believes that, although it may not seem this way, a more quieted hookup culture has always been present within communities, she said. The illusion that hooking up casually has only started recently is the product of a societal shaming that is now disappearing, she said.
“There is now less shame in the pleasure of hooking up with people solely for enjoyment,” Leibholz said. “With our parents, it was swept under the rug a bit more. There probably was a hookup culture, because humans are humans, but it just wasn’t talked about as much.”
Specifically, Leibholz believes the pressure to date more seriously was placed most heavily on women. “One of the biggest changes is that women in our generation are seen as being in charge of their own sexual destiny,” she said. “They weren’t, in the past.”
Although she believes that casual relationships were always present, Leibholz said that there has been an uptick in casual relationships in recent years. She, similar to Nornberg, credits this to the uprise in social media. “Now, because of social media, you have much more access. It’s much easier to find people,” she said.
Payton said that increased usage of social media has also hampered dating by making parents more cautious about their child’s safety on social media. The term “helicopter parent,” first used in 1990, reflects a greater culture of parents monitoring every part of their child’s life.. “It just becomes really stressful to maneuver around things. While I get parents who dislike dating, I think there comes a certain point where helicopter-ing only exacerbates the very problem they’re trying to prevent and strains relationships with their kids.”
Knowing her parents would be against dating has encouraged Payton to hide her relationship from her family and social media altogether, which is why she considers her relationship more private than typical ones at the school she said.
At the same time, due to the new outlets of communication offered online, Payton finds it easier for her to find channels of communication with her boyfriend without her parents knowing, she said.
Though technology may have changed some aspects of relationships, helicopter parenting has always existed in different forms, Migdon said. “There are tons of movies about kids in past generations having to sneak out of the house away from their parents without the parents knowledge… it’s just the same.”
Olive said she believes helicopter parenting has always been more prevalent among forerign parents than American ones, which she credits to an environment of first-generation immigrants encouraging schoolwork as a priority. “American parents want their kids to feel like they have the ability to explore relationships, while foreign parents don’t want to be a priority in any sense.”
She attributes this pattern to the hardworking nature of her own parents, Olive said. “I think foreign parents felt that they had struggles in their life to get them where they are, and if their children don’t feel that pain and struggle they won’t succeed and be better than they were.”
Despite all of these obstacles, Payton still appreciates aspects of romance in modern dating culture, she said. “High school dating is unique because it’s something that you can’t get again, and it’s nice to be able to have a romantic relationship with someone during stressful times.”