March 05, 2017

Should Millennials Rethink Labels?

Why Women Should Beware the Millennial Phenomenon of Anti- Labels

Ask any hipster with their finger on the millennial pulse and they'll tell you that, when it comes to dating, labels are passé. Boyfriend/girlfriend is what the old folks call themselves. Millennials are so anti-label, in fact, that they don't even label dates themselves, or repeated romantic interactions as "dating." It's a much looser, "chill" if you will, go with the flow kind of mindset geared toward progression. To the casual observer, it's free love 2.0.

But as a 28 year old woman who is technically considered a millennial and was dating long before the umbrella term was coined, I would caution women against the new norm.


First, the term 'millennial' is too broad to speak to all of the desires of those it includes. It technically means anyone who became a young adult in or around the year 2000. I turned 18 in 2006, so technically, I qualify. But in practice the term is more often used to describe the younger members of our oh, so special club - people who are in their early twenties as opposed to those in their late twenties, early thirties and even mid thirties. This is significant as millennial is often used to determine trends in a number of areas including but not limited to technology, politics, and of course, dating. In these areas what millennials are doing couldn't possibly be referring to all or even most of us, as with a decade plus of aging, life experience and paid taxes comes completely different world views.

Dating Without Labels

Now onto dating. Contrary to the trendy, new spirit of "no labels," the practice of having almost-relationships is hardly new. Indeed, labels already exist for all the grey area activity recently reclaimed by hookup culture. Casual dating, hooking up, booty call, one night stand, friends with benefits, fuck buddy, side chick - stop me anytime. So if we're being honest, it's not about labels or no labels, because there is always a definition for what you are participating in whether you choose to call it that or not. The difference is the willingness to operate in the ambiguous place one exists in when labels are not applied or even discussed. The difference is acceptance of these things as the rule, making clearly defined relationships the exception. Which is great for...who exactly?

I would argue that this change is largely to the benefit of men and the disadvantage of women, and here's why. For women who are not marriage minded nothing needs to change. A woman who is looking for a deeper commitment, however, will have a much harder time navigating in the world of only-uncool-people-care-about-labels. As if it wasn't hard enough already.

As previously stated, casual relationships already existed before this fad, and it was hard enough for commitment ready women to date emotionally unavailable men when labels were the cultural expectation. At least then when things hadn't progressed in a few months she would realize it. But this arrangement makes it far too easy for emotionally unavailable men to string women along with the claim that labels just aren't that important to them. While this isn't entirely new either, what is new is the overwhelming cultural rejection of labels, putting not so subtle pressure of anyone who falls below the millennial umbrella to get with the times and loosen up. Granted not all women are looking for relationships and not all men are to commitment as cats are to water. But for those millennials that are not just accepting of labels but in fact marriage minded, rather than oodles of no frills fun, all hookup culture has to offer is headaches, heartache, and most importantly, a fuck load of wasted time.

All My (Older) Single Ladies

This is why the vast age differences among millennials is significant. Asking people out via social media apps, Netflix and chill, entire relationships taking place over text - is it me or does this all sound a bit high school? Sure, many of us supplement our dating activities with dating apps and text messages due to busy schedules and the like, but most of us do not and could not have an entire relationship on our phones! There is a much younger generation being represented here, and that's why I'm speaking largely to women because while the 29 year old man may be content to "just hang out" and see where things go, his 29 year old counterpart may not, due to the one thing about dating that has not progressed with the times.


So-called millennial women in our late twenties to mid thirties have reproductive desire and ability to consider. When I was 21 I would happily date in a carefree way without clear direction, but at 28 I am less inclined. Understandably the same reproductive concern has not yet landed on my male counterparts, but I would much rather make the decision about whether or not to have children on my own, or with my partner, than to have the decision made for me because I spent my fertile years being no-labels-cool and then woke up in my late thirties in a race against my own clock.

Defense Against The No Labels Fad

Now, in defense against the new cool, labels exist for a reason - clarity. It's the reason that when someone asks you what you had for breakfast you don't ramble on about the odd granola like confection with dried raisin bits you soaked in moist dairy product in a medium sized bowl. Why say all that when you can just say cereal? Will there be a random baked potato in your breakfast bowl? Will the liquid soaking your granola be tomato soup. No. Because that would not be cereal.

Applying - or at least discussing - labels is a clear way to establish common ground, mutual consent and boundaries, which I argue is the real issue here. It is harder to communicate and enforce a personal boundary, such as not having casual sex, in a relationship where casual has different meanings for different people and the relationship in question intentionally resists definition. Having labels eliminates confusion and frees up a lot of the time young people spend typing queries into search engines.

Questions such as: Are they still seeing other people? How do I know if we are serious about each other? Are we looking for the same things? 

Or the late twenties to mid thirties questions like: Been dating for a year and they don't believe in marriage - what do I do? Is it too soon to break up if they don't want kids? 

The former questions are a bit lighter but there is still a great deal of stress that can be eliminated with a more forthcoming attitude about clarity. As for the latter questions - these are big, life changing decisions, some which default to an answer you might not like after an expiration date. It's a lot easier to wait and see what happens in a relationship when five to ten years will not impact your ability to answer those questions, but women who are not fresh out of their teens and would like to decide these things for themselves need to think differently.

Unless you really do just want to hang out, that is. If you really don't have expectations, and you really aren't worried about whether you can have a family down the line, then this doesn't apply to you. But if you want to date - really date - and you have expectations, and when asked where you see yourself in five years you envision a partner, a toddler and some sort of dog, this new wave of free love is not for you.

It isn't meant for you. It is meant for younger women who really do just want to have fun "right now." Teens. Late teens. Early twenties. Who have the time, frankly, to waste. It is meant for women of any age who do not consider romantic partnership a priority; for women of any age who are certain they aren't interested in having any children. It is meant for men who have all the time in the world to just have fun and get serious about romantic partnerships later on in life, if ever. 

Although even then I might add that avoiding and resisting labels does not further any of these goals - all it does is make it more confusing for all parties involved. I picture a person at a dinner party driving the host crazy. 

"No I don't eat chicken." 
"Is fish okay?" 
"No, I actually try to stay away from fish."
"Are you a vegetarian?" 
"Oh...labels don't really mean a lot to me, you know, I just follow my preferences and see where it takes me." 
"Okkaayy....what about beef."
"Sorry, I don't eat beef."

Right. How long before someone slaps you so you'll get over yourself and everyone else can eat! Is this really freeing? Is it really progressive? Or are we wasting time and starving while you do a lot of explaining that a five syllable word could have encompassed for you?

All that being said, to my fellow mid twenties to mid thirties women who are thinking seriously about romantic futures, or to anyone for that matter who does not enjoy unnecessary ambiguity in the present, I urge you to gently remind the cool, anti-label millennials you may encounter that 'millennial' is, in fact, a label. And it's far more reductive than the words 'boyfriend,' 'girlfriend,' or 'date.' 

If they can handle one, they can handle the rest. Why not keep it simple and just call a spade a spade.

Or in this case - call a fad a fad.


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