In her new intergenerational column for The Latch—, Crystal Andrews will explore the differences in thinking, behaviours and beliefs between Gen Z their Millennial ‘elders’. Crystal is the founder of news platform Zee Feed and author of How to Win Every Argument: A No-Filter Guide to Being Right About Everything.
We’re in the midst of a cultural reckoning. There’s a growing list of things that were entertaining, inspiring or simply ‘acceptable’ 10 years ago, that we’re now chucking in the bin.
Next on the chopping block: the “Don’t Settle!” approach to dating.
If you’ve ever felt comforted or empowered to hear a friend tell you to “know your worth” or “it’s their loss” when reeling from romantic fallout, I’ve got bad news. We’re not doing that anymore.
It’s thanks in no small part to the emergence of Gen Z. The sheer size of their generation (bigger than the Boomers) and megaphone approach to social media has given them the power to hit the cultural reset button with real effect.
Now firmly in adulthood and navigating the excitement and despair of dating, they are throwing out this stale, slogan-ised approach in favour of a more self-reflective style.
The double standard is suffocating
“The ‘don’t settle’ mentality has resulted in a generation of non-committal behaviours like people avoiding any confrontation, and from this a general sense of mistrust because no-one is willing to compromise or self-reflect. The narrative is it’s always their fault, but they have to accept you for all of your flaws? The double standard is suffocating.”
It’s a mantra we’ve been taught by the pop culture that made up ’00s dating curriculum. Think He’s Just Not That Into You, The Holiday and iconic Sex & the City, which is basically six seasons of “don’t settle” wrapped in a Dior bow.
For heterosexual Millennial women in particular, watching Carrie Bradshaw refuse to settle for anything less than great Big love was inspiring. We adopted her steadfast commitment to herself because, in the end, she got the guy without having to compromise much and we wanted the same. But in the rearview mirror it’s obvious how two-dimensional that narrative is.
In the new decade, we’re off Carrie — the character was a terrible friend and a crappy girlfriend. As we question why we ever thought she was great, we should question our adoption of her dating habits too.
In dating, why does the problem always lie with the other person? Why do so few people clear the high bar we’ve set? And, most crucially, if you are allowed to make mistakes and grow as a person… why does ‘refusing to settle’ not allow the same grace to others?
Share your flaws
The response to anon’s dating submission was unanimous: talking about ‘settling’ is shallow, and kind of cruel. Not liking someone doesn’t make them inherently less valuable than you, and we know how crushing it feels when the shoe is on the other foot.
Now, frank self-awareness is the way to win at love.
“The word ‘settle’ has me riled up. It’s picking a choice less than. Meet as equals, have a conversation and share your flaws to set expectations.”
The mentality shift is huge — from bullishly embracing your worth (and self-appointed status) to understanding, owning and working on your own flaws. Carrie could never!
Ditching the concept of standards doesn’t mean throwing self-respect out the door. We can shift to less judgmental language and allow our needs to be met without putting ourselves on a pedestal.
“You should know your values and be self-aware enough to know someone isn’t right for you, but it’s completely insane to give up on someone you have a connection with because they don’t meet some standard you have set. Let people grow!”
If we were to give this refreshed dating style a catchphrase — an admittedly very 2010 thing to do — it would be: “These are my problems. What are yours?”
Self-worth is the foundation
We might have outgrown the mindset, but don’t underestimate its role in propelling modern dating forward. Younger generations are building upon the foundations of self-love established by at least two decades of singles dating by the “don’t settle” mantra.
The values that Gen Z swear by — unwavering self-awareness, accountability for your failings, commitment to growth — require a belief in self-worth first and foremost. To paraphrase famed marriage therapist Esther Perel, it means acknowledging that you messed up without believing you are a mess.
So here’s a final shoutout to Carrie Bradshaw et al. for doing the groundwork! But the new dating attitude is much more forgiving – embrace the evolution.