Gen X and Millennials Are Dipping Into Each Other's Dating Pools

Because love knows no artificial, age-based, media-enforced barriers.

Michael is sitting across the table in a downtown café on a Tuesday morning. He pauses, frequently, to respond to his iPhone6 in the first half hour of our conversation before apologizing and sliding the device back into his pocket. He is 39 and his partner, Samantha, is 22.

“I remember when I first started dating, you could just leave a message on an answering machine. It wasn’t a big deal of that person didn’t get back to you for awhile. I guess things are different now.”

Michael and Samantha met eight months ago while working together on a local independent film production. Their shared passions in life extend past moviemaking. Both are committed vegetarians, late 1980s grunge enthusiasts, and Simpsons reference makers. In fact, despite the fact that Michael physically looks slightly older than Samantha, you would never guess that the two have a 17-year age gap.

“Guys my age are still really unsure of themselves, both in and out of the bedroom. That’s kind of a turn off for me."

A few days later, asked about the advantage of dating an older man, Samantha replies, “Guys my age are still really unsure of themselves, both in and out of the bedroom. That’s kind of a turn off for me. I’m attracted to confidence. Plus, we were already so much alike it was kind of a given that we would be compatible."

The pair represents a trend in the modern dating scene wherein people are finding compatibility with someone from a completely different generation. Despite the age difference, both Gen X and Millennials find themselves intersecting at many of the same points in life. The cross-generational connection starts with the lasting impact of Gen X youth culture.

Generation X starts around 1963, depending on which source you look at, and comes into its own during the mid to late 1980s. Every generation has its definitive hallmarks. Gen X grew up in the advent of televisions being in every household across America. An almost completely undivided audience of youth was parked in front of the screen, and to feed their inquiring minds, up popped MTV.

Quick to both broadcast and exploit anything remotely subculture, MTV ensured that the snarky, Gen Xer stereotype became preserved in syndication. The Millennial generation grew up watching the parody version of Gen X and formed its own identity around it. As Millennials became adults, they were able to relate to many of the cultural things that Gen X had created. America now has two generations that have grown up with almost identical media influences—yet consumed them at completely different points in their upbringing. Naturally, connections were made. 

While sharing similar movies and music is great, it only gets you so far. The biggest challenge Millennial and Gen X cross-daters face is the subtle culture clash that comes from one party not being in the same place emotionally as the other.

 "It was like I had everything in common with him, while he had absolutely nothing in common with me.”

Amber, a 26-year-old bartender, is all too familiar with this. Two years ago she dated a man who was 45. “The first few months were great," says Amber, "but after a while, it became clear we were not on the same page. He hated my friends that were my age. He would altogether avoid hanging out at my place if they were over. I asked what was wrong, and he said he was annoyed with how all they talked about was going to school or moving into their first place. It was like I had everything in common with him, while he had absolutely nothing in common with me.”

Despite life-stage differences, some Gen X and Millennials bond over a lack of interest in reproducing. Meredith, 40, and Josh, 33, have been in a committed relationship for the past three years. They met through an Internet dating service. In this past year, they've decided to move in together. Meredith knew from a young age that she wanted to focus on her career. “After seeing my mother go through two divorces, I just never placed marriage as a high priority. It was really important to me to be independent.”

She worked her way through undergrad and moved all around the United States throughout her 20s and early 30s. “I wouldn’t give that time up for anything! I really found out a lot about myself and what I wanted to do with my life.”

Both generations are often accused (usually by the other) of being in an arrested development.

After moving back to her hometown, Meredith found the dating scene among people her own age to be dismal. “I was definitely looking for a partner, but I knew that I wanted to go back to school and continue on with my career. Most of the men around my age already had children or were very eager to start a family soon. Having a child just didn’t fit into my bigger picture.”

Meredith is not alone. The Center for Work-Life Policy published a study titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33- to 46-Year-Old Generation" in 2011. Its research showed that 43 percent of women and 32 percent of men in the Gen X generation are either putting children on hold or opting out of the process entirely. Millennials, too, show a tendency toward a child-free life. According to the Urban Institute, Millennial birthrates have dropped 15 percent between 2007 and 2012. Factors such as the recession and high debt are speculated to be reasons for the decrease. Fewer children mean more time to explore different life options, which can subsequently widen the dating pool. 

Both generations are often accused (usually by the other) of being in an arrested development, but both are driven and often strongly desire to change the world they live in. It makes sense that X and M would be attracted to one another. Gen X might prefer it if the Millennials didn’t borrow so heavily from things the older generation created. Millennials most certainly would love it if Gen X would stop being so nihilistic. In the end, however, these are just general indicators that make up the overall character of a generation and can be overcome in matters of the heart … and sex.