Gen Z, millennials: Why casual dating is trendy

Vinnie Mbugua, Brian Juma, Margaret Kamau, David Bwayo and Tony Muigai

From left: Vinnie Mbugua, Brian Juma, Margaret Kamau, David Bwayo and Tony Muigai.

Photo credit: Pool

In a society that traditionally placed significant emphasis on settling down after finding “the one”, a remarkable shift in recent years has popularised casual dating to the detriment of marriages.

A growing number of people aged above 26 are embracing casual dating, rejecting societal pressure to settle down and instead prioritising what they term “personal freedom, exploration, and self-discovery”.
This evolving mindset challenges long-held notions about relationships and, to its advocates, opens up new possibilities for individuals seeking fulfilling connections without the constraints of commitment.

Gone are the days when being single past a certain age carried a stigma or was viewed as a sign of failure.
Today, an increasing number of men and women are choosing to navigate the dating world on their own terms, unburdened by expectations to settle down.

This shift can be attributed to a variety of factors, including changing social norms, career aspirations and a desire to experience life to the fullest before making long-term commitments.

Mr David Bwayo, 28, a business technology analyst, says society is increasingly accepting non-traditional relationship structures.

Mr David Bwayo, 28, a business technology analyst.

Mr David Bwayo, 28, a business technology analyst.

Photo credit: Pool

He says that millennials and Gen Z individuals are more open to exploring different types of connections.
“Society has become more accepting of non-traditional relationship dynamics, including casual dating and non-monogamous arrangements," Mr Bwayo explains.

Mr Bwayo attributes the shift to the realisation that long-term commitment does not guarantee happiness.
“They are increasingly seeking meaningful connections that go beyond societal expectations, focusing instead on compatibility, shared interests and personal growth. These experiences can create a hesitancy or reluctance to enter into serious relationships, leading to a preference for more casual interactions.

“Past traumas can make you switch off the emotional side and I have done that. So rather than wasting my time, I rather just bust a nut and move on,” Mr Bwayo confesses.

Personal goals

The pursuit of personal and professional goals has taken centre stage in the lives of many young adults.
By prioritising their own growth and fulfilment, young people feel empowered to take control of their romantic lives, explore different relationships and learn more about themselves.

Ms Margaret Kamau, 29, a digital marketer, says navigating the delicate balance between personal growth, career aspirations and finding fulfilling connections has become a great challenge.

Ms Margaret Kamau, 29, a digital marketer

Ms Margaret Kamau, 29, a digital marketer.

Photo credit: Pool

“In all honesty, modern relationships require significant effort and commitment. With the demands of our busy lives, it feels like we already have a full-time job to focus on. While I don’t dismiss the idea of marriage entirely, it’s essential for me to prioritise my current responsibilities.

“Ideally, if I do consider marriage in the future, I hope it will be a long-distance relationship. This way, I can have the personal space I need to thrive and breathe on my own. Please understand, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but what is the purpose of entering a seemingly serious relationship only to end up with a broken heart?” Ms Kamau poses.
Whether exploring new hobbies, pursuing professional ambitions, or simply enjoying the freedom of self-discovery, these individuals are forging a new path where the only rule is to live life on their own terms.

Brian Juma, 27, an entrepreneur, cites the shift in the dynamics of modern relationships, emphasizing that the normalisation of casual ties has made it seem that entering into a relationship does not guarantee that both parties share the same goals and desires.

Brian Juma, 27, an entrepreneur

Brian Juma, 27, an entrepreneur.

Photo credit: Pool

As a result, when one partner decides to end the relationship, it often leaves the other feeling broken and emotionally vulnerable.

“We have witnessed a significant transformation in the dynamics of relationships. It has become increasingly common for individuals to enter into relationships where both partners may not share the same values or expectations to settle down. Given the circumstances, I believe it would be more appropriate for me to consider serious relationships when I reach the age of 32,” says Mr Juma.

He adds: “At the moment I would rather have someone but not really serious. I have numerous responsibilities and commitments to handle, such as establishing my career and navigating through challenging economic conditions. Adding the stress of a serious relationship to the mix would be overwhelming.”

Youth culture

Tony Muigai, 27, a civil engineer, believes societal norms and cultural influences such as music and pop culture in general have shifted the attitudes of millennial men by reinforcing the idea that casual dating is an integral part of youth culture and that such relationships are glamorous and exciting.

Tony Muigai, 27, a civil engineer

Tony Muigai, 27, a civil engineer.

Photo credit: Pool

“I think casual dating is beneficial in the sense of operating at one’s convenience. The flexibility of it allows me to focus on personal goals while exploring various romantic and sexual connections without the constraints of commitment, especially in this generation. It is daunting. There is constant exposure to a range of options and not just by the advancement of technology in social apps but by also the shift in the dating landscape on what is socially acceptable with traditional notions of relationships being challenged. So being a small fish in a very big pond makes compatibility a rare commodity,” argues Mr Muigai.

According to Pew Research Centre data, millennials are much less likely to be living with a family of their own than previous generations of the same age.

In 2019, 55 per cent of Millennials lived in this type of family unit, compared to 66 per cent of Gen Xers in 2003, 69 per cent of Boomers in 1987 and 85 per cent of members of the Silent Generation in 1968.
Mr Vinnie Mbugua,30, a tech consultant, says the millennial generation is characterised by a reluctance to commit to a single option when there are countless alternatives available.

Mr Mbugua believes the glorification of the "bad boy" image has influenced the way millennials perceive life.
“There is a lot of excitement with casual dating. I can enjoy all pros of being with someone and ignore all the cons when they come, and then on to the next one. I feel like as a millennial I don’t want to commit to one thing if I can get a million other options. I feel for example we believe being a bad boy is glorified and it has influenced the way we all perceive life and we ultimately become what we yearn for,” says Mr Mbugua.

Mr Vinnie Mbugua,30, a tech consultant

Mr Vinnie Mbugua,30, a tech consultant.

Photo credit: Pool

Failed relationships

Zawadi Kimari, a clinical psychologist at Chiromo Hospital attributes casual relationships to several factors. 
Failed serious relationships or marriages, she says, can leave people feeling empty and reluctant to enter into relationships with high risks of failure. 

Another factor, she says, is that an increasing number of people have anxious-avoidant attachment styles, which are not entirely secure. This can lead to a mindset where relationships are seen as temporary, with a clear beginning and end. Even when a better-suited partner is found, it becomes easier to opt out of the current relationship due to underlying attachment insecurities.

Additionally, changing societal values and morals play a role, she adds
For his part, Pastor Stephen Ngengi of St Jericho SDA says, according to the Bible, marriage is viewed as a lifelong commitment rather than a contractual agreement. 
He adds that due to the influence of immorality, divorce has become more common. However, forgiveness and moving on are also encouraged in certain cases. 

He blames heartbreak among young people on engaging in sexual activities early on, as the Bible teaches that individuals should strive for purity before becoming one in marriage. 
“As a marriage grows and matures, it solidifies into a partnership, allowing individuals to have numerous friends. Sexual intercourse is deemed appropriate solely within the confines of marriage, and engaging in it with someone outside of the marital relationship is discouraged,” the pastor adds. 

Pastor/Dr Marion Mutwiri-Mwangi, a marriage and family therapist and lecturer at USIU Africa opines that lack of awareness and ignorance surrounding the principles of relationships is a significant factor contributing to the prevalence of casual relationships. 

“These principles are not being taught or actively sought after by people. In today’s postmodern world, the philosophical foundation of millennials consists of relativism, where there is a belief that there is no absolute truth. Relationships, however, cannot be treated like disposable material possessions. Human beings are emotional beings, and being in relationships requires us to engage with our emotions and treat them with care,” says Dr Mwangi. 

“Another philosophical influence is hedonism, the pursuit of personal pleasure. Many young people may reason that if a relationship doesn’t provide them with pleasure, they can easily move on to someone else. The fear of missing out also plays a role, where relationships lack clear goals and responsibilities. This leads to entering into relationships without considering the consequences, even though there are inherent responsibilities and consequences involved. These two philosophies contribute to the prevalence of casual relationships among young people.”

Poor modelling, she adds, as well as the presence of multiple alternatives, have had an impact. “The current generation has witnessed a high number of parents who have experienced separation and divorce. This exposure to domestic violence, failing marriages and emotional pain leads many individuals to seek protection from such hurt by opting for relationships without responsibilities or consequences. The negative experiences they have witnessed have influenced their perspective on relationships, pushing them towards casual arrangements.”