Keeping up with Generation Z

A Gen Z herself, our writer sheds some light on the things that drive her and her peers, especially in matters dating and romance

I know many people who would frown on my belief system and lifestyle but that’s okay. I understand that it’s because I come from a generation whose way of life is different from any other. I am referring to Generation Z (born after 1996 and popularly referred to as Gen Z). Unlike millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), we are better educated and have way more liberal attitudes to emerging social trends than the generations before us.

Gen Zs, especially those in urban settings, have been raised in homes where the parents practise “helicopter parenting” – where the parents pay extremely close attention to their children’s experiences and problems (and hover over them like helicopters) – and as such they are not really equipped with much real-life wisdom.

Gen Zs were born in a world with internet and smartphones hence the majority have been exposed to all sorts of social media trends. The result is that we are more accepting of lifestyles that have been largely condemned by other generations. For example, we are more accepting of fluidity in sexual relationships such as same-sex and trans-gender. When it comes to matters religion, most Gen Zs are open to faith. According to a 2018 survey by North Eastern University, 78 per cent of older Gen Zs (born 1996-1998), said they believed in God.

When it comes to work, most Gen Zs do not do it because they enjoy it; instead they work primarily to earn a living. We are also very entrepreneurial – we believe there is a lot of money to be made in today’s economy, and Reality TV shows such as Shark Tank, KCB Lion’s Den and Safaricom’s BLAZE Be Your Own Boss have inspired us to look favourably at entrepreneurship. Organisations that allow Gen Zs to contribute ideas tend to see a higher engagement because they feel a sense of ownership. A study conducted last year by XYZ University, a talent management organisation, revealed that 58 per cent of Gen Zs want to own a business while 14 per cent already do. Closer home, the Kenya Youth Survey Report 2018 showed that 11 per cent of young people own a business while 82 per cent would rather have their own business than be employed.

Dating and romance among Gen Zs is quite tricky because the women are not only empowered economically and emotionally but they have also been told to focus on career rather than marriage and children. In addition, they are growing up in a culture where individualism is the moral stance.

As a Gen Z myself, I have never enjoyed being in a romantic relationship or even fancied having a boyfriend. This is mainly due to the fact that I love my personal space and find it annoying to have someone always hanging around me. I absolutely enjoy my own company and find fulfilment in spending time alone, working hard in school and focusing on achieving the best version of myself.

According to an analysis conducted on 5,000 women aged between 22 and 26 in the United States by The Conversation, a network of non-profit media outlets that publishes news stories written by researchers and academics, 85 per cent of Gen Z women prefer being in casual romantic relationships than in committed ones. This is even brought out in romance movies being produced in this era, for instance, How to Be Single. The female characters in this movie are educated and working but don’t want to be tied down to long-term relationships, preferring instead to engage in casual liaisons with multiple men. The main character, Alice (played by Dakota Johnson), decides she needs a break from her long-term boyfriend Josh and moves to New York to take up a job as a paralegal. This is typical of the Gen Z woman – what a girl really wants in 2020 is to make it on time for her 9am class, not lie in bed cuddling up with some guy.

The main reason our generation experiences dating and relationships differently is that we have grown up on social media from a very young age. This has contributed greatly to our “hook-up” and online dating culture, especially with the growth of online dating apps such as Bumble, Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid. Tinder is the most popular – it is fun and easy to use as we get to connect with people we don’t know unlike the traditional social media model that focuses on connecting with those with whom you are already acquainted in real life. Research carried out on the economy on Tinder Revenue and Usage Statistics early this year showed that Tinder is used in 190 countries and is available in 40 languages, generating a total of 4,000 swipes a day.

I enjoy using Tinder and have gone on two different dates with foreign men, a Korean and a South African. Meeting men online is best for casual relationships; you can have fun and then “ghost” your date the following morning – no emotions involved or any of the traditional commitments of a more formal romantic relationship. Admittedly, going on a date with someone you met online can be pretty dangerous but we do take precautions. Every time I went on a date, I made sure to let my friend know where I was, and my friend would call every 30 minutes. I also ensure that the meeting point is a place with a lot of people and security.  

Most young women I know use Tinder to meet men. We mostly look for men in their 30s and with well-paying jobs because we want to be wined and dined in the finest hotels. Yvonne Michael is a 21-year-old journalism student who says Tinder is a blessing to people like her who would never consider a committed relationship. She has been using Tinder for the past two years and been on several good dates that match her expectations – a “fine man and an expensive hotel”. Ms Michael adds that Tinder also makes it possible to meet people from different cultures. She has gone on a date with a Ghanaian and a Turkish man, and has maintained friendship with the latter and learnt a few things about Turkey and the culture.

“The foreign men on Tinder do fly into the country to meet you if they really like you!” says 23-year-old Cecile Akinyi, a corporate communications student. She says she met an Egyptian on Tinder last September – they maintained contact and the man came to Kenya in January just to meet her in person. But as much as she really liked him, they went their separate ways because she did not feel ready to commit herself to a long-distance relationship.

Dr Margaret Kagwe, Psychologist

“There are a lot of temptations with distance; besides I am too young and focused on my career. I don’t feel ready to accommodate a man yet,” she says.

However, Margaret Kagwe, a psychologist, warns against the “hook-up” dating culture of Gen Zs, saying it has severe consequences.

“No-strings-attached relationships are generally an attempt to find happiness without taking the risks associated with long-term relationships. They may appear to be fun, flexible and freedom but they have complications, especially when it comes to committing to long-term relationships,” says Dr Kagwe. She adds that the short-term relationships end up conditioning people in such a way that they may find it hard to adjust and take up roles required in long-term relationships.

The psychologist also says that multiple short-term relationships can cause emotional damage to the parties involved because the engagements are superficial thereby inhibiting emotional connection; it is only a matter of time before the feeling of emptiness kicks in.

Zadok Koech, another psychologist and a youth mentor under the Injili kwa Wote Ministries in Uasin Gishu County, says he has interacted with many Gen Zs during his counselling and mentoring sessions.

“They have a “don’t care” attitude because they think it’s all about them. They hardly take advice, mainly because they feel that they have been raised by Google and that all the answers they need can be found online,” says Mr Koech.

In his experience, most Gen Z issues he handles are suicide-related because most Gen Zs love to spend time alone with their electronic gadgets rather than opening up or talking to anyone.

“Most of them confess to hating marriage mainly because they feel this would compromise their personal space. The women say they would rather build their careers and travel the world than get married and build a family,” he says.

Koech says that it is quite difficult to relate with Gen Zs, but his experience in counselling has helped him embrace their lifestyles such as being on social media and speaking their language while keeping things real with them. He, however, adds: “If we sit and do nothing about the women who love a career more than marriage, then the future of the Church is threatened.”

While I love not having someone intrude in my personal space, I must admit that it gets lonely, especially when life gets hard. There are times when I wish I could have that one person to connect with emotionally and to ask how my day was. As I look at my three older sisters enjoying marriage and love, I realise that at the end of the day, I will need to bring the walls down and give myself a chance to experience something deeper with a man.