The Evolution of Love: How Dating Has Changed in the 21st Century

happy couple

Dating today is just, well, different. At least when we compare it to 20 years ago. Of course, that change is expected. At the same time, surveying our past can often lead us to understanding our future.

Today we’ll look at some of the major overhauls the dating world has experienced over the 21st century and key in on some ways it may change more.

The Shift in Societal Norms

couple surfing the internet

There’s been a vast overhaul to what’s considered “normal” in the dating world is the past two decades.

Delayed Marriages

Americans are putting off marriage at increasing rates. Over the last 50 years alone, marriage rates in the United States have dropped almost 60%.

What used to be a basic path to marriage is now populated with new ideas and concepts. More people are accepting of couples, at the very least, delaying the big day. And much of this could be due to skyrocketing divorce rates which cloud perspectives of what was once the ultimate union. When you don’t get married, a separation isn’t nearly as complex. This can make the relationship feature less risk, and less pressure, which could help it thrive.

But also, more people are seeing the value in longer courtships which allow partners to better understand if they are “meant to be.”

Marriage remains strong, but it’s no longer considered the only or assumed path.

Increase in Cohabitation

More partners are living together than ever.

In 2018, 15 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 lived with an unmarried partner. That’s up 12 percent just ten years prior.

Let’s be honest, some part of this increase is likely due to cost savings. If you are spending all your time together anyways, why pay two rents or mortgages?

Cohabitation, once considered a feature central only to post-marriage, is also a wonderful way to test the waters of a relationship prior to marriage.

Increased Acceptance of Diverse Relationships

One of the most pronounced changes in the dating world is undoubtedly an increase in acceptance for a diversity of relationship styles. We’d file this on inclusive dating. Whether it’s LGBTQ+ or open relationships, we’re seeing more and more mentions in mainstream media. We’re watching shows that feature an open relationship or a gay couple. And we probably know people who are happily involved in a new wave modern style relationship.

This movement towards dating inclusivity isn’t showing any signs of slowing. This is due to the diversity of people; whether sexual orientation or culture or personal choice, people are simply different. Unique people desire unique things. And dating is no different.

In historical context, the LGBTQ+ community has faced numerous legal and societal challenges to get to this better place. There certainly remains a long ways to go, however.

The increasing recognition of diverse relationship structures outside of traditional marriage has been a major change as well. There’s a more supportive community and more people have been exposed to someone they know partaking in a relationship that may feature more than only two partners.

There’s a growing representation of non-traditional dating in movies, TV shows, and literature, which is serving to increase a broader appeal and normalize.

Online dating

We’d be remiss not to mention the most obvious, pervasive change: Online dating. More people are meeting online than ever before and this has massive ramifications in the dating sphere. This allows people the opportunity to meet diverse types of people in more expedited ways. You no longer have to wait until Friday night and hope that the person of your dreams makes way into the local watering hole.

Today, you can sign up for an open relationship dating site as well as many other types of non-traditional dating platforms and meet someone that fits your needs. And you don’t have to wait until Friday night.

What’s Driving These Changes?

There’s two major factors driving changes in dating.

A rise in individualism

Without question, more people are prioritizing personal growth and self-discovery ahead of mutual partnerships. In a relationship, you must make sacrifices, which can slow down achievements, aspirations, and goals. For example, many people might want to focus on their career, or education, and view traditional dating expectations as problematic.

Shifts in Intimacy

In short, people are viewing intimacy in broader, more inclusive ways. We’re a more sex-positive society. We have more respectful communications about things like consent and intimacy desires.

A broader audience

It’s important to mention online dating again as it’s a major driver of modern love’s evolution.

Online dating allows people to process their more granular romantic desires. People are less reactive and more proactive in finding the type of person and style of relationship that fits their wants and desires.


Our types of relationships, how we date, and who we are as a culture have shifted dramatically in the 21st century. Our movement towards a more inclusive dating atmosphere looks to continue over the next two decades as we become more open to dating outside traditional expectations.