NEW YORK • The millennial generation's breezy approach to sexual intimacy helped give rise to apps like Tinder and made phrases like "hooking up" and "friends with benefits" part of the lexicon.
But when it comes to serious lifelong relationships, new research suggests, millennials in the US are proceeding with caution.
Dr Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies romance and is a consultant to the dating site Match.com, has come up with the phrase "fast sex, slow love" to describe the juxtaposition of casual sexual liaisons and long-simmering committed relationships.
Young adults are not only marrying and having children later in life than previous generations, but also taking more time to get to know each other before they tie the knot. Indeed, some spend the better part of a decade as friends or romantic partners before marrying, according to new research by eHarmony, another online dating site.
The eHarmony report on relationships found that couples aged 25-34 knew each other for an average of 61/2 years before marrying, compared with an average of five years for all other age groups.
The report was based on online interviews with 2,084 adults who were either married or in long-term relationships, and was conducted by Harris Interactive. The sample was demographically representative of the United States for age, gender and geographic region, but was not nationally representative for other factors like income, so its findings are limited. Experts said the results accurately reflect the consistent trend towards later marriages documented by national census figures.
I'm still figuring out so many things. I'll get married when my life is more in order.
MS JULIANNE SIMSON, 24, who lives with her 25-year-old boyfriend and is in no hurry to tie the knot.
Ms Julianne Simson, 24, and her boyfriend, Ian Donnelly, 25, are typical. They have been dating since they were in high school and have lived together in New York City since graduating from college, but are in no rush to get married.
Ms Simson said she feels "too young" to be married. "I'm still figuring out so many things. I'll get married when my life is more in order. My mum says I'm removing all the romance from the equation, but I know there's more to marriage than just love," she said.
Sociologists, psychologists and other experts who study relationships said this practical no-nonsense attitude towards marriage has become more the norm as women have piled into the workforce in recent decades. During that time, the median age of marriage rose to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women last year, up from 23 for men and 20.8 for women in 1970.
Both men and women now tend to want to advance their careers before settling down. Many are carrying student debt and worry about the high cost of housing.
They often say they would like to be married before starting a family, although some express ambivalence about having children. Most importantly, experts said, they want a strong foundation for marriage so they can get it right - and avoid divorce.
Just as childhood and adolescence are becoming more protracted in the modern era, so is courtship and the path to commitment, Dr Fisher said. "With this long pre-commitment stage, you have time to learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with other partners. So that by the time you walk down the aisle, you know what you've got, and you think you can keep what you've got."
Most singles still yearn for a serious romantic relationship, even if these relationships often have unorthodox beginnings, she said. Nearly 70 per cent of singles surveyed by Match.com recently said they wanted a serious relationship.
The report, released earlier this year, is based on the responses of more than 5,000 people aged 18 and above living in the US and was carried out by Research Now, a market research company, in collaboration with Dr Fisher and sex researcher Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. As with eHarmony's report, its findings are limited because the sample was not representative for factors like income or education.
Participants said serious relationships started in one of three ways: with a first date, a friendship, or a "friends with benefits" relationship, meaning a friendship with sex. But millennials were slightly more likely than other generations to have a friendship or a friends with benefits relationship evolve into a romance or a committed relationship.