There was a time when dinner was the go-to first date. Two people would politely nibble at their meals as they gazed at each other over their plates and played footsie underneath the table. They’d talk about their lives over a shared bottle of wine. There might even be a little hand-holding after dessert, which also served as a double entendre of sorts (or an actual invitation for sex).
But like all sanitized stories of romance, millennials have figured out that this trope is mostly bullshit. What of all the stuff that no one talks about? The expensive bill, the three-hour time commitment, the awkward silences and (failed) attempts not to talk with your mouth full?
Instead, drinks are the new mating call. While $200 dinner dates are the way to go for those who want to flex their receipt on Twitter, a recent study found that going out for drinks has a 37 percent chance of leading to a second date, compared to 27 percent for dinner.
“It’s bad enough meeting a stranger for the first time anyway, but dinner comes with so much other baggage,” says Ryan, 24, an engineer in New York City who I matched with on Bumble. “You’re nervous and anxious and trying to make sure you keep the conversation flowing whilst not spilling food on yourself. Drinks are better as you can pretty much leave whenever you want, and if you feel the date is going well, you can always go to another bar.”
“Going out for drinks is kinda like a speed date,” says Marina Nazario, 24, a writer who frequented the New York City dating scene for two years before moving back to Fort Lauderdale. Any time she matches with someone on a dating app, she immediately responds with “Drinks?” or, if she’s feeling lazy, just the beer-clinking emoji with a question mark. Every time she has met someone for drinks, she says, it’s led to a second date.
“I start out with low standards when meeting up with someone from a dating app,” she says. “I’m never going to assume he’s some amazing guy just based on his profile.” This has proven to be true, with the exception of the time she “totally misjudged” a dude’s profile and he ended up being “the biggest sweetheart.” Her drinks dates don’t normally last more than an hour and a half, so she leaves something to talk about for the potential next date.
Alysha Jeney, a 30-year-old Denver-based relationship counselor, says drinks offer “a more engaged, less pressured experience.” Because the setting is more informal than dinner, the expectations aren’t as high, which is ideal for millennial men and women for a couple of reasons: 1) They’re already feeling an overwhelming amount of pressure to get married, so the more casual, the less neuroses; and 2) they’re probably going on a number of similar dates week after week.
“People may want to establish an immediate connection without having to invest a ton of time, energy or money,” Jeney explains. After all, millennials regard “busyness” as a symbol of status; they don’t have time or energy to waste on long, bad dates. “Being busy means you’re important, needed, valued,” Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times back in 2012 (words that continue to hold true today). Specifically on the topic at hand — dating — he noted a friend saying, “Everyone’s too busy, and everyone thinks they can do better.”
“Our generation is used to having options,” Nazario says. “The world is our oyster, and everyone tells us that. So casually going out for drinks ensures that slice of freedom we like to have.”
But it goes beyond just a lack of time and patience or endless options. According to Jeney, it also implies that millennials are less bound by traditional gender roles — such as the guy being expected to cover the check.
To that point, Peter Gonzalez, a 29-year-old change-management consultant, believes a drinks date relieves the pressure of picking out a restaurant and deciding what food to order, which are responsibilities men have traditionally have been saddled with. “You loosen up, and you get a good sense of the personality of the person sitting in front of you,” he says. “That’s where the attraction either blossoms or fades away. And their personality is what leads to a second date.”
Drinks also mean less in the way of physical barriers between you and that person, says Madison West, a 24-year-old Houston native. “When you’re having drinks with someone, it implies a sort of honesty between you,” she theorizes. “You’re literally closer to the person, and it creates an intimacy that’s more memorable than dinner conversation.”
Luiji Massanga, a 23-year-old model, likes the more intimate setting drinks offer. The other person’s guard isn’t as high, he says, often leading to a deeper connection. When I ask what he looks for on drinks date, Massanga says the key is spontaneity, something he evaluates based on his date’s drink choice. “I usually get a drink I’ve never heard of and encourage her to do the same.”
Of course, there’s also the obvious: Everyone is more uninhibited when drinking. Not to mention that some people are, well, more bearable after a few drinks. “I’m fun but a lot to handle, so having the person opposite of me have a few drinks in her will help her feel comfortable and loosen up,” Jamie, 26, a sales rep who I matched with on The League app. “Then it becomes a game of who can have more fun.”
Whether fun and games lead to lasting love remains to be seen. The positives to “drinks” don’t seem to take into account “beer goggles,” the higher chance you’ll do or say something you’ll regret, or whether you’ll even remember the intimate connection you forged. But maybe none of that really matters — millennials probably aren’t going to get married anyway.