‘Can I fully commit?’: The millennials who have never been in a relationship

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When friends tell Dave they have the “perfect girl” for him, he welcomes the introduction.

The 28-year-old business professional (who asked to use his first name only) goes on dates but has never been in a serious, long-term relationship, and is open to meeting a potential partner. He sees his friends around him getting married, but he’s just not there yet.

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“In high school, dating wasn’t something that was top of mind for me. There were crushes and flirting, but I always felt that I lacked the social confidence to take those friendships or crushes to a more serious place,” he told Global News.

“As I’ve gotten older… I have been able to open myself more and have had longer relationships, but now it has gone from, ‘I don’t want to commit,’ to, ‘Can I fully commit?'”

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Canadians aren’t partnering up

Dave is not alone in his situation. Experts say it is not uncommon for Canadians in their late 20s or early 30s — a time in life when people traditionally marry and “settle down” — to have never been in a committed romantic relationship.

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“The whole dating game in general has changed,” said Shannon Tebb, a Toronto-based dating coach and matchmaker. “People aren’t really dating as much as they used to and… it’s not like the old days where you have to be married by 25, have a baby and the white picket fence. It’s not about that rush anymore.”

While it may seem surprising that many millennials have never been in a committed partnership, research backs up that our attitudes around relationships are shifting.

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As a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute found, 53 per cent of Canadian adults feel marriage isn’t necessary. The poll, which surveyed 1,520 Canadians, found four in 10 adults were never married and were unsure if they wanted to get hitched.

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Many people who have never been in a relationship don’t think their single status is that big of a deal, either.

“I’m completely comfortable where I am,” Dave said. “I’d love to get married, have a family and all that comes with that life, but I also don’t compare myself to other people. I have milestones in my own life and a career that I focus on.”

Why people are single

Like Dave, 27-year-old Ally (who also asked to use her first name only) likes to focus on her professional goals. The Toronto-based administrator says she’s never seriously dated someone, and is in no rush to partner up with just anyone.

Ally says because she has been single for most of her adult life, she has been able to spend time and energy on advancing her career.

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“Sometimes it feels like fitting in another person would be difficult, actually,” she said. “I like the freedom of being single, and that it’s allowed me to focus on my career and get myself into a very secure spot.”

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This sentiment is something Jess O’Reilly, a Toronto-based relationship expert and host of the podcast Sex With Dr. Jess, hears a lot.

“I see more millennials embracing a wider range of relationship options without apology; some opt to stay single and others opt for consensual non-monogamy — and of course, everything in between,” she said.

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“Some folks stay single because they find dating exhausting and others are single because they’re busy with work and social obligations, but in most cases, this is a choice.”

There are cases, of course, where being single is less of a choice and more a result of not finding the right partner.

For 30-year-old Mat (who also wished to only use his first name), dating isn’t easy. The Ontario-based media officer has autism, but says his condition is only part of why he doesn’t date.

“First of all, it’s about low self-confidence. I am scared [of] being judged by the person I would be dating,” he explained. “The other reason is because of my neurological condition, I don’t want any children. So everyone who wants to have or has children is a no-go area for me.”

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Mat says that he is also sometimes uncomfortable when it comes to the act of dating. He says that social situations can be hard, and online dating isn’t for him.

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“I am not a snob by nature, but most dating apps are superficial,” he said. “They are something you use for five minutes and you then tune out.”

Tebb largely blames dating apps for the breakdown in traditional dating practices, like calling someone on the phone or surprising them with flowers. She says that with the convenience of apps, people have started to engage in less-than-desirable dating habits, like ghosting.

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“With social media and dating apps, you’re always kind of comparing yourself to others or searching for something better,” she added. “People are just making connections through their phones versus face-to-face.”

Wanting to connect

The downside of dating apps is something Nigel D’Souza can relate to. The cook says that he’s tried dating sites but often won’t get responses, and has a hard time meeting people offline, too.

D’Souza says he does want a partner, and it can feel discouraging when he tries to connect with someone but has little luck. The longest relationship he’s had was three months long, and he wants a long-term partner to “grow alongside.”

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“There are times where I’m neutral about my situation, and try to look at it as a positive [by] trying to work on myself and focus on my own goals,” he said. “Most times, however, I get pretty depressed about it… I see a lot of friends getting married and having kids and that feels like a total dream for me.”
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When someone wants to find a partner but is having difficulty, getting out of their comfort zone can help, Tebb says. The relationship expert says that when you feel like you’re “missing out” on things like marriage and kids because you’re single, it’s important to widen your network.

“What communities are you a part of? Do you have a singles network of friends? If not, it should be your priority to build that,” Tebb explained.

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She said that by “putting yourself out there” — whether that be by joining a running group, art class or book club — you’re building a larger community.

“You don’t just want to have those married friends, but you also want to have single friends who like to do the same things as you,” she said.

Enjoying the single life

O’Reilly stresses that it’s perfectly OK to be single at any stage of your life. For some people, they are happiest when they’re pursuing goals that best align with them — and those don’t always include marriage and kids.

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“It’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re missing out,” she said. “Some people are happier when they’re single and others are happier living with a partner. There is no right way to live, so you have to figure out what works for you.”

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While Dave is still hopeful he will meet the “right” person, he is no hurry to rush into a relationship.

“I’m hopeful that I hit the married and family milestones eventually, but if it happens in three years or in 10 years, I’ll be just as happy,” he said.

“For now, I’ll just enjoy partying at everyone else’s wedding.”

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