If you’re young and single, you know it’s rough out there. Between fuccbois on Tinder and self-esteem killing trolls on social media, the modern dating world can be savage. That’s why we decided to ask an expert for some millennial dating advice.
Meet Alysha Jeney, a 30-year-old married relationship counselor based in Denver, Colorado. Yep, you read that right — she’s a counselor, a millennial herself, and she’s in a successful long-term relationship. Talk about the ideal expert.
Jeney, who is also the founder of the subscription-based Modern Love Box for couples, has been with her partner for about a decade, and has been in private practice for three years. She sees about 20 to 25 clients per week, mostly couples but many individuals, too, and the majority of her clients are young — age 25 to 33. The number one thing single millennials are struggling with? Surprise surprise, says Jeney — it’s the inability to connect deeply with a potential romantic partner.
We sat down with Jeney to sort through this massive problem, and to get some practical advice on how to find love in the modern age. Below, learn why authenticity is so critical to dating, and how a milkshake could help you find your next bae.
HelloGiggles: Based on your professional experience, what are the biggest challenges facing single millennials today?
Alysha Jeney: With our generation being so used to instant gratification, and used to being so easily accessible to each other, there’s a false sense of connection. I think the dating game is really isolating, even though [millennials] are immersed in so many different options. I think with my particular caseload, [men and women equally] want to have good-quality relationships, but don’t necessarily know how to find it.
HG: I’d love for you to delve a little bit deeper into that conflict between instant gratification and an inability to connect in a meaningful way. What do you mean by that?
AJ: I think a genuine connection takes time to facilitate; you have to take time to nurture a foundation between two people where there is emotional safety. If you don’t have that, it’s really hard to be vulnerable with someone and be authentic, and to develop that genuine connection with someone.
HG: What would you recommend to someone who’s struggling with that conflict?
AJ: I think that question’s loaded, because there’s so much that they can quote-unquote “do” on the practical end, [for example] maybe avoid Tinder or certain platforms that are instant, instant, instant. But I think on the emotional end, what I try to help my clients unpack is what is it that they really even want? And why do they want it? And how much of that can they provide for themselves? Sometimes yes, it’s the biological clock, and yes, just feeling lonely. But another part of it can also be that they just feel that they have to [find someone]; they feel like they’re at this age where everybody else is doing it, everybody else is married, and everybody else has children, so there’s just a lot of pressure.
When we unpack that and we start exploring it, building that clarity helps them feel more empowered to be in their own space. When they’re able to be a little bit more confident in their autonomy, that’s when they can be more confident in the dating world, and not necessarily [feel pressured] to force a connection if it’s not there. I think that has positive outcomes in terms of finding genuine partnership.
HG: I would love to know a little bit more about what you think of dating apps, and if there are any situations where you’d recommend using online dating.
AJ: On one hand I think that [online dating] is really lovely for the fact that you can put yourself out there a little bit and reach people that maybe you couldn’t otherwise [meet] in your community. So I love the accessibility of it. [But] I am not a huge fan of online dating, to be 100% honest. I can’t speak on this with personal experience because I’ve been in a relationship for almost 10 years, but I keep hearing over and over again that people are trying to find connection and they can’t be authentic. People are going on date after date after date and they really want to find a connection, but that takes time, and [their dates] don’t want to go out again or they just want sex.
So I think that if you are going to use [dating apps], my suggestion is to be very upfront and authentic with what your intentions are, and with who you are and what you’re looking for. I would definitely suggest having some phone conversations prior [to the first date] — not texting, not emails, genuine phone conversations. I think that would help in establishing that initial spark; you can know right off the bat pretty easily if this person is connecting with you, or is present, or is engaging. And then just being honest about [your expectations], which is really hard for people to do because they think they’re going to scare someone away. But I think that if you could be really open and honest about some of those fears right off the bat…that’s going to save you a lot of time and heartbreak.
HG: If you were to recommend an app, is there one you think works best?
AJ: My clients have been talking about an app that’s called Coffee Meets Bagel [which allows women to choose from a pool of men who have already expressed interest]…And there’s [another app] that’s more about a spiritual connection, not necessarily a religious one but more of a soul connection, and it’s called Meet Mindful. I personally have not looked into them, so it’s hard for me to recommend.
HG: What are your tips for meeting someone “the old-fashioned way” — i.e. in real life? Are there any particular places you’d recommend visiting?
AJ: If you have a dog, I think going to dog parks and trying to engage with people [is great], because that’s a really friendly, social environment where you can connect with other people. I also think gyms or other social environments — like consistent classes — there’s a good sense of community in some of those environments. I love going to community rec centers or community art events because [they often offer] pottery classes, photography classes, dance classes etc. Sometimes they’re specific to couples, but more often they’re just geared toward individuals…so I think that can be an awesome place to go and meet people [who share your interests].
I think, though, if you can go into any experience with the intention to just be mindful of how often you’re closed off to experiences [and connections] — that’s what I really try to incorporate with my individual clients. How often do you go into the gym, or go into the grocery store, or go into the bank and you don’t smile, you don’t have eye contact, you don’t initiate a conversation? [Instead], be mindful and go into those environments with the intention to be open. You might not meet the person of your dreams, but you could potentially share an experience.
HG: Do you think dating is different depending on where in the country you live? Should young people adapt their dating strategy based on where they live, especially if they’ve moved somewhere new?
AJ: I think there are very distinct cultural differences from state to state, from city to city. I know that if I was single and I moved to a different state and I was [surprised by the dating culture], I would try to embrace it as much as possible…but it also might set you apart to show [your dating partner] a piece of where you’ve come from and how you would date [back home].
For example, [you might say], “Maybe we don’t go out to get milkshakes in L.A., but back in my hometown that’s what we used to do.” Just trying to [be true to yourself and your roots] instead of trying to morph yourself into something that doesn’t really feel genuine.
HG: As I was preparing for this conversation, I asked my single friends if there was anything in particular they’d like to know. I had a number of female friends ask about gender roles, and whether or not the “rules” of dating have changed over the years in terms of what’s expected of men and women in heterosexual dating relationships. Do you have thoughts on that?
AJ: I think the core of a lot of [these issues] goes back to being true to who you are. If you’re the type of woman that’s a little bit more passive — and I don’t mean passive as a negative, I mean passive in the sense of, “I’m more go-with-the-flow, easy-going, and I like my man to take charge” — then yeah, you should find a man who is comfortable with that. But if you’re the type of woman who is open to voicing her opinion, who knows what she likes, and who speaks her mind, it’s important that she names that and communicates that right off the bat, rather than trying to play a [gender role] game. I think, ultimately, if a man is turned off by that, then he’s not the man for you. Because that’s your authentic personality.
The more authentic you can be right off the bat, the better luck you’ll have finding an authentic partner. [It’s helpful] even in terms of conflict — if you end up getting into a relationship with someone [and you weren’t authentic from the beginning, you set yourself up for them to say], “You always expected me to do this in the beginning,” and you’re like, “Actually, I don’t want you to make all the rules and decisions.”
HG: Living in a world that’s all about persona, personal brand, and social media, how do you access that authentic self?
AJ: [Know that] there’s your persona and your behavior, and there’s your thoughts and your emotions. If you can find a balance of how they all work together, and how they may or may not correlate, I think that’s when you can start doing your own work. For example, if I’m feeling scared but instead of projecting fear I project sarcasm or defensiveness, that’s obviously a conflict with what I’m genuinely feeling. I think really trying to identify your fears is a huge one. There are a lot of fears we have, but that we don’t like to talk about; we don’t like to talk about the things that really bond us.
It’s a journey, and I think counseling is a big resource to dive into some of that. But if that’s not necessarily your thing, I think it’s about practicing mindfulness — understanding there are different parts to you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.