Relationships

Why Has Low-Stakes, Netflix-and-Chill Dating Become the Norm? Because Our Swipe-Happy Culture Is Exhausting.

The logo for Bumble, a yellow bee hive, is printed on a glass wall.
Endless swiping has become a chore.
Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Couch potatoes, rejoice. A recent Refinery29 piece by lifestyle editor Cait Munro confirms what we seasoned homebodies have always known: Staying at home is cool. That declaration is based on a recent survey from market research firm Mintel that suggests almost three in 10 young millennials (people aged 24-31) prefer drinking at home because it takes too much effort to go out. And they’re not alone—55 percent of Americans of all ages would prefer a night in with a glass of rosé over a bar crawl. The survey participants cited everything from wanting to drink in a relaxing environment to a desire to save money as the impetus behind their general aversion to bars and clubs, but the millennials Munro interviewed herself offered another rationale for the shift from the streets to the sheets: online dating.

What Munro calls the Netflix-and-Chill factor can be accurately described by this quote from Jenifer Golden, “a self-proclaimed ‘older millennial’ and one half of the duo behind the podcast It’s Complicated” who says, “It’s the whole dating idea of Netflix and like, I’m going to sit on my couch, watch all of the things that I could possibly watch and drink all my wine from Trader Joe’s. Why would I leave my house? I can invite somebody over to hang out with me.” Why, indeed. A recent Cosmopolitan article on the slow extinction of the first date hinted at the same breakdown in the realm of dating norms, partially brought on by people’s unwillingness to expend time, money, or energy in an “in an app-heavy and flaky dating culture.” According to data from Match.com’s eighth annual “Singles in America” survey that Cosmo cited, only 44 percent of single people went on an official first date in the past year.

“Hanging out” Netflix-and-chill type relationships are taking the place of those charmingly nerve-wracking public first dates, creating opaque not-quite-dating scenarios for which I’ve adopted the term “situationships.” There are definitely benefits to those kind of relationships: They’re low-stakes, can provide a lot of freedom, and as Golden noted, they’re incredibly convenient. But the proliferation of situationships that never grow beyond Netflix-and-chill dates has manufactured a turn in dating norms that, if the amount of Twitter users complaining about the lost “art of courtship” are any indicator, has rapidly become tedious. To be clear, it’s not Netflix’s fault. It’s the latent expectation on apps like Tinder and Bumble that all dates should have the low-stakes, convenient vibes that drinking wine on your couch does.

As Julie Beck wrote in a 2015 Atlantic piece on dating-app fatigue, chill is now “the default setting for dating.” That fatigue isn’t only a result of limitless options that never really materialize into anything real, it’s also a product of endless “We should Netflix-and-chill” messages and the general unwillingness to invest time into dating that those messages indicate. And for users who actually believe in that mythical thing called commitment, “chill” relationships don’t have great odds. According to the Match data, only 29 percent of singles who “hang out” have had that relationship actually turn serious.

But when repeated efforts to turn days of messaging into real-life meet-ups only result in the other person consistently avoiding anything but a Netflix-and-chill type date, those situationships often feel like the only option available. The hand-wringing around dating apps is often overwrought, it’s true. But it’s also accurate to say that apps have fundamentally shifted our dating culture. I doubt that convenience would have emerged as such a primary drive of romantic connection without the advent of the high-speed swipe model inaugurated by Tinder—an activity that can be pretty exhausting in itself. Maybe that’s why none of us want to leave our house.