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Modern romance: Gen-Y is late to the wedding, but wants marriage

Gen-Y is is rewriting modern romance as the path to marriage gets longer but more certain: Young people want more certainty before the wedding.

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Taylor Purcelli, a 22-year-old college student in Michigan, says she has been asked out on a real date exactly once.

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"Guys don't ask women out anymore, like a dinner-and-a-movie kind of thing. It's more, 'Do you want to hang out?' and you go to his place or you hang out with a whole group of people. It's not a real formal date. That rarely happens," she says. "When I meet guys, it's usually through friends or friends of friends."

Most men Ms. Purcelli meets now aren't looking for a committed relationship. Forget about marriage, she says, they don't even want a boyfriend/girlfriend commitment. "I have gotten frustrated with that, but then I remember I'm only 22. I have a while."

Dating has always been a complicated dance, but it's more hazy today because the rules and courtship rituals that existed for decades aren't in place anymore. Among the many changes in the dating landscape are "stayovers" and "hooking up" – the institutionalization, essentially, of the one-night stand.

The lines between physical intimacy and relationships are very blurry for Gen-Y, says Kathleen Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology at LaSalle University in Philadelphia and author of "Hooking Up," which compared the dating habits of college students with those of people in their late 20s.

"A few decades ago, there would have been a clear distinction between a one-night thing and the start of a relationship, whereas now you hook up, something physical happens, and it's a roll of the dice," says Ms. Bogle. "And no one verbalizes what's happening."

Dorna Lange, a single 27-year-old in Brooklyn, N.Y., says in her early 20s she felt disgusted by the "whole game of dating." She describes the game this way: "[H]e couldn't tell me how much he liked me. And if I revealed my feelings, I felt like I was making myself less attractive to him."

Similar game-playing was going on when Hannah Seligson, now 29 and married, was dating in New York City in her 20s. She says she spent half her time just trying to define relationships.

"What does six dates mean? Is it serious? Do we change our relationship status on Facebook? We have all this freedom, and it's liberating, but it's also maddening," says Ms. Seligson, the author of "A Little Bit Married," a book about 20-somethings and their feelings about dating and marriage and the forthcoming "Mission: Adulthood," also about her generation of 20-somethings.

Compare this dating ambiguity to dating in previous generations, which had more defined courtship rituals: For example, the man asks the woman out on a date, then out a few more times, then they become – very clearly and exclusively – boyfriend and girlfriend. Eventually, they get engaged.

"In previous generations there was this idea that you transition to adulthood in this way. We've lost that," says Bogle. "There's this expectation with Gen-Y that they will stretch that process out and won't get married until later. It's the idea they have a right, in their 20s, to see what's out there."

The nonrelationship

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