In Spring '06, A Young Man's Fancy Turns To Work . . .

By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Think romance is alive and well among young singles? That twenty-somethings are checking each other out in the office and cruising the bars at night, looking for someone to love? You might want to think again.

The major love story these days is this: maybe later.

It's not that they take relationships lightly, or that they don't want to become attached -- eventually. It's just, who has the time? They're working their butts off at college or in jobs that barely cover the rent and feel obligated to find fulfilling, well-paid careers. It will be easier to make their marks, they think, unfettered by relationships that, let's face it, can be so distracting.

This came as something of a surprise to researchers Lee Rainie and Mary Madden at the Pew Research Center when, in going over data in a larger dating survey, they discovered that among 18-to-29-year-olds, only slightly more than a third said they were in committed relationships. Among the remaining, more were not looking than looking.

The numbers do not astonish Pouya Dianat, 20, or Montana Wojczuk, 26, however.

"My job here is the most important thing I do," says Dianat, a staff photographer for the Diamondback, the student newspaper at the University of Maryland in College Park. A junior workaholic who has been known to sleep overnight in the office, he says, "I want to be the best. Any girlfriend would have to put up with that. . . . If she stumbled in front of me, I might get interested. Otherwise, no."

Wojczuk breezed through jobs in advertising, retail sales and grant-writing before ending up as an assistant in a talent and literary agency in Manhattan. "A relationship takes so much time and energy, and there's so much stuff I want to do with my career," she says. "I'm not that interested in looking."

Are they saying there's no use in starting to look until they're ready to stop looking? Not exactly, says Philip Morgan, professor of sociology at Duke University. They're simply being strategic: "Active looking requires altering their routine in some way, and they're not willing to do that yet."

Even flirting with the idea of a relationship requires effort, sometimes more than they're willing to give. "Sometimes I make plans to have a drink with someone, but I'm too tired," says Tiffany Sharples, 24, who works at a travel magazine in Manhattan. "Or a press event comes up at the last minute, so I cancel. Things get stymied before they get off the ground."

All of this raises questions among those a generation or two older. Are our grown children simply afraid to love? Afraid of the potential for either being hurt or hurting someone else? Maybe. Many of them have been in at least one relationship that ended badly or dragged on longer than it should have. They've also observed a fair number of marriages fall apart, from those of their parents or friends' parents to their own friends.

Instead, their friends are their partners. "I go into most social situations just wanting to expand my circle of friends," says Kate Campbell, a senior and 21-year-old reporter for the Diamondback. "I'd rather do that than troll for guys."

Relationships, they say, imply commitment, and commitment can consume too much personal space and time. College students talk about couples they know who take courses together, eat all their meals together and sleep together. That togetherness continues after college, says Matt McFarland, a 25-year-old sales rep who lives in Rockville. "I have guy friends who can't go out on Friday nights, or have to leave parties early. Who needs that?"

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