Romantic Comedies or ‘rom-coms’ have been universally loved, hoarded and gossiped over for decades. They’ve transported us from cinemas to supermarkets where we witnessed meet cutes that inspired our own real-life expectations. They’ve allowed us to experience a rollercoaster ride of emotions where a public declaration of love almost always led to a happily ever after. However, there’s a growing movement among gen Z women that is rejecting these unrealistic romantic standards and backwards representations of dating in the 21st century. This heyday of movie magic seems to be coming to a close, and many are wondering if it might be for the best.
The genre has undoubtedly provided us with some of the most heart-warming moments in cinematic history. Audiences involuntarily fist-bumped Nora Ephron when Tom Hanks discovered Meg Ryan stood alone at the top of the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle. Crowds cheered at the equally heart-warming moment when Hanks revealed himself as Ryan’s online boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail.
But looking back, rom-coms have also been upholding damaging narratives where toxic masculinity is celebrated as endearing acts of heroism. They’ve allowed stalking and aggression to be portrayed as chivalrous acts of devotion and emotional gaslighting to be excused as a throw-away character flaw. As Megan Garber deftly noted in The Atlantic, “Before Mars and Venus can fall in love, many rom-coms assume, Mars must first make Venus do the falling.” While we can appreciate the joy they brought us, we seriously need to re-evaluate the love stories we have been previously championing.
Let’s be honest, didn’t anyone question if showing up at the doorstep of your best friend’s house with handwritten signs declaring your love for his wife was at all creepy? Or if literally hanging off the side of a Ferris wheel to convince an actual stranger to go on a date with you was maybe taking it a tad too far?
According to Screenrant, while the 90s and early 2000s rom-coms dominated the cinematic playing field in terms of popularity and cult followings, this supremacy has since begun to wither. This has been primarily due to a lack of progressive change, serious failings in regard to diversity and the emergence of newer immersive cinema that has hooked audiences. The genre was inherently falling short at capturing the realities of modern dating and, instead, was continuing to prop up old-fashioned gender tropes and stereotypes.
In 2018, it was made clear that female movie fanatics were growing less and less interested in the romantic comedies they were being exposed to. Analysing data from a Fandango survey of more than 3,000 women ages 18 to 52, Variety found that women had an overwhelming preference for action or science fiction films and indeed that there was a serious demand for greater “female-driven stories.”
Identifying why women in particular may be less susceptible to the romantic comedy experience nowadays, prompts us to explore the environment in which they currently operate. For many women, day to day life involves trying to both navigate systemic sexism and confront and cope with an overwhelming culture of violence that permeates all aspects of society. Being consistently exposed to and surrounded by films fantasising toxic behaviours does not help to process or find relief from this harsh actuality.
It’s integral that cinema aims to reflect the realities of present-day dating culture and recognises the different ways in which young people approach love and romance compared to previous generations. Is gen Z the first generation to seriously disconnect from these films, and if so, why? VICE’s study overwhelmingly supports the idea that young gen Z daters are indeed unique in their perspectives on romance. They prioritise meeting a match who is politically like-minded and, unlike their millennial siblings, they’re far less concerned with finding ‘the one’.
Yale University student Kyung Mi Lee expanded upon this, attributing gen Z’s new outlook on dating to pragmatism. Lee spoke to the BBC about how “evolving attitudes towards sexuality and gender roles” alongside a “hyper-focused” individualism has prompted gen Zers to reject previous societal expectations. While this sense of rationale can easily be swept under the carpet after one too many vodka cranberries, it most definitely provides us with some insight into why the traditional rom-com structure just doesn’t do it for us anymore.
Even a quick Google search proves how Gen Z is not at all the target market for the rom-com genre, with most entries being clearly aimed at a millennial audience. And although it would be slightly overboard to declare the rom-com genre officially dead and buried, it is important to recognise the changes that need to be implemented in all future projects. I’m talking about necessary swaps that will reflect the romantic culture of today’s young generation and innovate new ways which can breathe life back into this hopefully-timeless form of film.
If we all thought about our favourite rom-coms, would there be things that now jump out at us as outdated? What would we want to see done differently?
We have long been taught that the main foundation of marriage is romantic love, that we must find the perfect Romeo to our Juliet and live happily ever after with our two dogs and cats, a couple of kids as well as a shared Netflix subscription. But what if we turned those traditional ideas of marriage on their head? What if we decided that we didn’t need to wait for the lover of our dreams before we tie the knot, buy the family home and settle down? What if that notion of romance was replaced by a different kind of love—a platonic kind—and instead spent the rest of our lives with our best friend? Turns out it can be done and it is being done. Introducing platonic marriages and the climax of the nuclear family.
For people like April Lexi Lee, 24, the platonic love she experiences with her best friend Renee is so special that she knew she had found her life partner. Now they live together in Los Angeles. “Renee and I wanted to do life together and be each other’s first of kin,” Lexi Lee told SCREENSHOT. The Singapore-born writer and creative producer has amassed a following of over 48,000 followers on TikTok, many of whom are intrigued by her platonic partnership.
For Lexi Lee, the decision to spend the rest of her life with Renee was simple. Their friendship, which has spanned across eleven years, is one steeped in healing and safety, “I credit a lot of who I am today to Renee and vice versa. We’re on this journey to be the best version of ourselves, to heal our traumas and go after our dreams and we give each other the fuel to do that.”
Platonic partnerships are not simply two best friends living together but partners who build their lives together—sharing finances, making significant life decisions in consideration of one another and all other major components of marriage without the romantic or sexual aspect involved. “Your life partner doesn’t have to be your lover,” Lexi Lee explained, “I want to come home to Renee because it’s two different criteria to being a good life partner and a good romantic partner. We don’t have to force lovers into the life partnership box.” And these two aren’t the only ones.
Jay Guercio, 24, is legally married to her platonic best friend Krystle, 29, and together they are raising a teenage boy. Based in Tampa Florida, the pair are a testament to the fact that our best friends can truly be our soulmates. “During quarantine, she was the only person I let myself see because the risk of getting COVID could not be compared to the risk of not seeing her,” Guercio told me. For her, romantic love cannot be likened to the transformative growth she continues to experience while in partnership with Krystle, “I’m a hopeful romantic but it’s based on chemicals that may one day fade, based on a physical or emotional attraction that isn’t necessarily stable but my friendship developed and grew and cultivated into something very stable.”
Both Lexi Lee and Guercio are polyamorous, choosing to pursue multiple relationships outside of their partnership. The permanency of the platonic partnership they share with their best friend allows them to have more stable romantic relationships too. “My platonic partnership with Renee improved me as a romantic partner because I already know I have a life partner at home and so I don’t need any more from someone I’m romantically involved with,” Lexi Lee shared. To Guercio, monogamy is simply a construct that doesn’t work for people. “No one person can fulfil another one person’s desires or needs completely,” she said.
Platonic partnerships and polyamory are ways of loving and living that threaten the very idea that the nuclear family is the natural mode of a family unit.
Doctor Haley McEwen, a decolonial researcher and lecturer, has published work that points out the colonial origin of the nuclear family. In her work, McEwen provides context to the reality that the nuclear family is fused with notions of gender, racial hierarchy and civilisation. “The idea of the nuclear family is seen as apolitical and ahistorical which it is not,” McEwen explained, “It has been used in the interests of certain groups and power and has a deeply political history implicated on political and colonial conquest.”
The nuclear family was used as a tool to destroy many traditional African kinships during colonisation where polygamy and platonic partnerships, as well as communities, were found to be the norm. “The nuclear family served a particular function to insert people into capitalism machinery. It was used as a measuring point—measuring civilisation to construct indigenous and African people as inferior,” McEwen said.
In David Brooks’ article for The Atlantic titled The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake, the writer also discussed the brittle nature of the nuclear family and the danger it poses to community-building. Brooks mentioned how the nuclear family created a shift from big, interconnected and extended families to smaller, detached nuclear families and how this affects the most vulnerable of society—from the working-class to the poor—who need forms of kinship which are more expansive to be supported and ultimately survive.
The nuclear family, which is the greatest asset of romantic love, appears to be impractical for the changing times we are in. It evades community and interconnectedness—while historically representing how racism, homophobia and sexism have built many of the traditional markers of family, love and identity that no longer suit humankind today.
Platonic partnerships are a rebuttal to the nuclear family, they represent the communal love that friendships thrive on and prove that such a love can be a safe place for children to be brought up in, animals to be owned and houses to be shared. It is liberating in ways that romantic love is not because platonic partnerships allow romance to exist simultaneously outside of it, creating family units that are widespread and, therefore, long-lasting.
I encourage anyone reading this article to ask themselves if they could build a life partnership with their best friend, someone who’s been there for them through thick and thin, their source for laughter, tears and joy.
“I didn’t want to wait for a romantic partner to sweep me off my feet and help me to create the beautiful life I knew I could live,” Guercio shared, “Why shouldn’t I build the life I want with Krystle? We both deserve it.” And that is exactly it, there is no need to wait for romance if you want to build a life of your dreams with someone by your side. As relationship anarchy takes reign, it is time to reconsider what type of love truly liberates you in your journey.