Have you ever wondered why it’s ‘passionate’ when he admits his feelings in a heterosexual relationship but when you do the same, it’s ‘needy’? Or when he doesn’t text you back he’s ‘playing it cool’ but if you don’t—you’re playing ‘hard to get’? You might not have heard of this term before but you’ll definitely know the feeling. Introducing the ‘Romance Gap’, an unexamined factor limiting all of our relationships by making it difficult to build healthy and meaningful connections.
Coined by the dating app Bumble, Romance Gap refers to “the discrepancy in behaviour expected from male or masculine presenting people and female or feminine presenting people when dating and in relationships.” It resembles the pay gap, but for your love life. Women wait for their male interest to ask them out while men are expected to go in for the first kiss and eventually buy the ring. You feel feisty when you’re honest, desperate when you want commitment and spend hours debating how many heart emojis are too many.
Now, you may feel like we’ve already crossed this bridge and challenged all these gender norms. However, the polls are in and the results are shocking proof of how the Romance Gap continues to define traditional expectations in our dating lives today.
In a new campaign, Bumble commissioned a research which found that while 86 per cent of British people state equality as an important factor between those who are dating or in a relationship, almost 74 per cent believe that there are different expectations and ideal behaviours based on your gender identity in romance. The study, conducted by YouGov across several key European markets, also uncovered that these expectations are, in fact, so ingrained into our society—leading 52 per cent of adults to believe the impact of gender roles makes people behave in a way that is less true to who they are. Not only does this lead to less authentic interactions, but 47 per cent of people throughout European countries, and 51 per cent in the UK, stated that it makes dating and relationships even more stressful and difficult.
The train of revelations doesn’t stop there either. In the research, one in four men admitted that they feel pressured to take the lead—while 33 per cent of women felt that they’ve changed their behaviour to make someone else feel more powerful or comfortable in a relationship. In the UK, 53 per cent of participants also believe that men are expected to be the breadwinners. These figures stand at 42 per cent when it comes to the claim that women are expected to prioritise romantic relationships and settle down before they are ‘too old’—ultimately implying the belief that women have a ‘shelf life’ in the world of dating.
Despite relationship anarchy and platonic marriages redefining the gender dynamics in relationships, Bumble’s research sheds light on how traditional roles continue to grip our dating lives today and are even accepted by many. It’s also important to note that when romance starts from a place of gendered inequality, it could often have an overarching impact on other aspects of our life.
For starters, traditional gender norms don’t just influence how we behave, but also how we think—including our perception of what is romantic, sexy and attractive in a partner. Given how the foundation of most relationships are formed within the first few months, areas like money, childcare and the division of emotional labour are also at risk of being influenced by gender expectations as time evolves.
“At Bumble, we are focused on creating an app that empowers women to make the first move and date on their own terms from the beginning. But we alone cannot change societal expectations,” said Naomi Walkland, Bumble’s Vice President for Europe. But not all hope is lost.
“The only way to reduce the Romance Gap is to acknowledge it exists and start an open conversation about how it impacts how we see ourselves, our partners, and relationships,” Walkland continued. “Only when we are aware of it can we challenge each other to do away with gendered expectations of who should do what.”
This desire for change even translates into statistics, as the research uncovered how people in the UK strongly believe that, in an ideal world, we would not have expectations about who earns more money (58 per cent), has a more successful career (55 per cent), or who makes the first move by initiating a date (49 per cent). Meanwhile, more than three in five British people claimed that it is key to be confident in expressing who you are and what you want. Half of the women interviewed in the study also stated that it’s important to address the topic of equality pretty early on in their dating lives.
Backed with the mission to build a space where women have the autonomy to set the tone and choose when and how to open the conversation, the Romance Gap is Bumble’s latest campaign to empower people into creating healthy and equitable relationships. So what are you waiting for? Now that we have a name for it, it’s easier to acknowledge and change the narrative once and for all. Start dating on your own terms. Show your true self and instead of making compromises, ‘make the first move’. Or don’t—you have the ultimate power to decide what’s best for you and what’s not.
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?