I recently had a romcom marathon with my friends, during which many of us messaged our boyfriends or mindlessly swiped through Tinder. This made me think about how much relationships have changed since my grandparents, or even parents, were dating.
My parents met by chance at my mother’s Fresher’s Ball and were married just after her graduation. This was before Hugh Grant made every woman expect a romantic meet cute (romcom terminology for a charming chance meeting) and a dramatic declaration of love. And yet, romantic comedies have already out-grown the classic tale of a beautiful white heterosexual couple overcoming obstacles to find true romantic bliss.
The romcom genre was thriving from the late 80s up until the early 00s, with films like When Harry Met Sally (1989), Pretty Woman (1990) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) becoming instant classics.
They gave women everywhere hope that their Mr. Right would complete their life and they’d live happily ever after. Jessica, a 27-year-old self-declared romcom addict, said that these movies gave her hope that she would one day find a man and it would be love at first sight.
But formulaic romcoms are now seemingly extinct and even when they are made, they seem to always star either Katherine Hiegl or Kate Hudson and achieve very little success.
This could be because people have become more aware of their flaws and can no longer get caught up in the fantasy. When you look back to any archetypal romantic comedy, they actually display endless stereotypes, are extremely lacking in diversity and, are at times, very sexist. Jessica explained to me that her favourite movie as a teenager was Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001), “but when I watch it back now I cringe at Bridget’s obsession with her weight and fixation on finding love”.
Because the clichéd romcom no longer interests people, the genre has seen a huge revitalisation. These modern movies often have a feminist slant. In films like Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) the title characters don’t even end up together, perhaps telling audiences that having a significant other doesn’t have to be the most important thing.
Contemporary romcoms frequently focus more on friendship, suggesting that maybe our friendships are our best relationships. Films such as How To Be Single (2016) and Bridesmaids (2011) have even been described as buddy-comedies.
Jessica’s new favourite romantic comedy is Obvious Child (2014), which has a strong female lead who isn’t dependent on a man. She gushes, “it’s still as funny as any of the classics, but without pigeonholing women and it has a quirky and emotional twist”.
This change in romcoms perhaps mirrors a change in the way real people are dating and conducting relationships.
Some have argued that romance is in decline, Vanity Fair even declared the “dating apocalypse”. This could be because of the apparent ‘hook-up’ culture among millennials. Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Arielle Kuperberg explained to me that hook-ups have “become an expected ‘stage’ of young adulthood, with people feeling as if they miss out if they don’t participate”.
Some blame social media for creating a lack of commitment between young people. Arguably, dating apps like Tinder, actually make it harder to date because seeing the amount of potential partners that are out there can make it tougher to commit to one person.
This lack of commitment is seemingly evident in the rise in cohabitation. Professor Kuperberg told me this lifestyle is often more insecure than marriage, “About half of cohabiters break up within the first few years, while marriages tend to be much more stable and long lasting”.
It could be viewed as worrying then that marriage is in decline as it still provides couples with stability and other benefits. But these changes do not necessarily mean that romance is over, in fact it could mean quite the opposite.
A 2016 survey by Avvo actually found that 82% of millennials disagree that marriage is an outdated institution. So perhaps young people still want ‘the American dream’, but have to put the dream on hold until they find financial stability.
Professor Kuperberg also pointed out that cohabitation can act as a ‘trial marriage’, in which people can establish whether they truly love each other before they get married. “My research in progress shows 70% of couples that married from 2011-2015 cohabited before marriage”.
This research rings true for Jessica, who lives happily in a house with her boyfriend and their daughter. She told me, “I always wanted to go down the traditional route: marriage, then house, then baby. But this is how it worked out and I couldn’t be happier”.
Changes in personal freedom and independence have also given people the opportunity to live the life they want and love who they want. Professor Kuperberg identified to me that women’s self-sufficiency means that women can leave unhappy marriages, but “marriages in general are actually more likely to occur and persevere, in part because they have much higher income”.
Social media could also be a great aid in helping people find a partner, as it can give busy or anxious people an opportunity to meet people in their local area.
Even if it is being used for hook-ups, this might not be all bad. “Many marriages start from hook-ups,” Professor Kuperberg told me, “my research has also shown that young adults want to date and form long term relationships more so than they want to hook-up”. Jessica even reminded me that in some of the best romcoms, like Obvious Child, the relationships start from a one-night-stand.
So don’t worry, it is probably not the dating apocalypse. A much more likely explanation is simply that younger generations are not as bound to tradition. Likewise, romantic comedies are not dying; they are still thriving just in different ways. Don’t give up on romance just yet, be patient maybe your meet cute is just around the corner.