Is romance really dead? | CNN
Love can mean different things to different people: sex, partnership, thoughtful gestures. But on all these fronts, it seems to me that love is receding in the United States, which is why I wrote a column for Valentine’s Day on the matter.
The percentage of Americans without a stable partner has increased by 50% since 1986. Americans are less likely to have sex than at any time since 1989. Fewer Americans celebrate Saint -Valentine today than they did in the late 2000s.
This decline is not just about the pandemic either since the downward trend was happening before 2020.
So what’s going on? I wanted to know if love is really dead – and if so, who killed it?
That’s why I decided to dig deeper on this week’s episode of my podcast, “Margins of Error.”
What I discovered is that love is not necessarily dead. It just presents itself in different ways than before.
If you look around you will quickly see that the desire for love and romance manifests itself in different ways these days. One such place is in entertainment.
Just look at the number of dating reality shows that have been released over the past few years: “Love Is Blind”, “Love on the Spectrum”, “Indian Matchmaking” and more. Heck, there’s a show where people even put on ridiculous prosthetics and go on dates. It’s called “Sexy Beasts”.
A fictional show whose popularity I experienced myself was “Bridgerton”. They hold these proms for fans of the show, and I’ve been there. I didn’t dress in period clothes, as I pointed out. Still, it was quite an experience, even though I didn’t know what was going on half the time.
Romance novelist Adriana Herrera, author of “A Caribbean Heiress in Paris” and “American Dreamer,” credits “Bridgerton” with promoting romance. The show “definitely did a lot to reboot (the romance) in consciousness,” she told me. “People have gone for romance because in the end you are guaranteed to be happily ever after.”
“Perhaps expectations of what romance might look and feel may differ” now compared to decades past, Herrera said. Today, society is much more accepting of different types of relationships, and the media is better at reflecting “asexual people, gay people, people in interracial relationships,” she said.
The real reason people delay marriage might be, as Herrera suggested, because they have higher standards for potential mates.
And some data supports this idea. Only 44% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were married in 2019, compared to 53% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980), 61% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and 81% of Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) at a comparable age, according to a 2020 analysis of U.S. Census data from the Pew Research Center.
A previous Pew report found that around two-thirds of millennials hope to marry one day, but around a quarter said they hadn’t found someone with the qualities they were looking for.
Falling partnership rates also have a ripple effect on other aspects of love. Like sex. A 2021 study, for example, identified the decline in romantic relationships as one of the main factors explaining why young adults are having less sex compared to previous decades. They also found that an increase in computer gaming and a drop in income and alcohol consumption also explained part of the drop in sexual activity.
Another potential cause that I bet many of you are thinking about: dating apps.
Relationship expert Monica O’Neal, a Boston-based psychologist, said the people who run these apps “have no interest in whether or not people find relationships. Their main goal is to keep people on apps because that’s how they make money.” She noted that “what’s happened is they’ve created a culture that really causes people not to take time to invest in getting to know anyone”.
A 2019 study found that online dating has also become the primary way for heterosexual couples to meet — and, let me state the obvious here, that was before the pandemic. The popularity of dating apps has only increased since 2019.
Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re here to stay a little longer.
Zach Stafford, former chief content officer of gay dating app Grindr, said the apps can be a good thing, especially for groups that have historically faced discrimination. “Apps have allowed gay people to explore a backup,” Stafford told me during the podcast. “It also allowed people who think they’re heterosexual or whatever to safely explore their own sexuality in safe spaces without having to travel to a physical location.”
Of course, it might be as simple as people who just want to be single. To what extent could this play a role? You’ll need to log in to find out.
I’ll just end by saying, for anyone longing for romance, the past few months have taught me that sometimes you just don’t know when lightning is going to strike. Keep your heart open.