Zs are perhaps the generation whose love lives have been most overexposed, put under the magnifying glass by social media and thousands of think pieces. Despite this mass of data and hot takes, 67% of Zs — and a whopping 80% of LGBTQIA+ Gen Zs — say they still don’t often see themselves reflected in the romantic relationships shown in TV, movies, or ads. And marketers, take note: Two-thirds of Zs feel that brands should do a better job of accurately reflecting their romantic lives and relationships.
The results of our nationally-representative survey of 250 Gen Zs, ages 18- to 25-years-old, reveal some interesting findings about how Gen Zs see their own love lives: Their dream relationships are surprisingly traditional for a generation that deems itself disruptive. They think the media completely misses their biggest dating challenge (hint: they’re out for love or money). And, while tech is integral to their vision for the future of romance, it’s not about the dating platforms you might expect. By authentically representing and catering to Zs’ romantic lives, brands have the opportunity to spark fresh connections with these next-gen consumers.
For all the talk about how disruptive Gen Z’s approach to their romantic lives are (Polyamory! Situationships! Throuples!), their desires for their own personal relationships are actually surprisingly status quo. Over 80% of Zs agreed that their generation is “disrupting and modernizing ways of dating” and that, as a whole, their gen is more sex positive and experimental than previous generations. Yet, when asked to choose the type of relationship they consider most ideal for them personally, Zs ranked monogamy first — well above either polyamory or a situationship. A full 73% of Zs said they find it more appealing for a potential romantic partner to aim to hit traditional relationship timelines and milestones (e.g. dating, engagement, marriage) rather than to actively reject traditional timelines and milestones. So while brands such as Sweethearts are playing up the blurry nature of Gen Z’s situationships in marketing campaigns, Zs themselves are actually looking to lock down long-term love in 2024.
Gen Xers leaned into the pop psychology that men were from Mars and women were from Venus; for Zs, the gender divide is more red versus blue. According to new research coming out of Stanford, a stark ideological divide is emerging between the genders as Gen Z women globally become more progressive, while their male counterparts get more conservative. When it comes to Zs’ love lives, however, this political divide is less of a lighting rod that one might expect from such a politically-engaged generation. Nearly two-thirds of Zs said a potential romantic partner with a different political affiliation than their own is a beige flag — e.g. it’s neither alarming or alluring. According to our study, more than half of Zs (54%) are open to dating someone across the political aisle, and 77% said having a compatible lifestyle with a potential romantic partner is more important than having similar political beliefs.
That’s not to say that Gen Z men and women are on the same page. In fact, the larger gender divergence in our study came down to relationship status. Half of Gen Z women (49%) said they’re in a relationship, while only 24% of Gen Z men agreed. Sure, Gen Z women are more likely to identify as lesbian or bisexual and may be in same-sex relationships, but statistically-speaking this doesn’t explain the gap between single-identifying men and women. No wonder 85% of Gen Z women believe that their generation is more commitment-phobic than previous gens.
Technology has become one of the biggest bridges — and barriers — to romance today, but not in the ways you might first think. Take, for example, one of the biggest buzzwords when it comes to Gen Z dating: apps. While Zs acknowledge that dating apps have had a huge impact on how their generation experiences romantic relationships, nearly three-quarters said the media focuses too much on the role dating apps play in their love lives. Half of Zs (53%) called dating apps simply “a necessary evil.” That’s not to say that Zs aren’t embracing tech to enhance their love lives, but digital platforms are more like this generation’s version of Dr. Ruth than their Love Connection. Zs said their top sources for dating and relationship advice over the last 12 months were TikTok (42%), Instagram (36%), and YouTube (30%) — and Gen Z women were twice as likely as their male counterparts to seek dating advice from podcasts. Looking to the future, Zs think tech’s role in their love lives is here to stay, and will even facilitate entirely new areas of romance. When asked to make predictions about the relationship landscape in the year 2050, 35% of Zs said they believe it will be common to have an A.I. girlfriend or boyfriend via a virtual companion app, while nearly a third said it will be common to have sex with robots.
Love don’t cost a thing, but dating sure does. With cost of living soaring in the U.S., Zs say they’re being forced to choose between love and money. Case in point: 71% of Zs said they sometimes feel like they can’t afford to go out on dates, and a third of Zs (32%) said they’ve even broken up with someone because the relationship was getting too expensive. Gen Z men were especially likely to feel nervous about the financial strain that dating might put on them. In fact, 63% of Gen Z men said they’re not currently in a good enough financial position to be in a serious relationship (vs 45% women). The affordable housing shortage is making intimacy harder to come by, too. 61% of Zs said they don’t have a good place to be alone with romantic partners because they live with either roommates or parents. With nearly a third of Zs living at home (with no plans to leave), it’s no wonder that this gen is reportedly having less sex than generations before.
Rom-coms are foundational to Valentine’s celebrations, but Hollywood now has stiff competition from the captivating real-life love stories that play out on social media. For many Zs, the early 2000s classics they grew up with (13 Going on 30, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) are being usurped by real-life people posting on social media about their own romantic lives and those around them. While many of these social stories play out to small, niche audiences, others explode like a summer blockbuster. Take, for example, Summer England’s “The Neighbor Saga,” a 60-plus part TikTok series chronicling how hearing her neighbor’s active dating life through the wall of her apartment turned into a real-life love story watched by hundreds of thousands of people. These real-life rom-coms are not a niche trend: 68% of all Zs said they have followed a love story on social media (e.g. Instagram, TikTok) — not surprisingly, Gen Z women were most likely to tune in. The success of this emerging genre lies in its storytelling, which tends to be short, serialized, and relatable, with great characters and real-life stakes. Unlike almost any other romance format, audiences can engage directly with the main characters through comment threads and Q&As. Plus, the real-time stories organically tap into the hyper-current dating zeitgeist, a draw for Gen Z audiences seeking both escapism and commiseration. Hallmark, take note: More than half of Zs (54%) agreed that “rom-coms need to be entirely reinvented to reflect the way Gen Zs date.”