Ah what is Love? Its definition has eluded the greatest minds in literature, philosophy, and psychology for centuries. So we’re not looking to answer one of humanities most essential questions...
A place of curiosity and confusion
BUT we are eager to shed a light on what Love tangibly looks and feels like today, and why it’s different than in the past. We’ll show you how NEW LOVE is lived and crucially how brands can play a role in sparking deeper, more intimate connections that feed and fulfill us.
Love in the past evaded precise definitions, but we had strong and consistent templates for living it, provided by our families and cultures. But now we’re more exposed to diverse ways of living and thinking about the world and the role of love and relationships. Plus, Gen Z and younger Millennials receive tons of mixed messages from older generations, social media, literature, and TV.
Finding New Love looks different, so conflict, confusion and curiosity abound.
The past was powered by values that manifested differently than Love today, and young people are ready to retire them
Out of touch Stimulation
Love at first sight, Fast-paced whirlwind romances, Relationships with ‘high highs and low lows’’, Intense jealousy, Playing hard to get
Fairytale ‘blissful’ relationships, Hollywood style romantic fantasies, Giving up personal ambitions ‘for love’, Physical attraction as a primary catalyst to a relationship, Perfect ‘happy families’
At the same time, we all want Love. So how do we achieve the essential, universal “Love” in a way that feels real, authentic, and current?
how do we live new love?
Gendered behaviors and ‘duties’ in relationships, Encouraging women to be taken care of, Archetypes of ‘strong men’ and ‘weak women’
30% of Americans say their ideal relationship would be non-monogamous, and 43% of millennials*
Gen Z are embracing ‘situationships’ and only 1 in 10 say they are ‘committed to being committed’**
where do we
go from here
Stepping into more personal expressions of Love means accentuating individual identity and carefully treading into new territory
The ubiquity of social media and digital footprints has brought new awareness and concern with representing our personal identities to the world. We’re not just representing who we are, we are reshaping it, or at least how we want it to be perceived.
The ability for strangers to affirm facets of our identity, or potentially ‘cancel’ it is especially real for younger generations, and it effectively puts a premium concern on how we express ourselves and what it means.
Personal identity for Gen Z and younger Millennials is seen as something to be uber conscious of, to curate, create, and offer up for scrutiny.
This brings about a need for its careful development and protection.
Old Love, its narratives and behaviors have been rethought, and in this time of unknown, New Love is cautiously stepping in.
Loving connections today require identity expression and risk mitigation
The conflict and confusion created by Old Love has created a dual need for Security and Self-Direction in living authentic Love today.
...to express identity
We want love that’s authentic to the way we see the world and see ourselves rather than aligning with old narratives or tropes.
Fairytale narratives are out, and most are craving more realistic portrayals of friendship, romance, and family.
...to mitigate risk
"I feel like I have to separate myself a little bit from media when they show what ‘healthy’ relationships should look like, or what is fun and exciting. I just have to remember that my relationship can look different, and that’s fine. It’s probably for the best to have a relationship that feels unique, because I don’t want to recreate some relationship I see somewhere else." Amanda
But when it comes to dating especially, all genders experience a fair amount of anxiety about how to act in this new world, and how to make choices that are right for them.
They’re carving their own path, but they need help getting there.
" I feel like growing up I just followed what I saw. My parents said “I love you” so I did too, and that’s how I thought I felt, so I said it too. But then with a significant other I had to really think about what it meant to me. Was I just saying it or did I actually feel that way? Getting older, I have to really think about what’s me and what’s just what I observed." Jessica
So we know the values that power New Love.
Let’s dive into how they influence behavior!
the four energies
Self-direction and Security are giving rise to new love’s four energies.
Content that resonates deeply breaks the ice and leads to deep connection
Gifting and giving creates stronger bonds through customization
Low-pressure forms of communication offer reassurance and stability
Online-to-offline relationships offers the assurance of shared identity
Netflix & reveal
Content that connects to real life experiences can safely break the ice, allowing for more self expression and deeper communication
TV shows and movies aren’t just for setting the mood, they help forge paths to intimate connection. Beyond sparking conversation, it is often used as a tool to share and discuss new, difficult topics. Whether sending a parent a new show to watch, or sending a partner a TikTok, ‘real talk’ is started with real content. Seeing content that’s relatable feels affirming. It tells us we’re not alone and sometimes even shows a path forward.
Content acts like a trusted foundation we can layer our own experience onto, making it easier to express ourselves and have hard conversations.
Provocative content is still needed from brands, however. People want to see more relatable portrayals of relationships (romantic, family, and friendships). The more nuanced and complicated, the better, as it helps people understand their own situation and confidently address it in their lives.
Taboo topics are losing their charge. Many want help discussing what once was private:
Differences in generational and cultural values
Only 4.4% of teens say they want to see ‘aspirational’ content.*
In study with teens who watched 13 Reasons Why, 92% of the viewers searched for information on mental health topics related to what they saw on the show.*
Custom is Queen
Personalization puts creative expression and individual identity into an act loaded with pressure and tradition
Gen Z are known for loving anything customized and personalized. But what’s the real emotional value in adding charms to crocs, or sending a celebrity ‘cameo’ video to a friend? In gifting, custom touches are especially important to younger millennials and Gen Z because it fills their need for self expression and identity building. It’s also a foolproof way to add sentimentality to this anxiety-inducing act.
Experiential gifts are also important because they get people living their own personal values, interests, and passions outside relationships. Things like concert tickets, subscriptions, or classes get the recipient practicing the most personal and fulfilling type of love: self-love.
People want brands to offer more opportunities to make gift giving more customized, thus personal and sentimental. It helps them imbue more of themselves into a relationship, a vital part of building connection with others.
Gifts reference shared memories, interests, inside jokes, and sentimental moments:
Custom charm bracelets
A specially curated gift basket with hand-picked smaller items
Astrology-themed gifts and jewelry
Electronic photo frames
Nostalgic items from childhood
Gift giving is so important that 62% believe finding the right gifts for their loved ones is the most stressful part of the holiday.*
"For mother’s day I got my mom a necklace with birthstones from all her kids. It’s just a nice way to make things more personal and memorable for her. Jewelry is expensive, so I’m more likely to do something like this from etsy than just go to a jewelry store in the mall." Dylan
From PDA to DDA
*Digital displays of affection
Online interests and aesthetics lead to genuine offline connection when playing on individual values and identity
The distance between online and IRL is getting shorter by the minute. Gen Z and millennials aren’t just using more dating apps, they’re also using online social to have real life connections.
It’s not uncommon to meet a friend from social media in real life, and it’s made possible by seeing a shared ‘vibe’, or having similar interest that speak to something bigger.
Fandom is a great example. Think BTS for example, or Emma Chamberlain, both influential figures whose brand identity is widely relatable, and clear enough that fans feel they share something with other fans.
This shared interest stands for real values and relatability, doing some of the work of trying to get to know a stranger on the internet.
From there, it takes a ‘like’ or a ‘reaction’ to start the virtual bonding. Stranger danger doesn’t feel so relevant when values are at play, and it’s especially important for younger generations.
73% of Gen Z daters – people aged between 18 and 25 – said they wouldn't match with someone who doesn't find the same things funny.*
In 2021, 15% of Bumble users had also used BFF, which is short for best friends forever and is the app’s section that is used to find friends.
Subtlety over spelling it out
Subtle online self expression can add to reassuring communication
While online connection can feel very real to many, we’re also fatigued by constant communication; friends blowing up our phone, brands vying for our attention, plus multiple forms of social media. How do we say “I’m interested” “I love you” or ‘I’m thinking of you” without spelling it out? Sometimes saying exactly what you mean is risky, after all.
Through subtle ways of connecting, affirming, collaborating, and co-experiencing that keep connections alive. They may not be the most fulfilling, but they’re necessary ways of maintaining relationships on today’s crowded world.
However subtle these expressions of connection, they have texture and layers of affection and appreciation that make up what it means to experience New Love today.
Sending a funny TikTok
Sending a gif in a chat
Collaborating on Spotify playlist
Sharing your “wordle” score
Over half of Gen Z social media users in the U.S. “feel more comfortable being vulnerable online and over text than in person,”*
“I want to make sure we're having fun, we're entertaining each other. Me and my husband are constantly making each other laugh. We send each other memes all the time. I feel like memes are always something that we can connect with. Like, we have a cat named Jack and he's fat. And any type of fat cat meme just hits home for us; it’s a simple way of connecting to one another and being goofy and making each other smile” Kaitlyn
taking it to heart
Appeal to the need for Self-Direction... in a way that feels safe and builds acceptance
Spark deeper connection in the most important relationships
…with content that’s not just contagious but complex and personal
Create stronger bonds between people and brands
…with opportunities for customization and curated offerings that make people feel seen
Start the formation of new connection
…by creating space for communication around common interest and expression
Keep connection and belonging alive
…by, ensuring communication can be varied and take on diverse forms, whether between people or with brands
We believe brands can play a powerful role in helping this generation express who they are in order to have more meaningful connections.
Reach out to go deeper with us, and explore how these principles apply to your own brand, product, and comms.
From human to human
P.S. Don’t forget to look for our next Episode of Human Futures: Connection & Belonging on PLAY
This research was conducted in collaboration with L&E Research
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