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“It is our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person.” - Marcel Proust 

We noted in our Dark Web presentation last year that the number of teens who get together in the real world is declining steeply, in favour of digital interactions. Teens who used to meet up 2.7 times per week in 2000 were meeting up 1.62 times per week in 2015. There are consequences to this – both emotional and medical. The more time people spend on their phones and not-in person, the more likely they are to feel lonely or struggle with anxiety or not know how to communicate in the real world. So, the actual act of creating real-world human relationships has never been more important for wellbeing.  

We are constantly changing and evolving the ways in which we make new connections. With a brand new 50 Shades of Grey film launching this week and Valentine's Day just around the corner, this week The Youth Lab got our cupid on, exploring the world of youth romance and dating. 

It may be an understatement to note that dating and sexual relationships have been a hot topic in the media and pop culture conversation over the last few months. From Weinstein to Aziz Ansari, the problematic ways people treat one another when it comes to romance is in the spotlight. It's no longer okay to pester workmates for a date, or go with vague understandings of consent – the importance of respect is rapidly embedding itself at the forefront of young minds in this context.  

While Bermuda became the first country in the world to repeal same-sex marriage this week, the fact that love comes in all forms is on the road to becoming the norm. In Ireland, there were over 1,000 same-sex marriages in 2016 and over 390,000 in the US. Marriage itself is a legal process but declarations of love in the form of marriage are becoming important to young people, in particular, those in non-heterosexual relationships, as a way of showing their commitment and being recognised as equal in society.

Love who you love – if you can find them! It's actually very difficult to meet 'the one' in real life. According to mathematicians, the chance of finding love on any given day is 1 in 562 – if you leave things entirely up to fate. This chance gets tougher for those between the ages of 18 and 24, who face chances of meeting the one of just 1 in 1,024. So, it's no wonder then that young people aren't prepared to let fate have all the say in one of the most important aspects of their lives ... 

In the past year there's been a boom in people searching for romantic connections online. Online dating statistics show that 20% of those in current, committed relationships began online. Traditionally online dating has been cast with preconceptions of temporary relationships and hook ups. Swipe right for yes, left for no. The task of dating can also be a hazardous task, with young people reporting burnout from the likes of Tinder, because all of this swiping can take up a surprising amount of time. It's hard work and it doesn't always pay off – a third of online daters have never actually gone out with someone they met online. In addition to this, there is also an element of online disinhibition that enters the world of dating apps (that is, that fact that we act differently online than we do in the real world). often with so much effort placed on the messaging communication in the online world, the offline world can lead to disappointing experiences – when the 'real world' person didn't match the cleverness or wittiness of the online persona. 

But, even in the world of digital dating, young people are changing the rules of the game. With the dating app Bumble for example, it focuses on empowerment and creating connections - not only for romance purposes. It shows you the people you want to see and lets you connect mutually by swiping right á la Tinder. Often with Tinder these mutual connections get lost with neither party striking up conversation. However, with Bumble, the woman must make the first move, and if she doesn't say something to a new connection within 24 hours, that connection disappears forever. Speak now girls, or risk losing the love of your life! 

The strategies employed by dating apps in 2018 is not only about empowerment, but also taking young people back to the times when getting together was simple, and fun. Hinge used OOH advertising to encourage better connections. Similarly, OkCupid's latest campaign looks to reclaim the letters "DTF" in order to encourage deeper meaningful relationships and committed connections, rather than hook ups.


"Monogamy used to be one person for life, today monogamy is one person at a time" - Esther Perel, TED2015.  

Interestingly, young people today have permissive sexual attitudes, but they are choosing to have sex with fewer partners than previous generations. The surplus of options that online dating has given young people has, by some accounts, resulted in romantic standstills because young people are trying to decide what they really want from love. There are prevailing attitudes of experimentation that delays commitment. Yes, love is complicated, but in the modern age, this complication is heightened because of liberal attitudes (for example, more openness to interracial and interfaith relationships) and digital aids for connection opportunities with unique people.  

While there are still countries in the world where women can be killed for cheating, there are increasingly liberal trends going from niche to norm when it comes to love and relationships. Polyamory, for example, is having a serious moment. It's about being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way, learning to love yourself, too. On the other hand, Solagamy is one of this generation’s hottest self-esteem trends – it’s about marrying yourself. 

Modern porn consumption has changed dramatically too – from the extreme to the grotesque and the absurd, it is changing young people's attitudes around dating, relationships and sexuality – unconsciously reshaping young minds around themes of desire and increasing the likeliness of experimentation. The result is that this generation of youth is having more adventurous sex than previous generations.  

From ghosting to sexting, orgies and non-monogamous marriage, there's lots more we could discuss. But, to sum up, what we discovered in our exploration of youth romance and dating: there is a dating backlash driven by youth today, a backlash for a better connection. In a world where screens rule, and thumbs scroll constantly, holding hands is a powerful statement. To find people to hold hands with isn't an easy or uncomplicated feat, but it sure is high on the agenda. 


  • Despite the access to helpful tools, young people don’t want to be lazy about love. Dating today is an act of empowerment. It can be an act of rebellion too, but, importantly, it is a part of youth lifestyle that is the ultimate expression of identity. It’s not to be taken too lightly.  
  • There is a growing importance being placed on physical interaction – because too often real human connections come too few and far between in the digital age. Can your brand enable moments of true connection for young people? Think old school romance – handwritten love notes and public proclamations of desire – Tinder can try, but will struggle to compete.    
  • Does your company have a dating policy? There are ways to radicalize it.
Check out some of our previous insights.
The Farce Awakens: Pepsi’s Watershed moment for Mission Marketing
Not Keeping Quiet...
The New Resistance

The Youth Lab is the insights and trends division at Thinkhouse, the youth marketing agency. 
For more insights, connect with The Youth Lab at

For weekly insights into the beliefs, habits, loves, hates, passions and hopes of today’s 18-35 year olds, sign up for 52 Insights here:

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