Like most millennials, I was raised on the American rom-com. I could almost recite the scripts for How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Pretty Woman and Never Been Kissed word for word by the time I was 13.
And while there were certainly moments of female empowerment, independence and friendship, one theme really dug its heels into my tween psyche: men always make the first move.
It's usually a grand gesture, too: men chase you in a cab as you head to the airport before kissing you on the Brooklyn Bridge. Men arrive outside your apartment in a stretch limo before climbing up the fire escape to confess their love for you. Men run onto the baseball field to kiss you in front of thousands of spectators.
Once you begin dating as an adult, however, you soon realise that we have some gendered expectations of what dating and relationships should look like in a heterosexual relationship.
According to research from YouGov, facilitated by Bumble, 88% of Australians surveyed state that equality is important between people who are dating. However, as seen in this short film, 80% of the same group says that when it comes to romantic heterosexual relationships, there are different expectations and behaviours depending on your gender identity.
Despite all the progress we've made in breaking down gender roles since those rom-coms were released, it seems that traditional expectations of dating — especially in heteronormative dating culture — remain entrenched. If you’ve ever been on the hetero dating scene in the 21st century, you’ve most likely experienced this “Romance Gap” firsthand.
What exactly is the "Romance Gap?
The research showed that there are several key themes that make up the “Romance Gap” in heterosexual relationships, including expectations of who makes the first move. It turns out that those rom-coms worked a treat at conditioning us to believe who is in control of all the romance.
When it comes to asking the other person out, making a move or initiating a kiss, 61% of people surveyed expect men to take the lead. Men feel this way too, with 38% of the males stating that they feel the pressure to advance the relationship, including asking whether the woman wants to get married.
While millennial women have slowed down many “traditional” markers of success (kids, marriage, buying homes), it turns out that men are still expected to be the ones to pop the question. A mere 10% of people surveyed say that they would expect a woman in a heterosexual relationship to propose.
The survey highlights the pressure for women to not appear “desperate”, but the cultural notion of women having a “shelf life” when it comes to finding a partner and men being expected to hold their cards close to their chest when it comes to displaying emotion, means that these archaic gender expectations feel more stagnant than ever.
How can we break the cycle?
Even if you’ve never heard of the term, you’ve most likely felt its impact: a man is considered to be 'passionate' when professing his love within the first month but a woman is labelled as a 'stage-five clinger' for doing the same thing.
Lucille McCart, Bumble’s APAC Communications Director, says, “By not questioning or critiquing the “Romance Gap”, we leave ourselves locked into gender roles that nearly two-thirds of us say make it more difficult to build equal relationships.”
"The only way to close this gap is to make ourselves aware of it, acknowledge it exists, and then challenge yourself and each other when you notice that you are slipping into gendered expectations. Equality is something that should be addressed early and openly in dating.”
If you're a woman in a heterosexual relationship and want to initiate a second date or be the first to say ‘I love you’, you might want to question what's holding you back. It's likely the weight of outdated, ingrained gender expectations. And by getting on the front foot and asking for what you want, you could also be weeding out people who don’t align with your values anyway.