2023 Was The Year Of The Romance Renaissance
Pop culture has spoken, and love is cool again.
Once upon a time (in July), a video of Rachel Zegler discussing her new role of Snow White in a September 2022 red-carpet interview went viral — and it didn’t go over so well. Zegler’s quotes about the modernized plot, in which Snow White is not fantasizing about romance, were met with annoyance, memes, and plenty of ~grumpy~ all-caps comments. The main gripe of these critics: namely, what’s wrong with wanting love?
“It’s no longer 1937, and we absolutely wrote a Snow White that is not gonna be saved by the prince ... and she’s not gonna be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be,” Zegler told Variety.
Ten months later, the implication — that “dreaming about true love” is passé — was torn apart on Twitter and TikTok. “I’m an empowered woman and am gonna lead said empowered life but I LOVE DREAMING OF TRUE LOVE!” one TikTok account said. “They’re like the two paths for a woman [are] finding your soul mate or starting a small business,” another commented. As more accounts took issue with Zegler’s words, they came to a new consensus: There’s power in being a romantic. TikToker Megan Cruz put it this way: “I personally cannot wait for this super reductive, girlboss feminism to die out.”
While the super-independent, don’t-need-no-man archetype is a powerful one, it can also be isolating. As one TikToker wrote, “It creates this dichotomy of ‘you can be a girlboss or a pathetic SAHM [stay-at-home mom]. NO middle ground’ like why not have both love and autonomy??”
But people weren’t always in their lover era — and the sentiment wasn’t exclusive to Zegler, either. In February 2019, Call Her Daddy gave the controversial advice of “cheat or be cheated on.” That summer, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” inspired people to embrace the fun of being single. Then, in November 2022, Emily Ratajkowski proudly declared the start of her post-divorce “b*tch era,” encouraging people to be “a little more pissed off.”
So, it’s no wonder Zegler’s comment initially flew under the radar. At the time, nobody felt the need to defend the pursuit of love. But thanks to swoony, Norah-Ephron-coded celebrity relationships and the rom-com revival, the tides have since changed.
By the middle of the summer of 2023 — a time when women came out in droves to celebrate their femininity at concerts and movies and all over TikTok — a new, softer approach to life and love had taken over. “Take my hand, close your eyes, now feel” wasn’t just a viral TikTok sound or Barbie movie quote; it became a mantra for a gentler way of interacting with the world.
Around that time, Travis Kelce won over Taylor Swift, bringing the power of a good love story back to the forefront of pop culture. From their friendship bracelet beginning in July to their post-Eras show kiss in November, Tayvis’ love story has all the makings of a romance novel, and even romance novelist Tessa Bailey said so. “Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce love stories [sic] is very Hallmark movie coded and classic romcom book coded,” one fan of the couple tweeted in December. “And I AM EATING IT UP.”
Like the cultural vanguard she’s proven to be, Swift is driving this trend onward with her public romance, helping usher in a new era where falling in love is something to be proud of. One fan wrote on Twitter, “i want a relationship like travis and taylor. they’re the IT couple.” Another tweeted, “I WANT A LOVE STORY LIKE TRAVIS AND TAYLOR.”
Serena Kerrigan, creator and founder of Let’s F*cking Date, has marketed her dating life since 2020, turning it into a successful brand all about confidence (and card-playing). But her expletive-filled mantras took on a softer note when she announced her relationship in July. “When we see Taylor — a billionaire — so in love with her partner, she’s telling us it’s OK to have both,” Kerrigan tells Elite Daily. “You can be a baddie and change the world, and you can also want a guy who opens the door for you.”
It’s beautiful to see this woman who is quite literally on top of the world fall in love, and then watch them giddily show up for each other.
There’s also something to be said for the timing of this relationship: at the height of Swift’s career. “Because we've established ourselves as these bad b*tch women that make a f*ck ton of money and are passionate about our careers, lives, friendships, etc., we can invite love in,” Kerrigan adds. TL;DR: Once you know that love is not all you need (and your relationship status isn’t your only measure of success), it opens you up to wanting romance for pleasure rather than necessity.
It’s a trend that Kerrigan noticed at her November live shows, too — successful women going to her to talk about seeking relationships, not raises. “I was taken aback by how many times the ‘I want a partner’ question came up,” Kerrigan says. “Maybe because we've become financially independent and career-oriented, we crave that romance more. Or maybe we're allowing ourselves to be honest about it, realizing that it's not a weak point.”
Ashley Hesseltine, co-host of the dating podcast Girls Gotta Eat, isn’t sure that pop culture acts as a deciding factor in people’s dating lives. Still, she says that Swift and Kelce are certainly setting an example. “When it comes to Taylor and Travis (a relationship I’m obsessed with, for the record), I think it’s beautiful to see this woman who is quite literally on top of the world fall in love, and then watch them giddily show up for each other and not give a f*ck who sees their joy in this relationship,” Hesseltine tells Elite Daily.
Swift and Kelce aren’t the only celebrity couple to adopt this mindset. Alyssa Amoroso, a former entertainment publicist turned pop culture and PR commentator, has noticed other threads of this trend. “We've seen a rise in the ‘lover girl’ or ‘lover boy’ era on social media,” Amoroso, who hosts the Tea With Publyssity podcast, tells Elite Daily. “Just this week Selena Gomez and Benny Blanco went public with their relationship. It’s another example of someone in the spotlight unapologetically claiming their love for another person.”
Kelsea Ballerini and Chase Stokes are another loved-up couple who embraced the spotlight this year. Their romance specifically has been met with enthusiasm (and envy). “My unrealistic expectations for romance and love come from Chase Stokes kissing Kelsea Ballerini for the first time and then saying ‘thank god you’re real,’” one fan tweeted, referring to Ballerini’s November Call Her Daddy episode, where she explained the story of how they met.
Shipping famous couples — both real-life and fictional — isn’t a new pastime, but 2023 saw a renewed interest in these public love stories, where the appeal of the romance plot outweighs the allure of the characters individually. Think: TJ Holmes and Amy Robach (yes, even a scandal can turn kinda swoon-worthy), Robert Pattinson and Suki Waterhouse (ft. her baby bump), Queen Charlotte’s Charlotte and George, Never Have I Ever’s Ben and Devi, and The Buccaneer’s Mabel and Honoria.
Reinvented Snow White aside, the much-awaited rom-com revival is in full swing now too, with Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney’s Anyone But You premiering on Dec. 22. Their extremely flirtatious press tour only made the return of romance clearer. (One fan commented on their chemistry-laden photos together, “THIS is how you promote a rom-com movie!!!”) Plus, in November, the rom-com queen herself Meg Ryan made her return to the genre with What Happens Later.
But this I-love-love trend hardly means that singleness is on its way out. “I will never tell anyone it’s not cool or trendy to be single,” Hesseltine says. “The times in your life when you’re single and focusing on yourself are so important to figure out who you are and what you want — and ultimately, leading you to love.”
Maybe this new lover era is less about the rising appeal of relationships and more about setting a higher standard for love in your life — the kind of romance that inspired Swift to change the lyrics to “Karma” in Kelce’s honor. Of course, it’s fine if your version of a grand gesture does not involve a record-breaking stadium tour.