At first, the Leo jokes were funny. They came in droves when news broke late last month that Leonardo DiCaprio had split from his latest girlfriend, Camila Morrone, seeming to confirm his oft-derided reputation for never dating women older than 25. (Morrone turns 26 next year.) But what began as a sharp observation from my colleague Christina Cauterucci in 2016—as confirmed in Know Your Meme, thank you very much—has, in the years since, become kind of routine: Yes, yes, he’s done it again, what a dog. If it’s surprising at all, it’s because, damn, who knew we still cared about Leonardo DiCaprio this much?
Well, let’s be honest. Millennials still care about DiCaprio. Gen X–ers too. But what about people in his apparent dating pool, Gen Z? Could they possibly care about him, much less lust after him? I started wondering this because, now that DiCaprio is possibly on the market again (this is if those rumors that he’s already found comfort in the arms of Gigi Hadid, historic if true because she is 27, prove to be unfounded), all the women left for him are in Gen Z. Last time he was single, there were still some millennials mingling in there, but they’ve all now aged out. In fact, if DiCaprio continues to operate his romantic life with the same ruthless actuarial precision he has shown so far, his next girlfriend could mark his first relationship with someone who was born after the release of Titanic. It’s not just that his future girlfriend(s) won’t have cherished memories of watching Titanic on video, with all the agony and ecstasy of having to switch from the first tape to the second in the middle; she might not remember VHS tapes full stop.
These are untested times for DiCaprio. Even though it’s been some time since his babyface twinkled on posters hung from adolescent bedroom walls across the world, because millennials and anyone older remember him that way, he still carries those Tiger Beat associations for many of us. Has he considered that it might not work on younger women? That one day soon, any joke he attempts to make about being “the king of the world” could be met with blank stares?
Being rich and famous usually does wonders in this department. Still, though, I wondered if there is a Gen Z base for DiCaprio. I thought of that scene in the movie Neighbors when Seth Rogen’s character asks Zac Efron’s who Batman is to him. To Efron, the answer is obviously Christian Bale, whereas to Rogen, it’s obviously Michael Keaton. (Let’s not even get into who Gen Z thinks Batman is.) To someone in their 30s, DiCaprio is and will always be the guy from Titanic. Who is he to someone younger?
“I think he’s just some guy to all of us,” said Mimori Walters, a 21-year-old from Orlando, Florida. “Wasn’t he in The Matrix?”
No, he was not. Walters owned up to liking Titanic as a kid, but otherwise has been unimpressed by DiCaprio. “I see why he didn’t get an Oscar until his 40s,” they said.
Walters’ perspective seemed to be fairly colored by recent discussions of DiCaprio’s dating life and possible age limit: “He’s just a fucking creep, dude. Who does that?”
Emma Smith, a 21-year-old who has never seen Titanic, more or less agreed: “I don’t see him as a super relevant figure, but the news about his dating habits definitely caught my eye and caused me to be pretty grossed out,” she said.
Erin Byerly, a 19-year-old movie buff and sophomore at Wesleyan University, called DiCaprio “one of my first celebrity crushes.” She quickly clarified that she only had eyes for Titanic- and Romeo + Juliet–era Leo, though: “I don’t think he’s aged well at all.” She said she thinks that’s a pretty common opinion: “The only fangirling I see happening for him is when he was young.”
He would not get far with her. “I’m 19, and I can’t think of a single thing a man that old could ever have in common with me,” she said. “Leonardo DiCaprio’s literally three years younger than my father.”
How would these discerning young people advise a friend, a fellow member of their generation and sister in arms, who was considering dating Leo? Smith said she would counsel her to consider the power dynamic. Walters added, “I would pull up what everyone is saying right now.” Walters said they would also share stories of their own bad experiences with much older men: “This breed of man is not uncommon.”
So given all this, do they think DiCaprio will have any trouble landing a Gen Z squeeze?
“Frankly, probably not,” Smith said.
“I know I said that he fell off, but he’s Leonardo DiCaprio,” Walters said. Apparently, that still means something.