Romance (love)

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Romance is a pleasurable emotional feeling of love for another person, and as well refers to a collection of courtship behaviors undertaken to express the emotions created by the feeling.

The feeling of romantic love is associated with sexual attraction, but romantic feelings can exist without expectation of physical consummation and be subsequently expressed. Historically, the term romance originates with the medieval ideal of chivalry as set out in chivalric romance literature.

General definitions

Romantic love is a relative term that distinguishes moments and situations within intimate relationships as contributing to a deepened relational connection.

  1. The addition of "drama" to relationships of close, deep and strong love[clarify].
  2. Anthropologist Charles Lindholm defined love as "an intense attraction that involves the idealization of the other, within an erotic context, with expectation of enduring sometime into the future."[1]

In literature

Archetypal lovers Romeo and Juliet portrayed by Frank Dicksee

Shakespeare and Søren Kierkegaard share a similar viewpoint that marriage and romance are not harmoniously in tune with each other. In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, for example, "...there has not been, nor is there at this point, any display of affection between Isabella and the Duke, if by affection we mean something concerned with sexual attraction. The two at the end of the play love each other as they love virtue."[2] In Romeo and Juliet, in saying "all combined, save what thou must combine By holy marriage," Romeo implies that it is not marriage with Juliet that he seeks but simply to be joined with her romantically.

Kierkegaard addressed these ideas in works such as Either/Or and Stages on Life's Way.[3]

In How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, British writer Iain King tried to establish rules for romance applicable across most cultures. He concluded on six rules, including:

  1. Do not flirt with someone unless you might mean it.
  2. Do not pursue people who you are not interested in, or who are not interested in you.
  3. In general, express your affection or uncertainty clearly, unless there is a special reason not to.[4]

Tragedy and other social issues

The "tragic" contradiction between romance and society is most forcibly portrayed in literature, in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, in Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The female protagonists in such stories are driven to suicide as if dying for a cause of freedom from various oppressions of marriage.

Even after sexual revolutions, on the other hand, to the extent that it does not lead to procreation (or child-rearing, as it also might exist in same-sex marriage), romance remains peripheral though it may have virtues in the relief of stress, as a source of inspiration or adventure, or in development and the strengthening of certain social relations. It is difficult to imagine the tragic heroines, however, as having such practical considerations in mind.

Romance can also be tragic in its conflict with society. The Tolstoy family focuses on the romantic limitations of marriage, and Anna Karenina prefers death to being married to her fiancé, however this is because she is tired of waiting and being hidden away from public, when her fiance makes failed attempts to get his mother's approval of the marriage. Even being aristocrats did not make them both free, as the society was nevertheless equally binding for all. Furthermore, in the speech about marriage that is given in Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Kierkegaard attempts to show that it is because marriage is lacking in passion fundamentally, that the nature of marriage, unlike romance, is explainable by a man who has experience of neither marriage nor love.

Reciprocity of the sexes appears in the ancient world primarily in myth where it is in fact often the subject of tragedy, for example in the myths of Theseus and Atalanta. Noteworthy female freedom or power was an exception rather than the rule, though this is a matter of speculation and debate.[5]


Many theorists attempt to analyze the process of romantic love.

Helen Fisher

Anthropologist Helen Fisher, in her book Why We Love,[6] uses brain scans to show that love is the product of a chemical reaction in the brain. Norepinephrine and dopamine, among other brain chemicals, are responsible for excitement and bliss in humans as well as non-human animals. She is famous for the use of MRI to study the brain activity of a person "in love", discovering the importance of the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus in this biological drive.

Fisher concludes that these reactions have a genetic basis, and therefore love is a natural drive as powerful as hunger.

John Townsend

In his book What Women Want, What Men Want,[7] anthropologist John Townsend takes the genetic basis of love one step further by identifying how the sexes are different in their predispositions.

Townsend's compilation of various research projects concludes that men are susceptible to youth and beauty, whereas women are susceptible to status and security. These differences are part of a natural selection process where males seek many healthy women of childbearing age to mother offspring, and women seek men who are willing and able to take care of them and their children.

Karen Horney

Psychologist Karen Horney in her article "The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal",[8] indicates that the overestimation of love leads to disillusionment; the desire to possess the partner results in the partner wanting to escape; and the friction against sex result in non-fulfillment. Disillusionment plus the desire to escape plus non-fulfillment result in a secret hostility, which causes the other partner to feel alienated. Secret hostility in one and secret alienation in the other cause the partners to secretly hate each other. This secret hate often leads one or the other or both to seek love objects outside the marriage or relationship.

Harold Bessell

Psychologist Harold Bessell in his book The Love Test,[9] reconciles the opposing forces noted by the above researchers and shows that there are two factors that determine the quality of a relationship.

Bessell proposes that people are drawn together by a force he calls "romantic attraction," which is a combination of genetic and cultural factors. This force may be weak or strong and may be felt to different degrees by each of the two love partners. The other factor is "emotional maturity," which is the degree to which a person is capable of providing good treatment in a love relationship. It can thus be said that an immature person is more likely to overestimate love, become disillusioned, and have an affair whereas a mature person is more likely to see the relationship in realistic terms and act constructively to work out problems.

Lisa M. Diamond

Romantic love, in the abstract sense of the term, is traditionally considered to involve a mix of emotional and sexual desire for another as a person. However, Lisa M. Diamond, a University of Utah psychology professor, proposes that sexual desire and romantic love are functionally independent[10] and that romantic love is not intrinsically oriented to same-gender or other-gender partners. She also proposes that the links between love and desire are bidirectional as opposed to unilateral. Furthermore, Diamond does not state that one's sex has priority over another sex (a male or female) in romantic love because her theory suggests it is as possible for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of the other gender as for someone who is heterosexual to fall in love with someone of the same gender.[11] In her 2012 review of this topic, Diamond emphasized that what is true for men may not be true for women. According to Diamond, in most men sexual orientation is fixed and most likely innate, but in many women sexual orientation may vary from 0 to 6 on the Kinsey scale and back again.[12]

Martie Haselton

Martie Haselton, a psychologist at UCLA, considers romantic love a "commitment device", or mechanism that encourages two humans to form a lasting bond. She has explored the evolutionary rationale that has shaped modern romantic love and has concluded that long-lasting relationships are helpful to ensure that children reach reproductive age and are fed and cared for by two parents. Haselton and her colleagues have found evidence in their experiments that suggest love's adaptation. The first part of the experiments consists of having people think about how much they love someone and then suppress thoughts of other attractive people. In the second part of the experiment the same people are asked to think about how much they sexually desire those same partners and then try to suppress thoughts about others. The results showed that love is more efficient in pushing out those rivals than sex.[13]

University research

Research by the University of Pavia suggests that romantic love lasts for about a year (similar with limerence) before being replaced by a more stable form of love called companionate love.[14] In companionate love, changes occur from the early stage of love to when the relationship becomes more established and romantic feelings seem to end. However, research from Stony Brook University in New York suggests that some couples keep romantic feelings alive for much longer.[15]

Major theories

These are the major theories[citation needed] associated with current research on romantic relationships, especially in the context of positive psychology[citation needed].

Attachment patterns

Attachment styles that people develop as children can influence the way that they interact with partners in adult relationships, with secure attachment styles being associated with healthier and more trusting relationships than avoidant or anxious attachment styles.[16][17] Hazen and Shaver found that adult romantic attachment styles were similar to the categories of secure, avoidant, and anxious that had previously been studied in children’s attachments to their caregivers, demonstrating that attachment styles are stable across the lifespan.[18] Later on, researchers distinguished between dismissive avoidant attachment and fearful avoidant attachment.[19] Others have found that secure adult attachment, leading to the ability for intimacy and confidence in relationship stability, is characterized by low attachment-related anxiety and avoidance, while the fearful style is high on both dimensions, the dismissing style is low on anxiety and high on avoidance, and the preoccupied style is high on anxiety and low on avoidance.[20]

Romantic love definition/operationalization

Singer (1984a,[21] 1984b,[22] 1987[23]) first defined love based on four Greek terms: eros, meaning the search for beauty; philia, the feelings of affection in close friendships, nomos, the submission of and obedience to higher or divine powers, and agape, the bestowal of love and affection for the divine powers. While Singer did believe that love was important to world culture, he did not believe that romantic love played a major role (Singer, 1987[23]). However, Susan Hendrick and Clyde Hendrick at Texas Tech University (1992,[24] 2009[25]) have theorized that romantic love will play an increasingly important cultural role in the future, as it is considered an important part of living a fulfilling life. They also theorized that love in long-term romantic relationships has only been the product of cultural forces that came to fruition within the past 300 years. By cultural forces, they mean the increasing prevalence of individualistic ideologies, which are the result of an inward shift of many cultural worldviews.

Passionate and companionate love

Researchers have determined that romantic love is a complex emotion that can be divided into either passionate or companionate forms.[26] Berscheid and Walster (1978[27]) and Hatfield (1988[28]) found that these two forms can co-exist, either simultaneously or intermittently. Passionate love is an arousal-driven emotion that often gives people extreme feelings of happiness, and can also give people feelings of anguish.[citation needed] Companionate love is a form that creates a steadfast bond between two people, and gives people feelings of peace. Researchers have described the stage of passionate love as "being on cocaine," since during that stage the brain releases the same neurotransmitter, dopamine, as when cocaine is being used.[29] It is also estimated that passionate love (as with limerence) lasts for about twelve to eighteen months.[30]

Robert Firestone, a psychologist, has a theory of the fantasy bond, which is what is mostly created after the passionate love has faded. A couple may start to feel really comfortable with each other to the point that they see each other as simply companions or protectors, but yet think that they are still in love with each other.[31] The results to the fantasy bond is the leading to companionate love. Hendrick and Hendrick (1995[32]) studied college students who were in the early stages of a relationship and found that almost half reported that their significant other was their closest friend, providing evidence that both passionate and companionate love exist in new relationships. Conversely, in a study of long-term marriages, researchers (Contreras, Hendrick, and Hendrick, 1996[33]) found that couples endorsed measures of both companionate love and passionate love and that passionate love was the strongest predictor of marital satisfaction, showing that both types of love can endure throughout the years.

The triangular theory of love

Psychologist Robert Sternberg (1986[34]) developed the triangular theory of love. He theorized that love is a combination of three main components: passion (physical arousal); intimacy (psychological feelings of closeness); and commitment (the sustaining of a relationship). He also theorized that the different combinations of these three components could yield up to seven different forms of love. These include popularized forms such as romantic love (intimacy and passion) and consummate love (passion, intimacy, and commitment). The other forms are liking (intimacy), companionate love (intimacy and commitment), empty love (commitment), fatuous love (passion and commitment), and infatuation (passion). Studies on Sternberg’s theory love found that intimacy most strongly predicted marital satisfaction in married couples, with passion also being an important predictor (Silberman, 1995[35]). On the other hand, Acker and Davis (1992[36]) found that commitment was the strongest predictor of relationship satisfaction, especially for long-term relationships.

The self-expansion theory of romantic love

Researchers Arthur and Elaine Aron (1986[37]) theorized that humans have a basic drive to expand their self-concepts. Further, their experience with Eastern concepts of love caused them to believe that positive emotions, cognitions, and relationships in romantic behaviors all drive the expansion of a person’s self-concept. A study following college students for 10 weeks showed that those students who fell in love over the course of the investigation reported higher feelings of self-esteem and self efficacy than those who did not (Aron, Paris, and Aron, 1995[38]).

Mindful relationships

Harvey and Ormarzu (1997[39]) developed a model of minding relationships with five key components: seeking to know and be known by the other; using knowledge learned in a relationship to enhance the relationship; accepting the other person; being motivated to continue this process of learning, enhancing, and accepting; and developing a sense of appreciation in the relationship. Each of these components is considered adaptive, however, nonadaptive steps to minding a relationship were also theorized by the research team. The five nonadaptive components include: one or both partners out of step in seeking to know and be known by the other; not using the knowledge learned in a relationship to enhance the relationship (or using that knowledge to hurt the other); low acceptance and respect for the other person; not being motivated to continue the process of learning, enhancing, and accepting; and failing to develop a sense of appreciation in a relationship. Gottman studies the components of a flourishing romantic relationship have been studied in the lab (1994;[40] Gottman & Silver, 1999[41]). He used physiological and behavioral measures during couples’ interactions to predict relationship success and found that five positive interactions to one negative interaction are needed to maintain a healthy relationship. He established a therapy intervention for couples that focused on civil forms of disapproval, a culture of appreciation, acceptance of responsibility for problems, and self-soothing (Gottman, Driver, & Tabares, 2002[42]).

Relationship behaviors

The most recent[citation needed] research on romantic love and relationships focuses on behaviors that either sustain a relationship or aid in its dissolution. These behaviors can be considered either appetitive or aversive. Appetitive relationship processes are considered the promotion of positive relationship behaviors, as determined by psychologists Gable and Reis (2001,[43] 2003[44]). Aversive relationship processes are described as eliminating behaviors that have a negative effect on relationships (Gable and Reis 2001,[43] 2003[44]). This new research has also allowed relationship success to be predicted as a function of these appetitive and aversive processes. This is all related to research that shows that sharing positive life events with one’s partner is related to greater relationship satisfaction and intimacy (Gable et al., 2004[45]). In research by Gable et al. (2003) appetitive (promotion of positive relationship behaviors) and aversive (elimination of negative relationship behaviors) processes are independent constructs. A specific type of appetitive processing, capitalization, leads to increased relationship satisfaction and intimacy when one member of the relationship tells the other about positive life events and receive quality reactions and feedback from the partner (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004[45]).


Awareness of major theories on positive romantic relationships and knowledge of proven findings that support them gives couples the tools to strengthen their relationships and allows single individuals to have the resources to build a flourishing relationship in the future. Access to information like this could contribute to the reduction of divorce rates, as well as producing happier and healthier home lives for many families. For example, though there appears to be a correlation between an increased divorce rate and premarital cohabitation, living with a person of romantic interest before marriage still appears to be a common and growing trend.[46] Knowledge of this is one way positive psych could help aid flourishing relationships.

In addition to the aforementioned factors, awareness would also provide the opportunity for people to better understand or empathize with those who may not illustrate the level of positivity found in these major theories. Knowing this information can help with coming to terms with someone that is particularly difficult in a given romantic relationship, and could help one aid them to a better outlook through this gain of knowledge. The attachment style of individuals has a strong influence on the way future relationships are created and harnessed. While those with a secure attachment style fare better, one may be prone to more bumps in the road if having a disorganized style of attachment.

With a heightened awareness comes an upward spiral of positive relationships in general. Having younger individuals modeled by positive interactions would, in turn, greatly influence the probability of these individuals implementing such behaviors in their own social relationships.

It can be said that romantic love creates pair bonding between two individuals. It also increases the amount of available resources by combining those of two separate individuals thus leading to an increase in the reproductive fitness of potential offspring. This can be seen in the animal kingdom as well. For example, researchers observed the survival rate of mice offspring in father present and father absent environments and discovered that while both groups had approximately the same birth rate, with the father absent group even being a little bit higher, ultimately only 26% of the offspring in father absent group survived to emergence as opposed to the 81% of offspring that survived in the father present group.[47]


Researchers such as Feeney and Noller question the stability of attachment style across the life span since studies that measured attachment styles at time points ranging from 2 weeks to 8 months found that 1 out of 4 adults' attachment style changed.[48] Furthermore, a study by Lopez and Gormley found that attachment styles could change during the first year of college and that changes to more secure attachment styles were associated with adjustments in self-confidence ratings and coping styles.[49] On the other hand, attachment styles in childhood mirror the ones found in adult romantic relationships.[50] In addition, research has shown that building interpersonal connections strengthens neural regulatory systems that are involved in emotions of empathy, enjoyment of positive social events, and stress management,[51][52] providing evidence that early social interactions affect adult relationships.

Another topic of controversy in the field of romantic relationships is that of domestic abuse. Following the theory that romantic love evolved as a byproduct of survival, it can be said that in some instances, it has turned into a maladaptation. Oxytocin is a neurophysical hormone produced in the brain. It is known to cause a decrease in stress response. It also can cause an increase in feelings of attachment. In the beginning stages of a romantic relationship, OT levels surge and then remain relatively stable over the duration of the relationship. The higher the surge of OT, the greater the likelihood is of partners staying together.[53] It plays an important role in increasing positive interpersonal behaviors such as trust, altruism, empathy, etc.[54] This response is not universal and can in fact, cause the opposite to occur depending on environment and individual. Individuals ranked high in rejection sensitivity exhibited aggressive tendencies and decreased willingness for cooperation, indicating a link between oxytocin and relationship maintenance.[55]

The feelings associated with romantic love function to ensure the greater reproductive fitness of individuals. The obligations of individuals in romantic relationships to preserve these bonds are based in kin selection theory, where by exhibiting aggressive behavior, a mate can use intimidation and dominance to ward off other potential predators, thus protecting the pair bond and their actual or potential offspring. This has however evolved to the point where it has become detrimental to the fitness of individuals; what is causing attachment to occur in a relationship, is now causing one partner to harm the other.

In the search for the root of intimate partner violence, intranasal oxytocin was administered to a control group and a group of participants with aggressive tendencies. Participants were then surveyed on how willing they were to engage in 5 behaviors towards their romantic partner. What they found was that oxytocin increased IPV inclinations only among the participants with a predisposition towards aggressive tendencies.[56] Oxytocin decreases trust and prosocial behavior in individuals with interpersonal difficulties. This, coupled with its role in relationship maintenance, illustrates that oxytocin serves to instill a sense of territoriality and protectiveness towards a mate.

See also


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  2. ^ Nathan, Norman (1956). "The Marriage of Duke Vincentio and Isabella". Shakespeare Quarterly. 7 (1): 43–45. doi:10.2307/2866112. 
  3. ^ "In the first place, I find it comical that all men are in love and want to be in love, and yet one never can get any illumination upon the question what the lovable, i.e., the proper object of love, really is." (Stages p. 48). Shakespeare also argues that marriage, because of its purity, simply cannot incorporate romance. The extramarital nature of romance is echoed by John Updike in Gertrude and Claudius. Romance raises questions of emotivism (or in a more pejorative sense, nihilism) such as whether spiritual attraction, of the world, might not actually rise above or distinguish itself from that of the body or aesthetic sensibility. While Buddha taught a philosophy of compassion and love, still in his philosophy of anatman or non-self spiritual appearances are of a piece with the world and essentially empty. The contradiction between compassion and anatman seems to be a part of Buddhism. (Shakespeare raises a criticism about the meaning of love in Measure for Measure, and Love's Labors Lost is often considered Shakespeare's encomium on love.)
  4. ^ How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time: Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong, 2008, p. 154
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Further reading

  • Loudin, Jo, The Hoax of Romance. New York: Prentice Hall, 1980.
  • Young-Eisendrath, Polly, You're Not Who I Expected. William Morrow & Company, 1993.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Stages on Life's Way. Transl. Walter Lowrie, D.D. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940.
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. London: Allen Lane, 1968; New York: Penguin Books, 1994. Structural Anthropology. (volume 2) London: Allen Lane, 1977; New York: Peregrine Books 1976.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human. Transl. R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2nd Edition, 1996.
  • Wiseman, Boris. Introducing Lévi-Strauss. New York: Totem Books, 1998.
  • Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World. Pantheon Books, 1956.
  • Francesco Alberoni, Falling in love, New York, Random House, 1983.
  • de Munck, Victor, and Andrey Korotayev. Sexual Equality and Romantic Love: A Reanalysis of Rosenblatt's Study on the Function of Romantic Love // Cross-Cultural Research 33 (1999): 265–277.
  • Novak, Michael. Shaw, Elizabeth (editor) The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays Transaction Publishers (January 23, 2013).
  • Wexler, Harry K, "The Romantic Hoax.", Aug 31 2009.

External links

  • Quotations related to Romance at Wikiquote
  • "The Role of Romance in a Relationship and its Importance". 
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