What is Romantic Love?

I find it frustrating, sometimes, talking to people about love. The first roadblock I usually run into is getting people to define their personal meaning of love, the second mountain to climb is dealing with what romantic love means.

Whenever there is more than one person discussing this topic,  there is argument about what romanic love is. Does it require erotic/sexual feelings? Is romantic love a verb, or an adjective and a noun? Is Romantic just a name for the time when love is like a drug?

Romantic Love is a Triangle

As a concept many people that I have talked to see romantic love very similar to the triangular theory of love. This concept is fleshed out by Richard Sternberg. These people see romantic as being a sufficient level of intimacy on several scales.

  1. Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connection, and bonding.
  2. Passion – Which encompasses drives connected to both limerence and sexual attraction.
  3. Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, plans made with that other.

So, if you have sufficient connection on these three points your love is romantic.

Romantic Love is a Chemical Cocktail

The next largest group I have spoken with feel that romantic love is only the chemical infatuation described by limerence. It is the fairytale that is the beginning of a relationship.

It is a potent cocktail of chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Adrenaline, Cortisol, Oxytocin and Vasopressin that impair judgement, create feeling of euphoria, suppress appetite and foster feelings of connection and attachment with another.

This group usually argues that after this fades romantic love transitions to something else: friends, family, etc. For this group romance is lie, or a chemical trick.

Romantic Love is an Action

The connection that the last group that shares in common is people that see Romantic Love as love that is enacted. Most of them describe it as being actions with an intent for emotional connection. Perhaps this is the most traditionalist view, because it revolves around cause and effect. You take an action to influence emotional connection. This is what is presented in romance novels.

Does Romance Require Sexual Intimacy?

I have not seen any agreement on whether sexual interest is required for romantic love. A significant group of the people I have discussed this with see romance as a precursor to sexual feelings, a smaller group sees romance and sex as totally separate, and many people have very long lists of caveats on when and how the two interact.

Personally, I am still unsure what people mean when they say they are looking for a romantic relationship. I don’t think I have every heard a definition that describes the behaviors that I see in people that describe themselves as romantic.

What do you think makes a love romantic? Do you think it is any different than other kinds of love?

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