What is romantic love?
"Romantic love" is an oxymoron; it is romance, but it is not love in
its fullest sense. We go through the motions of love -- the
attentiveness, the sharing, the caring -- but can differentiate
romance from love as we examine romance's other characteristics.
(This chapter is not a condemnation of romance; certainly, romance
can have a delightful place in dating and in a loving
relationship -- but we can avoid some of its pain if we
understand romance's nature, and we do not mistake romantic
infatuation for love.)
are the characteristics of romantic love?
Romantic love is characterized by intensity. We experience
intense passion, intense pleasure, and intense emotional and
sexual desire. But we might also experience intense
negativity, in the form of jealousy, frustration,
loneliness, longing, and other types of emotional suffering --
during the relationship, and after it ends.
Romantic love is based on fantasy. We are in love with an
ideal, a "dream." We imagine that this person has every wonderful
trait. One reason for this idealizing is that we are projecting
the anima or animus of our own psyche, and so we see that perfect
male or female superimposed onto the person. In some cases, this
fantasy occurs because the person is unattainable (and is
therefore not present to dispel the fantasy) -- because of a
geographical distance, or a social prohibition (as in the case of
the feuding families of Romeo and Juliet), or a mysterious
Romantic love breaks down healthy barriers. We become so
focused on the other person and the relationship that we sacrifice
our own identity. Because we have relinquished ourselves, we are
excessively reliant on the other person for our happiness and the
fulfillment of our needs and goals.
Romantic love is temporary. Because it is based on fantasy, it
cannot continue when we learn more about the person, and we
realize that the person's actual traits differ from those which we
have projected in our fantasy. When we experience this
"dis-illusionment," we have a choice:
We can terminate the relationship, and then seek a new
person upon whom we can project our unreasonable ideals.
We can try to build a mature relationship with this real
person who has real faults.