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Romance is a general term that refers to a celebration of life often through art, music and the attempt to express love with words or deeds. It also refers to a feeling of excitement associated with love. Historically, the term "romance" did not necessarily imply love relationships, but rather was seen as an artistic expression of one's innermost desires; sometimes including love, sometimes not. Romance is still sometimes viewed as an expressionistic, or artful form, but within the context of "romantic love" relationships it usually implies an expression of one's love, or one's deep emotional desires to connect with another person. "Romance" in this sense can therefore be defined as attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something or someone, in literature similar exaggerated narration is called romance.

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Romantic love is contrasted with platonic love. All usages of platonic love precludes sexual relations, yet only in the modern usage does it take on a fully asexual sense, rather than the classical sense in which sexual drives are sublimated. Sublimation often tends to be forgotten in casual thought about love; it can be found in psychology. Unrequited love can be romantic, if only in a comic or tragic sense, or in the sense that sublimation itself is comparable to romance, where the spirituality of both art and egalitarian ideals is combined with strong character and emotions. This situation is typical of the period of Romanticism, but that term is distinct from any romance that might arise within it. Beethoven, however, is the case in point. He had brief relationships with only a few women, always of the nobility. His one actual engagement was broken off mainly because of his conflicts with noble society as a group. This is evidenced in his biography, such as in Maynard Solomon's account. Romantic love might be requited emotionally and physically while not being consummated, to which one or both parties might agree.

In romantic love, according to the more modern definitions of the term, lovers often transcend worldly qualities, not only seeking deeper love, but perhaps also raising questions about a more ultimate meaning (not an uncommon sort of question in any case). This criticism of love is far from new in philosophy, but owes a great debt to Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. Schopenhauer wrote at length about the conflict between reproductive instincts and personal fulfillment, and preceded Freud in this regard.

This area of concern, related to philosophical and religious questions of identity and personhood, is addressed below (5). Furthermore, romance is not only dispersed with and even inherently related to family life, but often is to some extent or entirely free, in the sense free of interruption, or in some more radical sense, as free from various customs and traditions.

Also, romance is, or has become, a major aspect of postmodernity, and its criteria primarily includes fashion and irony. Sexual revolutions have brought about such changes. Wit or irony encompass the inherent instability of romance, fine-tuned to its late modern peculiarities. This phenomenon is often expressed in popular culture as "throwing game." Love and marriage clearly were always ironic, but not to this degree. In Marxism the romantic might be considered an example of alienation. In his theory of mimetic desire, Rene Girard attempts to make sense of such phenomena, focusing on the conflict between romance's individuality and jealousy. Yet in its independent mode (i.e., rather than as a change within a relationship) it tends to be a tragic region lying somewhere between on the one hand an ethical, and on the other hand an ascetic (or possibly debauched) life, combining significance with ennui.

General definition of romantic love

Within a relationship

Romantic love is a |relative term, that distinguishes moments and situations within interpersonal relationships. There is often, initially, more emphasis on the feelings (especially those of love, intimacy, compassion, appreciation, and general "liking") rather than physical pleasure. But, romantic love, in the abstract sense of the term, is traditionally referred to as involving a mix of emotional and sexual desire for another as a person. However sexual desire and romantic love can be functionally independent [1] and also, as an additional claim to the topic, that romantic love is not intrinsically oriented to same-gender or other-gender partners; and that the links between love and desire are bidirectional as opposed to unilateral.

Furthermore, one's sex has priority over another sex in romantic love, and seems to purport the idea that it is possible for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of the same gender, and for someone who is heterosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender. [2]

If one thinks of romantic love not as simply erotic freedom and expression, but as a breaking of that expression from a prescribed custom, romantic love is modern. There may have been a tension in primitive societies between marriage and the erotic, but this was mostly expressed in taboos regarding the menstrual cycle and birth.

Before the 18th century, as now, there were many marriages that were not arranged, and arose out of more or less spontaneous relationships. But also after the 18th century, illicit relationships took on a more independent role. In bourgeois marriage, illicitness may have become more formidable and likely to cause tension. In Ladies of the Leisure Class, Bonnie G. Smith depicts courtship and marriage rituals that may be viewed as oppressive to both men and women. She writes "When the young women of the Nord married, they did so without illusions of love and romance. They acted within a framework of concern for the reproduction of bloodlines according to financial, professional, and sometimes political interests." Subsequent sexual revolution has lessened the conflicts arising out of liberalism, but not eliminated them.

Anthropologists such as Claude Levi-Strauss show that there were complex forms of courtship in ancient as well as contemporary primitive societies. But there may not be evidence that members of such societies formed love relationships distinct from their established customs in a way that would parallel modern romance. Levi-Strauss pioneered the scientific study of the betrothal of cross cousins in such societies, as a way of solving such technical problems as the avunculate and the incest taboo

Romantic love is then a relative term within any sexual relationship, but not relative when considered in contrast with custom. Within an existing relationship, romantic love can be defined as a temporary freeing or optimizing of intimacy, either in a particularly luxurious manner (or the opposite as in the "natural"), or perhaps in greater spirituality, irony, or peril to the relationship. It may seem like a contradiction that romance is opposed to spirituality and yet would be strengthened by it, but the fleeting quality of romance might stand out in greater clarity as a couple explore a higher meaning.

The cultural traditions of marriage and betrothal are the most basic customs in conflict with romance, however it is possible that romance and love can exist between the partners within those customs. Shakespeare and Kierkegaard describe similar viewpoints, to the effect that marriage and romance are not harmoniously in tune with each other. In 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. Isabella, like all women, needs love, and she may reject marriage with the Duke because he seeks to beget an heir with her for her virtues, and she is not happy with the limited kind of love that implies. Shakespeare is arguing that marriage because of its purity can not simply incorporate romance. The extramarital nature of romance is also clarified by John Updike in his novel Gertrude and Claudius, as well as by Hamlet. It is also found in the film Braveheart, or rather in the life of Isabella of France.

Romance can also be tragic in its conflict with society. Tolstoy also focuses on the romantic limitations of marriage, and Anna Karenina prefers death to being married to her fiancée. 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.

In the following excerpt, from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo, in saying "all combined, save what thou must combine By holy marriage" implies that it is not marriage with Juliet that he seeks but simply to be joined with her romantically. That "I pray That thou consent to marry us" implies that the marriage means the removal of the social obstacle between the two opposing families, not that marriage is sought by Romeo with Juliet for any other particular reason, as adding to their love or giving it any more meaning.

"Then plainly know my heart's dear love is set On the fair daughter of rich Capulet: As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine; And all combined, save what thou must combine By holy marriage: when and where and how We met, we woo'd and made exchange of vow, I'll tell thee as we pass; but this I pray, That thou consent to marry us to-day."

--Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

Romantic love, however, may also be classified according to two categories, "popular romance" and "divine"(or "spiritual") romance. Popular romance may include but is not limited to the following types: idealistic, normal intense (such as the emotional aspect of "falling in love"), predictable as well as unpredictable, consuming (meaning consuming of time, energy and emotional withdrawals and bids), intense but out of control (such as the aspect of "falling out of love") material and commercial (such as societal gain mentioned in a later section of this article), physical and sexual, and finally grand and demonstrative. Divine (or spiritual) romance may include, but is not limited to these following types: realistic, as well as plausible unrealistic, optimistic as well as pessimistic (depending upon the particular beliefs held by each person within the relationship.), abiding (e.g. the theory that each person had a predetermined stance as an agent of choice; such as "choosing a husband" or "choosing a soul mate."), non-abiding (e.g. the theory that we do not choose our actions, and therefore our romantic love involvement has been drawn from sources outside of ourselves), predictable as well as unpredictable, self control (such as obedience and sacrifice within the context of the relationship) or lack thereof (such as disobedience within the context of the relationship), emotional and personal, soulful (in the theory that the mind, soul, and body, are one connected entity), intimate, and infinite (such as the idea that love itself or the love of a god or God's "unconditional" love is or could be everlasting, if particular beliefs were, in fact, true.)[3]

Historical definition of romantic love

The concept of romantic love was popularized in Western culture by the game of courtly love. Troubadours in the Middle Ages engaged in (usually extramarital) trysts with women as a game created for fun - and not for marriage. Since at the time marriage had little to do with love Middle - Courtly Love, courtly love was a way for people to express the love not found in their marriage. Courly Love and the origins of romance "Lovers" in the context of courtly love did not refer to sex, but rather the act of emotional loving. These "lovers" had short trysts in secret, which escalated mentally, but never physically. A History of Women: Silences of the Middle Ages Rules of the game were even codified. For example, De amore (or The Art of Courtly Love, as it is known in English) written in the 12th century lists such rules as "Marriage is no real excuse for not loving", "He who is not jealous cannot love", "No one can be bound by a double love", and "When made public love rarely endures".The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus

Some believe that romantic love evolved independently in multiple cultures. For example, in an article presented by Henry Gruenbaum, he argues "therapists mistakenly believe that romantic love is a phenomenon unique to Western cultures and first expressed by the troubadours of the Middle Ages".

Historians believe that the actual English word "romance" developed from a vernacular dialect within the French language, meaning "verse narrative", referring to the style of speech and writing, and artistic talents within elite classes. The word was originally an adverb of sorts, which was of the Latin origin "Romanicus", meaning "of the Roman style", "like the Romans". The connecting notion is that European medieval vernacular tales were usually about chivalric adventure, not combining the idea of love until late into the seventeenth century. The word "romance", or the equivalent thereof also has developed with other meanings in other languages, such as the early nineteenth century Spanish and Italian definitions of "adventurous" and "passionate", sometimes combining the idea of "love affair" or "idealistic quality."

The more current and Western traditional terminology meaning "court as lover" or the general idea of "romantic love" is believed to have originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, primarily from that of the French culture. This idea is what has spurred the connection between the words "romantic" and "lover", thus coining the English phrase "romantic love" (i.e "loving like the Romans do".) But the precise origins of such a connection are unknown. Although the word "romance", or the equivalents thereof, may not have the same connotation in other cultures, the general idea of "romantic love" appears to have crossed cultures at one point in time or another.

Gender differences and romance

John Gray is noted primarily for his claims that gender differences are the primary causes for many of the conflicts, problems, or issues between people of opposite sex in romantic relationships. However, in most of his material he neglects to mention instances that are similar between parties of same sex not involved romantically. John Gray does not seem to argue for differences in training, education, personal beliefs systems, personal experiences and attributive personality traits as being a collective unit of causes toward disruptions, disputes, and conflicts in any type of relationship, rather he focuses his theories primarily on the more traditional approach of gender based stereotypes. One factor, however, that is an observable trait dealing with gender differences is that of physical appearance. In fact, in terms of physical appearance, the concerns about attractiveness vary so widely between the sexes that it is difficult to examine the specific terms and variables common to both genders. But if we were to observe human behaviour only, there are certain trait characteristics that can be viewed as identical and/or similar between opposite sexes, whether involved romantically or not. The geniality and humanness characteristic of a society, however, appear to always cross gender boundaries at some level. In Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus Gray argued for reciprocity, by focusing on gender differences. In this way he popularized the view that men and women have special emotional needs belonging to their sex, and that an understanding of these might contribute to the conditions for relationships, and so also to romance.

Several MRI studies have been conducted to discover the reaction of subjects to images of an individual with whom they are in love. Scientists found that "love" activated the right ventral tegmental area (VTA) and dorsal caudate body of the brain, which are regions associated with motivation to win a reward. Sorely lacking in these studies, however, is an investigation into the ways that different genders' brains react to love. And why not?

Common practices of romance

Common practices of romance include:

  • Holding hands or walking hand in hand
  • Private conversations (including distant ones over the phone or by written communication)
  • Kissing and hugging
  • Dancing
  • Eating together
  • Sleeping together
  • Physical intimacy

The psychology of romantic love

Greek philosophers and authors had many theories of love, some of which are presented in Plato's Symposium where six Athenian friends including Socrates drink wine and each give a speech praising the deity Eros. When his turn comes, Aristophanes says in his mythical speech that sexual partners seek each other because they are descended from beings with spherical torsos, two sets of human limbs, genitalia on each side, and two faces back to back. Their three forms included the three permutations of pairs of gender (i.e. one masculine and masculine, another feminine and feminine, and the third masculine and feminine) and they were split by the gods to thwart the creatures' assault on heaven, recapitulated, according to the comic playwright, in other myths such as the Aloadae. This story is relevant to modern romance partly because of the image of reciprocity it shows between the sexes. In the final speech before Alcibiades arrives, Socrates gives his encomium of love and desire as a lack of being, namely, the being or form of beauty. Deleuze linked this idea of love as a lack mainly to Freud, and Deleuze often criticized it.

Attraction, often based simply on common interests, can also appear mysterious and irrational, but therapists and support groups of many kinds attempt to analyze the process. Though there are many theories of romantic love such as that of Robert Sternberg in which it is merely a mean combining liking and sexual desire, the major theories involve far more insight. For most of the 20th century, Freud's theory of the family drama dominated theories of romance and sexual relationships. This has given rise to a few counter-theories. Theorists like Deleuze counter Freud and Lacan by attempting to return to a more naturalistic philosophy.

René Girard, for example, argues that romantic attraction is a product of rivalry, particularly in a triangular form, a view mostly popularized in Girard's theory of mimetic desire, controversial because of its alleged sexism. The view has to some extent supplanted its predecessor, Freudian Oedipal theory. It may find even some spurious support in the supposed attraction of women to "bad" men, i.e., implying the deflection of male aggression back toward a man and his rival, rather than their beloved. As a technique of attraction, often combined with irony, it is sometimes advised that one feign toughness and disinterest, but it can be a trivial or crude idea to promulgate to men, and it is not given with much understanding of mimetic desire in mind.

Girard, in any case, downplays romance's individuality in favor of jealousy and the love triangle, arguing that romantic attraction arises primarily in the observed attraction between two others. A natural objection is that this is circular reasoning, but Girard means that a small measure of attraction reaches a critical point insofar as it is caught up in mimesis. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and The Winter's Tale are the best known examples. In works such as A Theatre of Envy and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of The World, Girard presents this mostly original theory, though finding a major precedent in Shakespeare, on the structure of rivalry, claiming that it, rather than Freud's theory of the primal horde, is the origin of religion and ethics, and all aspects of sexual relations. Mimetic desire is often challenged by feminists who argue that it does not account for the woman as inherently desired.

Though the centrality of rivalry is not itself a cynical view, it does emphasize the mechanical in love relations. In that sense, it does resonate with capitalism and a cynicism native to post-modernity. Romance, in this context, for example, leans more on fashion and irony, though these were important for it in less emancipated times. Sexual revolutions have brought change to these areas. Wit or irony therefore ecompass an instability of romance that is not entirely new but has a more central social role, fine-tuned to certain modern peculiarities and subversion originating in various social revolutions, culminating mostly in the 1960s.[1]

The process of courtship also contributed to Schopenhauer's pessimism, despite his own romantic success, and he argued that to be rid of the challenge of courtship would drive people to suicide with boredom. Individuals seek partners who share certain interests and tastes, while at the same time looking for a "complement" or completing of themselves in a partner, in the cliché that "opposites attract."

Romance and value

Even though there often appears to be traces of romance and love being intertwined in various cultures and societies throughout history, Gary Zukav, best selling author of Seat of the Soul and Soul Stories, views romantic love as being an illusion, stating that the concept of romantic love can never be truly fulfilling. He states that "Romance is your desire to make yourself complete through another person rather than through your own inner work.", thus isolating the idea of romance from the concept of "true love." His argument is that "real love" is more beneficial than romantic involvement alone.

Romantic love may, then, be a sexual love. "Sexual" is a loaded term, and "spiritual" is vague. By saying romance is always a form of sexual love, it is meant that while it tries to transcend these things, it never escapes their inclusion entirely and it proceeds, either in some sense away from these things in terms of origin, or toward them as in some sense subordinate to sex as a goal, though drawn to mental and spiritual qualities that attempts to transcend, in some cases entirely, mere needs driven by physical appearances, lust, or material and social gain. This transcending, ultimately, implies not just that personality is more essential, which could be considered a truism, and a view that might appear without much regard to virtue, ranging from the noble to the most shallow character. Rather, romance tends to strive to see, or suppose it can see, personality as attractive in a fundamentally higher sense. In some religions, all forms of love (and art) may be regarded as indirectly seeking God--and therefore adding to a relationship with God--whereas at the same time, such lesser objects of love are sometimes regarded as distinct from God and an obstacle in the path of spirituality.

Not only theologians, but many philosophers debate this, especially in continental philosophy in existentialism, and in analytic philosophy, in views such as emotivism. After the emotivist turn in philosophy, in other words, there was a pressure to reduce moral judgment to some kind of aesthetic judgment. Romantic love moves beyond bodily things on a certain assumption. In other words, any palpable aspect of the person can be cynically chalked up to appearance. What is assumed is not merely that personality is of value in a more profound sense than the body. (This is a truism easy to defend given the obvious fact of the mind as the most complicated aspect of the person and where he or she is encountered in the most distinctive and compelling way). Rather, the critical assumption is that the personality is attractive in a fundamentally different sense from the body as well. This, then is the question of spirituality in romance, taking into account many religious, philosophical and historical views. For example, in realizing that romantic love can never be inherently spiritual, one supposedly passes to a higher spiritual plane, beyond the worldly, which Buddhism may answer with the notion of anatman. Things lesser than personality, however, as well as the practical aspects of personality, always play a role in romance's arousal and justification.

Romance then, 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. In that case a seemingly negative insight can result in very different overall views, for example if one compares Buddha and Shakespeare with Nietzsche. Kierkegaard also addressed these ideas in works such as Either/Or and Stages on Life's Way. "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.". Nietzsche, while he might answer negatively to the platonic theory of love as having a transcendent object, being a naturalist, was more interested intellectually in marriage than in romance, as evinced by the many aphorisms on marriage in Human All Too Human. In any case, Nietzsche is often taken as diammetrically opposed to Kierkegaard, of whom there is often supposed mention in Thus Spake Zarathustra alongside Leo Tolstoy. (Shakespeare raises a similar criticism about the meaning of love in Measure for Measure, and Love's Labors Lost is often considered Shakespeare's encomium on love.

Romantic love is contrasted with platonic love which in all usages precludes sexual relations, yet only in the modern usage does it take on a fully asexual sense, rather than the classical sense in which sexual drives are sublimated. Sublimation tends to be forgotten in casual thought about love aside from its emergence in psychoanalysis and Nietzsche. Unrequited love can be romantic, if only in a comic or tragic sense, or in the sense that sublimation itself is comparable to romance, where the spirituality of both art and egalitarian ideals is combined with strong character and emotions. This situation is typical of the period of romanticism, but that term is distinct from any romance that might arise within it.<ref>Beethoven, however, is the case in point. He had brief relationships with only a few women, always of the nobility. His one actual engagement was broken off mainly because of his conflicts with noble society as a group. This is evidenced in his biography, such as in Maynard Solomon's account. Romantic love might be requited emotionally and physically while not being consummated, to which one or both parties might agree.

Tragedy and other social issues of romance

The "tragic" contradiction between romance and society is most forcibly portrayed 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 such tragic heroines, however, as having such practical considerations in mind.

"Romantic," as implied above, has both the connotations of courtly love and urgent, mutual physical desire, or both spirituality and superficiality. A parallel division occurs in marriage, where sexual relations prepare for and harmonize with later responsibilities. In marriage this combination is considered potentially harmonious, whereas in romance taken by itself the role of spirituality tends to be discordant. The synonymous "erotic" has a more unequivocal connotation.

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 then the exception rather than the rule, though this is a matter of speculation and debate. At the same time Christianity has had another effect on romance, by asserting the spirituality of marriage. This is at least slightly ironic, since religion is the origin of much liberation and emancipation.

Later modern philosophers such as La Rochefoucauld, Hume and Rousseau also focused on morality, but desire was central to French thought, and Hume himself tended to adopt a French worldview and temperament. Desire in this milieu meant a very general idea termed "the passions," and this general interest was distinct from the contemporary idea of "passionate" now equated with "romantic." Love was a central topic again in the subsequent movement of Romanticism, which focused on such things as absorption in nature and the absolute, as well as platonic and unrequited love in German philosophy and literature.

Philosophers and authors interested in the nature of love, which may not have been mentioned in this article are Jane Austen, Stendhal, Schopenhauer, George Meredith, Proust, D. H. Lawrence, Freud, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Hemingway, Henry Miller, Deleuze and Alan Soble.

Properties of romantic love include these:

  • It cannot be easily controlled.
  • It is not overtly (initially at least) predicated on a desire for sex as a physical act.
  • If requited, it may be the basis for lifelong commitment.

See also

Further reading

  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Stages on Life's Way. Transl. Walter Lowrie, D.D. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940.
  • Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropolgy. 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 Levi-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.
  • Brain Chemicals of Romance How brain chemicals define the stages of love.
  • Brad Hayden, "falling in love" Canada, Random place, 2007 Made possible by Cora-lee Reid.
  1. A contemporary irony toward romance is perhaps the expression "throwing game" or simply game. In Marxism the romantic might be considered an example of alienation.