Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

Part of a series on Love
Courtly love
Religious love
Grades of Emotion
Brotherly love
Sisterly love
Erotic love
Platonic love
Familial love
Puppy love
Romantic love
See Also
Unrequited love

Romantic love is a form of love that is often regarded as different from mere needs driven by sexual desire, or lust. Romantic love generally involves a mix of emotional and sexual desire, as opposed to platonic love. There is often, initially, more emphasis on the emotions than on physical pleasure.

Romantic love can be returned or unrequited. In the former case the mutual expressions of love can lead to marriage or to the establishment of a permanent relationship, which in most cases will include passionate sexual love. Where the love is one-sided (unrequited) damage to the esteem and/or the psychological welfare of the spurned lover can result.

One aspect of romantic love is the randomness of the encounters which lead to love. It may be for this reason that some in Western society have historically emphasized romantic love far more than other cultures in which arranged marriages are the rule. However, the globalization of Western culture has spread Western ideas about love and romance.

Romantic love became a recognized passion in the Middle Ages, when in some cases insurmountable barriers of morality or convention separated the lovers. The effect of physical attraction and impossibility of intimacy resulted in an excessive regard of the beloved as extremely precious. Winning the love, or at least the attention, of the beloved, motivated great efforts of many kinds, such as poetry, song or feats of arms.

Properties of romantic love purported by Western culture that might or might not appear elsewhere include:

  • It must take you by surprise (the result of a random encounter).
  • 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 a lifelong commitment.
  • It is the highest form of self-fulfillment.


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 nonsexual 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 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.[1] 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 Western 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 fulfilment, 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 such changes about. 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, 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 emotions (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, Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychology professor, proposes that sexual desire and romantic love are functionally independent[2] 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, Diamond does not state that one's sex has priority over another sex in romantic love, because as already mentioned Diamond's theory seems to purport the idea that it is possible for someone who is heterosexual to fall in love with someone of the same gender, and for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender.[3]

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.[4]

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.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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.[5]

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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The cultural traditions of marriage and betrothal are the most basic customs in conflict with romance[How to reference and link to summary or text], 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."[6] 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.)[7]

Historical definition of romantic love[]

File:Francesco Hayez 008.jpg

The Kiss by Francesco Hayez, 19th century.

In an article presented by Henry Gruenbaum, one argument is that many "therapists mistakenly believe that romantic love is a phenomenon unique to Western cultures and first expressed by the troubadours of the Middle Ages" (referencing Fisher, 1995). He continues stating also that "a recent survey of the anthropological literature by Jankowiak and Fisher (1992) found evidence of romantic love in every culture for which there were adequate data. For instance, an 80-year old Taita man recalled his fourth wife with words that could come from a Valentine card: 'She was the wife of my heart.'" Gruenbaum argues that it was mainly Christian theologians who historically wrote the most material about romantic love (referencing Solomon Higgins, 1991). He states that these particular "philosophers were primarily concerned about" romantic love's "allegedly subversive effects on society and the concomitant need to control such an irrational emotion." According to Gruenbaum, the definition of romantic love identifies three main features: "1. Feelings of longing for the other, including the desire to be intimate with them both sexually and psychologically, and feelings of loss and loneliness during separations. For example, Napoleon wrote to his empress Josephine: 'I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you... ', 2.The experience of the beloved as special, idealized, necessary for one's happiness...,"[eg. "Zelda Fitzgerald asked F. Scott Fitzgerald shortly after they met. 'I feel like you had me ordered - and I was delivered to you.'(quoted in Fraser, 1976, p. 143)], and 3. The preoccupation with and overevaluation of the loved one."[8]

Historians believe that the actual English word "romance" developed from a vernacular dialect within the French language, meaning "verse narritve", 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" (see Roman.) The connecting notion is that Eurepeon 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 equivilent 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", thusly coining the English phrase "romantic love" (i.e "loving like the Roman's do".) But the precise origins of such a connection are unknown. Although the word "romance", or the equivilents 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.


Historically, romances were stories about marvel-filled adventures, written in French language. These stories mostly included knights having heroic qualities, or about epic quests. Then later love started getting introduced to these stories, and that's when the word "romance" got coined to meaning this type of love.

See also[]


  • Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World. Pantheon Books, 1956.
  • Francesco Alberoni, Falling in love, New York, Random House, 1983.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
  1. 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.
  2. Lisa Diamond (2004). Emerging Perspectives On Distinctions Between Romantic Love and Sexual Desire. Current Directions In Psychological Science 13 (3): 116–119.
  3. Lisa Diamond. What does Sexual Orientation Orient? A Biobehavioral Model Distinguishing Romantic Love and Sexual Desire. Psychological Review 110 (1): 173–192.
  4. Power and Sexual Fear in Primitive Societies Margrit Eichler Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 37, No. 4, Special Section: Macrosociology of the Family (Nov., 1975), pp. 917-926)
  5. 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 (Introducing Levi-Strauss, p. 22-35.
  6. The Marriage of Duke Vincentio and Isabella Norman Nathan Shakespeare Quarterly > Vol. 7, No. 1 (Winter, 1956), pp. 43-45
  7. Romance In Marriage: Perspectives, Pitfalls, and Principles, by Jason S. Carroll
  8. Thinking about romantic/erotic love: Journal of Marital and Familial Therapy, July 1997, by Henry Gruenbaum.