— Love and Other (Near) Disasters

So What Is Romance, Anyway?

Scientific surveys of love are odd beasts. Take the recent Psychology Today survey, conducted by Dr. Gwedolyn Seidman, that considered the idea of romance. According to a set of data called the “Romantic Beliefs Scale,” based on a questionnaire distributed to both genders, men are “more romantic” than women. That criterion Seidman uses to define romanticism is that love should be the driving factor in choosing a partner. “People with a highly romantic view of love believe that their love will be perfect and that each of us has one true love,” she writes. “[Women] are more likely to feel that love should develop slowly and to be cautious before jumping into a relationship, a less romantic attitude.”

But this study, though Seidman’s methods are sound, is necessarily flawed. Because unlike something like atmospheric pollution or tree trunk circumference, measuring what is and is not romantic is a subjective matter. “Romantic” suggests an idealized view of love, and, no surprise, ideals vary. The grand gesture, the roses everywhere, the skywriting, the profession of love in a crowded room, those are the things that we point to as examples of romance. Those things are great, and I’m not knocking them. But not all women think that a bathtub filled with chocolates is the ultimate expression of emotional connectedness. The way that women think about relationships and expect to be treated in them has evolved, and with them our expectations for what romance means.

And there is a crucial difference between romancing someone and romanticizing them. Men who romanticize women are not necessarily doing women any favors. It isn’t the difference between a relationship that’s coldly pragmatic and one that’s bubbly, optimistic, and full of joy. It’s the difference between getting to know someone as a person and assuming you know a person based on your idea of them. Romantic, in the context of rom-coms often means not taking no for an answer or continually hoping to impress someone with larger and more intricate schemes. But in real life, romance resides as often in smaller, more intimate things.

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