Romantic Love Causes and Consequences essay

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This model is no longer generally held to be a valid one. While attachment style is still considered to be important, human motivation and behavior are considered to be sufficiently flexible that no one style of interpersonal relationship will endure over the lifespan.

When Parents Say No

Driscoll, Davis, & Lipetz (1972) looked not to Othello but to Romeo and Juliet. They argue that the network of relationships in which a couple lives can have a highly important effect on the durability as well as the intensity of the relationship. While in some cases, that influence can be to further the relationship, in many cases the result is that disapproval of a relationship on the part of parents, other family members, or friends, the couple may feel that their love is in fact validated.

The kind of relationship that is strengthened by the disapproval of those who are otherwise important to an individual tends to be marked by the kind of obsessive or manic elements that were described above. That tendency to become entirely absorbed in each other with its concomitant tendency to doubt the trustworthiness of people can promote a sense of isolation, the feeling of a world in which there are only the lovers.

The authors of this study focus on the importance of trust in a relationship. But equally important to their model is the importance of distrust, in this case of parents. By viewing their love as being besieged by everyone, including their own families, individuals in certain kinds of relationships can waive away any disapproval on the part of others as a sign that their love is in fact the real and enduring thing.

Love as External Force

Dion & Dion (1973) focus on an aspect of love that is culturally based and that connects to the above findings. They argue that for many people in Western societies, there is a model of love that it is an external force rather than something that arises from within an individual (or from within the dynamics that exist between individuals who are in love). This model of love as an external force (or entity) is consistent with the model of love expounded by Romeo and Juliet and examined by Driscoll, Davis, & Lipetz (1972), for the young lovers see themselves as being swept up by an external force that they are powerless to overcome.

The adherence to a culturally sanctioned model of love as an external force allows individuals to place the responsibility for their actions outside of their own behavior. The rejection of others of the legitimacy of the love of those who construe love as an external force further allows individuals to see love as something that lies beyond their responsibility.

One of the most interesting findings of Dion & Dion (1973) is that those who understand love to be an external force are more much more likely to fall in love and to consider love to be a core element of their lives than are those who believe love to be an internal force that arises from within themselves. It is not clear to what extent these results would be reversed if the subjects were chosen from cultures with a different archetype of the romantic relationship.

An Act of the Imagination

Safer's 1991 review of Person's book on romantic love also touches on the ways in which cultural tropes about love affect the ways in which individuals search for, interpet, and dedicate themselves to romantic relationships. Person's view of love as practiced in the modern West is not that of the external force that overpowers Romeo and Juliet but rather an aspect of personal growth. The model for love is not, for Person, so much romance or passion but something like the love that is extolled in self-help books.

As Safer notes, Person describes love in an oddly dispassionate way. It seems to be not so much something that is shared between two individuals but something that exists within the individual as s/he strives to discover and nurture a sense of self-worth. This shift from earlier models of romantic love as being an external, nearly insatiable force, reflect a larger cultural shift in which attention to the internal, individual psyche has become more and more important. Love is not a neurotic delusion, Person argues, but a vehicle for self-help and self-growth.

A Script for Love

Baumeister, Wotman, & Stillwell (1993) look not to cultural archetypes of love per se but rather to internalized narratives of love that each individual carries with her or him. They focus on incidences not of true love (as perceived by the individuals at the time) but rather of love that is unrequited, looking at instances of negative love as a way of understanding what is missing from relationships that do not work. Their key finding is that in a non-mutual relationship, both parties interpreted the relationship in negative terms.

They found that while both parties to a situation of unrequited love failed to understand one another, at the same time they developed an emotional interdependence. Those who fell in love would later look back on the experience as being marked by both intensely positive and intensely negative experiences, while those who were the object of infatuation held primarily negative but also strong emotions. Both parties found the experience to be a negative one; however, both sides also experienced it as an important one that affected them after it was over.

Both sides of such relationships constructed narratives to help legitimize their own experiences. Those who rejected would-be lovers created stories that helped them to feel less guilty for having caused emotional hurt while those who had been rejected created stories that helped them to see themselves as more worthy of love in the future. This research thus creates a model of love that is not external to the lovers nor located within an individual as a form of self-expression but rather that arises in the space between individuals' competing narratives.

What's in a Genotype Would Not Look as Sweet

Swami, Stieger, Haubner, Voracek, & Furnham (2009) looked at the importance of physical attractiveness in romantic relationships and found that -- in a confirmation of earlier research -- that individuals are likely to rate their partners as more-than-averagely attractive. (a phenomenon that they refer to as "love is blind." ) Not only did the individuals rate their partners as above-average in looks, but they rated individual body parts as more-than-averagely attractive.

This is not terribly surprising, perhaps. A more important finding of this research is that as a relationship lasted longer, people began to have more realistic views of their partner's physical attractiveness. In other words, people could remain in love even as they became more accurate in their assessments of their partners. Another important finding is that those individuals who had a high degree of playfulness in their relationship tended to have an accurate assessment of their partner from the beginning.


The different studies cited here create a range of definitions and models for romantic love. This is true in part because the authors are concerned with different questions and are investigating different populations. The questions that they ask are -- as is always the case in any research -- influenced by the subjects they are studying.

The particulars of a research project will always affect the definitions and operationalizations used by the scholars pursuing the research. However, it is also possible to create definitions that can be used across different research projects with different assumptions and goals. The research examined here suggests that a working definition of romantic love that could be useful in a variety of contexts. Such a model will focus on a realistic assessment of partners by each other, the necessity for passion and sexual attraction, the inclusion of playfulness and the exclusion of obsession and mania, and reference to similar cultural models and narrative arcs.

Such a model is complex, but sufficiently clear in its components so that it could to be the basis for a strong hypothesis in a range of experimental situations and a number of different disciplines.


Acevedo, B., & Aron, a. (2009). Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology, 13(1), 59-65.

Baumeister, R., Wotman, S., & Stillwell, a. (1993). Unrequited love: On heartbreak, anger, guilt, scriptlessness, and humiliation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(3), 377-394.

Dion, K., & Dion, K. (1973). Correlates of romantic love. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41(1), 51-56.

Driscoll, R., Davis, K., & Lipetz, M. (1972). Parental interference and romantic love: The Romeo and Juliet effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(1), 1-10.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511-524.

Hendrick, S., Hendrick, C., & Adler, N. (1988). Romantic relationships: Love, satisfaction, and staying…[continue]

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