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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.)
What 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 personality.
- 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.
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