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 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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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 Roman's 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.
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.
Common practices of romance include:
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. Mimetic desire is often challenged by feminists, such as Toril Moi, 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.
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."
Romantic love may, then, be a sexual love 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. 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.
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. Romantic love might be requited emotionally and physically while not being consummated, to which one or both parties might agree.
"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: