I must start with an honest confession. I’m a hopeless romantic, always have been. Romance is a beautiful creature, albeit a two-headed tiger. I now call myself a reforming romantic.
Romance has been a massive theme in popular culture. There are literally thousands of songs, movies, and books dedicated to the art. In fact, I have no hesitation in going so far as to say, romance has become an obsession.
Our lives have been infused with its pursuit, along with its highs and lows, heartache and promise of forever love, ever since we were little boys and girls.
The giving and receiving of valentines or love tokens dates back to medieval times. There have always been star crossed lovers. If you go back to biblical times, you’ll find sex, debauchery, and betrayal, alive and well. But the absolute obsession with romance, seems to be more of a modern phenomena.
With TV shows such as the Bachelor and Bachelorette, Love Island, Married at First Site, and various spin-off shows, romance has been held up as the pinnacle of relationships, right down to the ‘rose ceremony’, the classic symbol of honour and romance. Every girl wants one and every man wants to give one. At least that’s what the myth would have us believe.
Romantic love can turn your world upside down and inside out in a matter of moments. It can be the catalyst for a surge of emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, that literally send a rush of chemicals through your entire body.
Relationship guru Esther Perel says “our religion of romantic love is making relationships harder”.
But why is that? Isn’t romantic love supposed to be a beautiful thing? Isn’t it meant to bring people together, make you feel amazing? Can’t every relationship do with a good dose of romance? Perel goes as far as to say, “we are turning to romantic love to give us what we once looked for in the realm of the divine. Transcendence, meaning, wholeness, and ecstasy.”
The Science of Romance
When there is ‘chemistry’ between two people, there is quite literally ‘chemistry’. The chemical responsible for that ‘head over heels’ feeling, is actually ‘a thing’. It’s known as Phenylethylamine or PEA for short. PEA naturally occurs in the brain, and when activated, stimulates the release of norepinephrine and dopamine. When these chemicals flood your body, you literally feel ‘high’. Better known as ‘falling in love’, this high can become quite addictive. In fact, it does its job perfectly. It is the ultimate ‘love drug’.
The problem is, when that same chemical starts to slow down its release, and the highs start to fade, we think we are falling ‘out of love’. And so relationships break down. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, it can no longer be real, is the underlying philosophy. If I’m not getting the ‘hit’, perhaps I’m with the wrong person, and well, there’s ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ right, so go find your ‘one’.
Love and romance
We tend to get love and romance mixed up. But here’s the thing. Romance alone, will not sustain a relationship. It’s the salt but it’s not the meal. Too much is a turn-off. Too little and it’s bland. Salt is used to bring out all the flavours. Romance is the same. It unlocks the door to love, it gives you a taste, but romance is not love.
If you build your relationship on romance alone, you’re building on the shifting sands of ‘feelings’. It will eventually crumble because it’s not built on anything solid. Romance was never meant to be the only building blocks we use to create strong, lasting, intimate, robust relationships.
Modern pop culture has indeed, sold us a lie. For those of us who grew up in the 80’s listening to bands like Bon Jovi and the myriad of big ballads that made us pine for love, connection and romance in the hunky arms of a lover, were merely ‘livin on a prayer’. Sorry, I had to throw that in.
Romance is a marketers dream. I’m also a marketer, so that makes me a double threat. Romance has been used to sell anything from chocolate to diamonds.
Having the ‘feels’ is the gauge that most people in western culture use these days, to assess the health of their relationships. It spills over into our sex lives, and we end up constantly chasing the feeling.
Don’t get me wrong. Feelings are of value, and I’m a big believer in romance. It definitely has its place in our culture and in our relationships. Romance is not dead and nor should it be. It has long been the catalyst for many couples to get together and begin their journey as partners in crime. It can certainly add some spice, adventure, and fun. But it is the starting place, not the journey, and should never spell the end.
When we are the focus of a lover’s attention, it can feel amazing. In contrast, we all know the problem when there is NO romance, when neither party makes an effort anymore, when you can’t be bothered, or perhaps focus your romantic attention elsewhere, or fail to do the things you did at the start.
There are a tonne of ways and techniques used to turn up the heat in a relationship and bring back the romance. But that is not what this article is about, which begs the question; what happens when you focus too much attention on the romantic side of things and rely on it to sustain you?
Too much of a good thing
If not enough or non-existent romance is a warning sign, then too much romantic emphasis can also spell an imbalance. I’ve been an advocate of romance for a long time. I’ve spent hours learning the art of romance, and practiced its ways with precision and passion. What woman doesn’t want a little romance from her man? Right!
I speak on this topic with some authority, because I have been drunk on its allurement and its seductiveness before. It can feel f*cking amazing. But in practice, the art of romance is killing us, because it can blind us to the true art of what it means to love someone.
So here’s the thing. Romance doesn’t go deep. Romance doesn’t hang around when things get tough. Romance doesn’t embrace you when you’re feeling down. It doesn’t practice forgiveness when you are hurt. It doesn’t see the beauty in another person when they can’t see it in themselves. It doesn’t stay up late at night when your kid is unwell, or your partner is exhausted, or you have had an argument and need to show kindness and understanding. Love does those things. Romance is found lacking.
If all you want are the ‘feels’, if all you want is the rush of chemicals through your body, then sure, go for romance in isolation, and feed that addiction.
Romance promises everything, but in reality, can only give you a kick start. Love is what sustains. Love is what will carry you on and through. Love is a skill and a daily practice, designed to create depth, trust, intimacy, and connection. Romance is also a skill and a practice, but it is only the top layer, albeit a powerful one.
You see, being a romantic might make you a great lover, short term boyfriend, or one night stand, but being a man of lasting love and commitment, requires a much broader, wider, deeper set of skills.
If you want a relationship that is lasting, seek first to love. If you first want to become the best version of yourself, so that you can experience the best version of your relationship, seek love. If you want something real, raw, resilient and beautiful, seek love.
If you’re a romantic like me, don’t stop. Don’t read this article and think that romance is recipe for disaster. It isn’t. Keep being romantic. Keep doing the fun, sweet, passionate things you did at the start, but don’t stop there.
If the art of romance is to rightfully play its part in healthy relationships, then the commitment to love, must follow and emerge as a daily practice. The values of love include things like, empathy, respect, honour, gratitude, kindness, gentleness and self-control. There’s more but you get my point.
Love sticks when things get hard. It perseveres when romance would drop off. Love is the glue that redefines who you are, both as an individual and as an individual within a relationship.
Have all the sex you want, all the romance you care to enjoy, but to evolve into a man who knows how to go deeper, and become a man a woman wants to stay with, journey with and grow old with, you’re gonna need to learn the true art of practical, hands-on, real, tangible, loving.
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