The idea of Romanticism became popular in the early 18th century. Writers, poets and philosophers characterised love as intense emotion and marriage as lifelong bliss. The movement went on to dominate our cultural landscape, filtering through to modern films, music and books, teaching us what romantic love should be.
But this notion of love does not work in the modern world. People are complicated and Romanticism leaves no room for human complexities. “We’re surrounded by a culture that offers a well-meaning but fatally skewed ideal of how relationships might function,” says Alain de Botton, author of The Course of Love and founder of The School of Life. “We’re trying to apply a very unhelpful script to a hugely tricky task.”
Read on to learn the ways Romanticism sets us up for failure – and how we can move beyond it in the 21st century.
The lies Romanticism tells us
Marriage is a state of lifelong bliss
The Romantics tell us that relationships should always be full of passion and excitement. But this isn’t reality. Relationships are complicated; they can be full of joy and frustration, of moments of excitement and times of mundanity.
This doesn’t make them failures. It simply makes them real. By doing away with the notion we always have to be happy in our relationships, we actually show we care more about building genuine, real partnerships.
Our partners are perfect
The Romantics teach us that true love should be about embracing every aspect of our partners, of loving them because of their flaws. But putting our partners up on a pedestal is problematic.
“Realising that we are rather flawed, and our partner is too, is of huge benefit to a couple increasing the amount of tolerance and generosity in circulation,” says Alain. Everyone is flawed and you don’t have to love your partner’s every annoying habit. This doesn’t make you a bad person. It means you choose to see your partner as a full, complex human being.
We should have an intuitive understanding of our partners
The Romantics believed true love is about having an innate understanding of our partners. It’s the ‘love at first sight’, the assertion that you just get your partner, without them having to say or do anything.
The truth is far from it. Humans are complex beings. We think and feel differently. “We need to make immense and often rather artificial-sounding efforts to understand one another; intuition can’t get us where we need to go,” says Alain.
A successful partnership is about opening up to communication, being vulnerable enough to share how we feel and brave enough to ask our partners to do the same.