How can we transcend our romantic delusions and fantasy feelings
and build our loving relationships on reality?

    Romantic love might be the most pervasive myth of Western culture.
Romance is a cultural invention, not a natural phenomenon.
We have been so deeply indoctrinated into the romantic mythology
that we have no awareness of the process of emotional programming
that created our romantic responses.
Popular culture provides the main ways we learn how to 'fall in love'.
Movies, television, popular songs, novels, & magazines
all train our feelings into the wonderful delusion of romance.

    Our romantic games would be harmless if everyone knew
that romantic love is a fantasy feeling.
But while still under the influence of romantic illusions,
some people make the life-altering mistake of getting married.
Do we guard against every form of political or religious mythology?
But what about the most potentially-harmful myth
romantic love?

    Religious indoctrination demonstrates emotional programming.
Is 'being saved' the religious equivalent of 'falling in love'?
We are taught what emotions to expect
then we try to create them.

    If romantic love is a hoax, what should we do?
Real information about our partners can replace romantic illusions.
We can love on the basis of who we choose to be
rather than trying to reproduce romantic feelings as seen on television.


I.  Romantic Love was Invented
    800 Years Ago by the French Troubadours.

II. 'Falling in Love' as Temporary Insanity.

III. Love & Marriage: Fantasy & Facts.

IV. How Did We Learn the Romantic Response?

V. Emotional Programming: Romantic & Religious.

VI. Good-bye to Illusions, Hello to Reality.

 length: 6.22KB 



by James Leonard Park

I. Romantic Love was Invented
   800 Years Ago by the French Troubadours.

    Most of us emerged from childhood
believing that romantic love is a natural phenomenon.
When we 'fall in love', we seem to be possessed
by an irresistible passion, filling our hearts.
So, how could these romantic feelings be a cultural creation,
invented only 800 years ago?

    Before the Middle Ages, some people probably experienced
exaggerated, fantasy feelings close to what we now call "romantic love".
But such accidental eruptions of personal, deluded feelings
did not become the passion of the masses
until the French troubadours refined and spread the emotional game of love.

    Who were these people whoas a matter of historical fact
started the feeling that has now become a taken-for-granted phenomenon?
The French troubadours were traveling entertainers who
put on plays, recited poetry, & sang the popular songs of the day.
Their audiences especially liked romantic stories and songs.
The tradition they started has continued in the popular culture of today.

II. 'Falling in Love' as Temporary Insanity.

    Romantic love is an altered state of consciousness.
We seem possessed by an alien force taking over our hearts.
Everything seems wonderful
especially the object of our love.

    Our 'spontaneous' love-reactions pull us
into a whirlpool of hopeless, uncontrollable, overwhelming passion.
'Falling in love' is like surfing on an ocean wave
sliding down a surging force beyond our control.

    Romantic love is blind because we are really responding
to our own internal fantasies, well-prepared by the romantic tradition.
For years, we have been yearning for our Dream Lover.
And when a close approximation appears,
we project all our pent-up fantasies upon that unsuspecting victim.

    These experiences are really being in love with love.
Such 'love' is entirely an emotion, taking place inside our own skins.
Perhaps we remain basically closed persons,
intensely enjoying our own private, internal feelings,
using other people as supporting characters in our grand love stories.

III. Love & Marriage: Fantasy & Facts.

    In the American way of love, marriages are contracted 'for love'.
But often the kind of 'love' that leads to the altar is romantic infatuation.
After the honeymoon is over, grim reality replaces the fantasy.
The bubble of romance,
which seemed so exquisitely beautiful for a moment,
vanishes with a silent pop, leaving only a small wet mark.

    In other cultures,
marriages are created for more practical reasons.
If there is to be any affection, it might develop later.

    But perhaps romantic love and marriage are incompatible.
Projected fantasies seldom survive years of living together.
Romantic love can be an enjoyable and harmless emotional game.
But we shouldn't attempt to build
our lives around this artificial feeling.

IV. How Did We Learn the Romantic Response?

    Almost from the moment of birth,
we have been surrounded by romantic mythology.
Every element of the popular culture assumes that romance is real:
television, movies, novels, poetry, soap operas, advertising,
popular music of every kind, newspapers, magazine, & dating services.
We grew up in a milieu of romantic love.
Everywhere we turn, even if we seldom notice it,
someone is making positive references to 'falling in love'.

    The reason for the uniformity of our romantic beliefs and experiences
is not genetic similarity, control by the gods, or a common 'human nature'
but a common cultural tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
As diverse as we are, most of us pursue the same dream of romantic love.
Without the help of any organized conspiracy,
hundreds of accidental elements of popular culture
have shown us how to 'fall in love'.
These ever-present purveyors of the romantic mythology
have shaped our deepest emotional-psychological structure:
We have been programmed to respond
when someone triggers our romantic illusions.

V. Emotional Programming: Romantic & Religious.

    That we human beings can be programmed emotionally
is amply demonstrated by such diverse phenomena as
nationalism, ethnic pride, loyalty to a sporting team,
or attachment to a television program.

    But the deepest examples of emotional indoctrination
come from the diverse religions of the human race.
When we are surrounded by people who fervently believe
(undemonstrable) 'truths' about themselves and the universe,
we often accept the same religious assumptions.
Or we might have had a 'conversion experience',
in which our feelings were suddenly transformed into a new condition.

    But what was the source or cause of this new emotional state?
Was it not the emotional expectations we had internalized
from the sub-culture that embraced that particular religion?

    We can be objective about religions emotional indoctrination
because only a certain segment of any population
embraces a particular form of religious faith.
But the romantic mythology surrounds everyone.
We have all learned the proper emotions to expect.
Almost all of us try to have the romantic emotions we believe are real.

VI. Good-bye to Illusions, Hello to Reality.

  The difficulty we might have in making ourselves 'fall in love'
is not our emotional deficiency but our intellectual honesty.
We might
eventually become convinced that romantic love is an illusion
a web of projected fantasies and artificial feelings.
What should we do next?

    We can abandon these cultural delusions and begin to establish
our relationships based on real information about each other
and genuine commitment toward each other.
Loving without illusions lacks the emotional high of romantic love,
but truth is better than fiction as a basis for on-going relationships.
Instead of projecting our pre-existing fantasies,

we can get to know each other as we really are
and as the persons we are becoming.

    The wild, extravagant feeling of being head-over-heels in love
is certainly an enjoyable delusion while that emotional 'high' lasts,
but should we attempt to build relationships on fantasy feelings?

created 5-11-99;  revised 7-13-99; 1-28-2000; 4-6-2003; 6-18-2003;
5-8-2006; 10-27-2006; 9-6-2007; 9-16-2007; 5-16-2009; 2-14-2010; 11-13-2010; 2-11-2011;
5-2-2012; 1-11-2013; 2-13-2014; 8-24-2014; 2-4-2015;


    James Park is an existential philosopher
with a deep interest in the dynamics of love.
The first chapter of his most popular book
New Ways of Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships
is also called "Romantic Love is a Hoax!  Emotional Programming to 'Fall in Love' ".
This 23-page chapter forms the background for the above 3-page article. 
Much more information about James Park is available on his home page:

An Existential Philosopher's Museum:

    James Park welcomes your comments and questions. 
Send you thoughts to him by e-mail: PARKx032@UMN.EDU

    Full information about the sixth edition of New Ways of Loving
will appear on your screen if you click this title:
New Ways of Loving:
How Authenticity Transforms Relationships
This whole book is also available as two PDFs.

    If you would like to measure your own level of romance,
you might want to take (free of charge)
The Romantic Love Test: How Do We Know If We Are in Love?
This 180-question test divides the phenomenon of romantic love
into 26 manifestations (the A-Z of romance).

    And the introduction to The Romantic Love Test
should help us to separate
romantic love from three other phenomena
that are often confused with romantic love:
(1) sexual attraction, (2) mate-selection, (3) familiarity.
All three of these other human feelings and behavior
are obviously more than 800 years old.

    If you are skeptical about romantic love being only 800 years old,
here is a website looking for counter examples
that is, signs of romantic love from times before the Middle Ages:
When Was Romantic Love Invented?

    If you want to read more books critical of romantic love,
see the Romantic Love Bibliography .
Your college library or public library
should have most of the books reviewed here.

    Several other links for exploring romantic delusions:
The Romantic Love Portal .

    If you are ready to create loving relationships beyond romantic fantasies,
perhaps you will be interested in another book by the same author:
Designer Marriage: Write Your Own Relationship Contract:

    You have now enjoyed the first of the following essays on love,

so perhaps you would like to sample another one:

Romantic Love is a Hoax!
Emotional Programming to 'Fall in Love'

Loving in Freedom .

Romantic Jealousy:
Cause & Prevention

Separating Lust and Love .

The Future of Love and Marriage .

Loving without Expectations:
Non-Comprehensive Relationships

Four Ways to Achieve Same-Sex Marriage .

    All of these are now gathered as chapters of a new book,
Heartbreak Prevention: Loving Beyond Romance, Sex, & Marriage.

Go to other secular sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.

Go to the opening page for Free Cyber-Sermons .

Go to Internet Resources for Campus Ministry .


Return to the beginning of this home page:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.