Romance Ruins Real Love

It’s the “junk food fix” of relationships

In light of Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about romance.

First of all, let’s agree on what we mean by “romance.” I’m not defining it as “kindness” or “appreciation” or “thinking about them” or “acts of service” or “physical touch.” Those are all fine and well.

What I’m talking about here are the bigger gestures and displays. It doesn’t even have to be the sickeningly-sweet, the shelling-out, the competitions, the price tags, the comparisons.

It just has to be “the extrinsic everything” with the hollow core.

Flowers, champagne, and sparkly things

Too often we base love — and emotional security — on things that offer about as little “emotional value” as sugar has nutrition.

It’s a lot like our preoccupation with Instagramming food — and choosing foods and venues for their Instagram quality — instead of eating it.

We make food a symbol of food. Food as a caricature of itself. “Pretty food” rather than food for the sake of food, and its bastardizing “food” into something that’s seen for its showmanship rather than for eating.

And we’re doing the same with love, with measuring it by “romance” and outward gestures. We’re sabotaging our relationship with love a little bit each time we make it about “romance.”

We’re doing to “love” with romance what we’ve done to sex with porn.

As the Jungian analyst Robert Johnson wrote in We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love,

“The fact that we say ‘romance’ when we mean ‘love’ shows us that underneath our language there is a psychological muddle. We are confusing two great psychological systems within us, and this has a devastating effect on our lives and our relationships.”


A guy friend once told me the “best” part of any relationship is the first date, when everyone’s on “their best behavior.”

He wishes everything could somehow stay like first date, and later asks himself (or her, as means to pick a fight), “if this was our first date, would I call you again?”

Buddy… gross. And sad.

If I had to relive any “date” forever, I’d want date number, like, 10,000. Some long-term relationship date that’s barely even a “date” anymore, when everyone has long since stopped pretending and everything is genuine, even if bare bones.

In other words, I’ll take grilled cheese and a handful of almonds over foie gras and petit fours any day of the week

I have no appetite for fluff, marshmallow or otherwise. I’m not starved for the superfluous. Junk food does nothing to sustain our actual needs.

Valentine’s Day will ruin you if you let it

As Haley Hamilton wrote in “What I’ve Learned About Love From Bartending,”

“On Valentine’s Day, people who would never normally go out to dinner — i.e., people who hate going out — feel obligated to parade their couple-ness around for everyone to see. It’s not happy couples who are secure in their relationship and have nothing to prove that get all dressed up in the middle of February for a quasi-fancy meal to demonstrate just how in love they are. It’s the ones who are barely hanging on — or worse, the ones pretending everything is great when absolutely nothing is.”

And statistically speaking, couples who get married on February 14th are 37% more likely to get divorced. I don’t know who all these people are, but I imagine they’re just a more ambitious extension of Haley’s observation above.

Which makes sense, really. Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, deep down, we all know what Valentine’s Day is. Even those who like it can see: it’s all but set up to break your heart.


Again, to be clear, there’s no issue here with gestures of real love. There’s no problem with communicating love to a partner in their love language, and many people see these sorts of things as “romance” — no big deal.

So if we’re going to go through a motion, at least let it have substance. Make it wholesome and heartfelt, and let your gesture and your love behind it be real.

As Sarah Beth Wright wrote,

“I’d rather my husband give me chicken spaghetti than diamonds.”

Now that’s a woman with her priorities in order. Someone who understands just what we can sink our teeth — and heart — into.