1. The Best Books

Critical of Romantic Love

Copyright © 2015 by James Leonard Park

Selected and reviewed by James Park, existential philosopher.
These books are listed in order of quality, beginning with the best.
Red comments are the views and evaluations of this reviewer.

1. Dorothy Tennov
Love and Limerence:

The Experience of Being in Love

(Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1979)       324 pages
(Library of Congress call number: BF575.L8T46)
(Lanham, MD: Scarborough House, 1999;
paperback reprint with added preface)      357 pages
(ISBN: 0812862864; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: [about the same as above]  )

    An excellent description of how romantic love feels from the inside
—as experienced by the person who has 'fallen in love'.
This is perhaps the most complete description of romantic love in print.
Here are the major features of the condition of "limerence":

1. a magical, ecstatic, enchanted feeling—an emotional 'high'.

2. vast overestimation of the good qualities of the beloved
and minimization of the faults.

3. acute longing for reciprocation from the love object.

4. deep mood-swings—from elation to depression.

5. involuntary, compulsive, repetitive, obsessive thinking
about the love object (even if there is no response).

6. deep heart-ache when limerence is over.

    Love and Limerence is based on extensive original research,
mostly among college students in the 1970s.
They answered questionnaires about their feelings;
and many had comprehensive interviews with the author.
The book includes several first-person accounts
of romantic love and its aftermath.

    The major chapters of Love and Limerence discuss these themes:

§ The individual's experience of limerence.

§ The social effects of 'falling in love'.

§ Variations between the sexes and people of different sexual orientations.

§ The biological basis of limerence.

§ Some ways of coping with limerence.

2. Erich Fromm
The Art of Loving

(New York: Harper & Row, 1956 and later editions)      118 pages

    A classic source of thinking about love.
Fromm argues that love is an art, requiring careful attention
and practice, rather than a lucky emotional happening.

3. Morton Hunt
The Natural History of Love

(New York: Knopf, 1959 and later editions)      416 pages

    A comprehensive book on the human experience of love,
from the beginning of recorded history to the present.
Very interesting and very readable.

4. Denis de Rougemont
Love in the Western World

(New York: Schoeken Books, 1990) (originally published 1940)      393 pages

    Argues that romantic love is a cultural invention
of the Western world.
Romance is always temporary because it is based on
projections, misinformation, illusions, & fantasies.
And it is therefore incompatible with marriage.

5. Stanton Peele & Archie Brodsky
Love and Addiction

(New York: Taplinger, 1975; New American Library, 1976)      284 pages

    This is the first book to compare
'falling in love' with becoming addicted.
When love arises from pre-existing needs,
it creates dependent relationships.

6. Gary Schwartz & Don Merten
with Fran Behan & Allyne Rosenthal

Love and Commitment

(Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980)      271 pages

    Social scientists attempt to understand romantic love
as told to them by an American teen-age girl
—perhaps an anthropological first.
The most interesting parts of the book
are based on interviews over several years with the girl.
This book might be very interesting to other teen-agers,
especially when they are experimenting with romantic feelings.

7. Jo Loudin
The Hoax of Romance

(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981)      305 pages

    This book traces the roots of romantic love to 12th-century France
making a good case for this historical beginning of the tradition.
It shows how romantic fantasies and illusions lead to problems in love,
especially for people who use such feelings as a basis for marriage.
The author tells her own story of a bad marriage
and traces similar experiences among her clients in family therapy.

8. Elaine Hatfield Walster & William Walster
A New Look at Love

(Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1978)      206 pages

    Originally entitled Passionate Love, this book presents
the results of many psychological studies of romantic love.
Illustrated by cartoons and peppered with lively quotations,
the book is very entertaining, and it might even be enlightening.
The authors are college teachers
and they aimed their book at college students.

9. Robert A. Johnson
We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love

(San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983)      204 pages

    An exploration of the Tristan and Iseult myth
as a paradigm of romantic love in the Western world.
Johnson (following C. G. Jung) believes this myth
reflects archetypal truths about the human psyche.
We 'fall in love' with the archetype of the other gender
projected from our own psyches: anima or animus.
The Tristan and Iseult myth, retold in many versions,
illustrates the basic rules for the game of romantic love:
much passion, but no sex;
the desire to be together all the time, but no marriage.
Jungians and people interested in Medieval literature
will enjoy this book the most.
But it might not be very useful to the general reader.

    Romantic love was a paradigmatic myth of the 20th century.
Johnson provides some good observations about romantic illusions.
And he argues that marriage works best when not based on romance.

10. John R. Haule
Divine Madness:
Archetypes of Romantic Love

(Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1990)      301 pages

    Another book of Jungian archetypes,
exploring the literature and religion of a few hundred years ago.
We 'fall in love' with the other part of our personalities,
our shadows, anima or animus.
We should not actually be so surprised that it works so well,
because the image we 'fall in love' with
is just the projection of the other side of our own personalities.
This book will probably only interest committed Jungians.
It fails to make connections with our lives as we actually live them.

11. Stan J. Katz & Aimee E. Liu
False Love and Other Romantic Illusions

(New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1988)      344 pages

    False love is romantic infatuation.
The book does a good job of describing and illustrating romantic love.
But the authors identify their own style of loving
—monogamous marriage—with "true love".
They do not realize that the marriage model they support and defend
is a creation of culture just as much as the romantic love they criticize.
But the book is a step in the right direction.

12. William Jankowiack, ed.
Romantic Passion:
A Universal Phenomenon?

(New York: Columbia UP, 1995)      310 pages

    The concept of love behind this book is deeply flawed.
This collection of articles by anthropologists is really about
(1) sexual attraction, (2) companionship,
& (3) mate-selection (usually against the tradition of arranged marriage).
These three other phenomena are frequently confused with romantic love.
Other cultures have elaborate and interesting marriage and kinship systems,
but do they have any experience close to our Western feeling of romantic love?
Sometimes these cultures have been exposed to Western mass media
such as movies, television, & music
—which definitely carry the romantic myth.
Thus, the book does not successfully support the thesis
that romantic love is a universal phenomenon
something arising from 'human nature'.
But sexual attraction, companionship, & mate-selection,
of course, are universal.

13. Helen Fisher
Why We Love:
The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

    This book attempts to explain romantic love
by looking at animal behavior and brain-chemistry.
Such reductionism might explain some dimensions of human sexuality,
but this approach does not explain romantic love.

    This review is too long to include here.
So it has a separate room in this museum:

[last]. James Park "Romantic Love is a Hoax!
Emotional Programming to 'Fall in Love' "

Chapter 1 of New Ways of Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships
(Minneapolis, MN: www.existentialbooks.com, 2007—6th edition)

    This chapter argues that romantic love is not a natural phenomenon
but an artificial creation of Western culture—about 800 years old—
which has now spread to almost the whole human race.
It explains how popular culture infuses the romantic response
into unsuspecting children, who then sometimes spend a life-time
trying to re-create the feelings they have absorbed from television.
'Falling in love' is compared with religious conversion—'being saved'.
And the author encourages the abandonment of illusions and fantasies
so that loving relationships can be constructed
on the firm foundation of emerging personal Authenticity,
which is the theme of the rest of this book.

    To see the first two pages of this chapter, click this title:
"Romantic Love is a Hoax! Emotional Programming to 'Fall in Love' " .

    For the table of contents of the whole book
(2007—6th edition), click this title:
New Ways of Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships .

    Please suggest additional books critical of romantic love.
Send all comments to James Park: e-mail:

Return to the LOVE PAGE .

Further resources and opportunities to be found there:

"The Romantic Love Test:
How Do We Know If We Are in Love?"

Classes based on New Ways of Loving.

Go to a complete listing of resources critical of romantic illusions:
The Romantic Love Portal .

If you would like to see other book reviews by James Park,
go to the Book Review Index .
Here you will find about 350 books reviewed
in about 60 bibliographies.

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.