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

    Romantic love may 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 myth
that we have no awareness of the process of emotional programming
that created our romantic responses.
Popular culture is the main way we learn how to 'fall in love'.
Movies, television, popular songs, novels, and 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.
Perhaps 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 can replace romantic illusions.
We can love on the basis of who we choose to be
rather than trying to reproduce romance 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.

Article length: 6.22KB                                                          revised 8-31-99 



by James 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 who—as 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, and sang the popular songs of the day.
Their audiences especially liked romantic stories and songs.
The tradition they started has continued into 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 minds.
Everything seems wonderful—especially the object of our love.

    Our 'spontaneous' love-reactions pull us together
into a whirlpool of hopeless, uncontrollable, overwhelming passion.
It 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 others as props or 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 submerges 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 can come along 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
—as long as we don't attempt to construct our lives around it.

IV. How Did We Learn the Romantic Response?

    Almost from the moment of birth,
we have been surrounded by the 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, magazines, dating services.
We grew up in a milieu of romantic love.
Everywhere we turn, even tho we seldom notice it,
someone is making positive refererences 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 going 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 perveyors of the romantic mythology
have shaped our deepest emotional-psychological structure:
We have been programmed to respond when someone pushes the love bottom.

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
'truths' about themselves and the universe,
we often grow up with the same religious assumptions.
Or we may 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 followed 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 may have in making ourselves 'fall in love'
is not our emotional deficiency but our intellectual honesty.
If we eventually become convinced that romantic love is an illusion,
a web of projected fantasies and artificial feelings, what do 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.
Reality-based relationships may not have the same emotional high,
but, in the long run, they are much better for us.
Instead of projecting our pre-existing fantasies on others,
we can get to know them as they really are
and as the persons they are becoming.

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


    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 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.

    Full information about New Ways of Loving will appear
if you click this title:
New Ways of Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships

    If you would like to measure your own level of romance,
you might want to take
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 romantic love).

    If you want to read more books critical of romantic love,
see the Romantic Love Bibliography.

    This feature article is published by Heart, Mind, & Spirit
—an electronic magazine for UUs on campus.
For complete information about this publication, go to this URL:

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