"It's like teenage girls getting dressed up for a date, but it's really just frosting on the cake. After many years everything can still be romantic if you care more about the other person than yourself. Pizza can be romantic, too." My grandmother, Betty Kaiser, on romantic love.
I am a hopeless romantic, known to fight for a relationship even if it was doomed and mistaking sex for true intimacy more than once. I've been a good friend and a bad one, a decent husband and a thoughtless one, an above-average lover and a terrible one. Somewhere in the combination of trying to be the exact person I think my partner is looking for while staying true to the weird, slightly unknowable person I am lies the reality of romantic love in the 21st Century.
Historians, philosophers and psychologists have spent thousands of years trying to put their finger on the true definition of Romance, full capitals. The word "romance" is derived from the Latin origin "Romanicus" meaning "of the Roman-style." The idea is that European medieval vernacular stories were about chivalry at first until adding "love" late in the 17th century. Though respecting the origin is important, so much has changed in the intervening years that the notions of romantic love espoused in the 1600s couldn't be more different than they are today.
Obviously, romantic love takes many forms depending on the cultural and religious norms that exist in the area. For instance, areas of Turkey and India still practice arranged marriages, which is something North American lovers can hardly imagine. Whereas an arranged marriage really has nothing to do with romantic love, being forced to marry someone while your heart belongs to another is a story we've heard thousands of times over thousands of years. The popularity of that trope resides in all cultural consciousness because, as humans who love deeply and want to be loved in return, it is too scary to contemplate.
The conversation about romantic love doesn't change based on who or how you love. Whether that love takes the form of a straight or LGBTQ romance, the desired outcome is always the same: to be seen by a specific person as the person you've always wanted to be seen as. Although LGBTQ romance is finally becoming widely accepted culturally (at least in North America and other environs), there are still those across the world who must live in fear based on who they love.
Excluding all outside influences like religion, homophobia, cultural traditions and the like, truly finding romantic love is sometimes an exercise in sifting through the data. Like knowing that great sex can exist without intimacy, that deep love can sometimes mean just friendship or knowing when the difficulty in a relationship is too much or worth pushing through.
We can argue all we want whether the advent of texting and selfies makes romantic love secondary to hooking up or whether the steadily rising divorce rate means the idea of traditional marriage is dead, but all of that misses the biggest question involved in determining true romantic love: "Is the person reflected in the eyes of your partner the person you are, the person you want to be, or a complete stranger?" The answer is never simple, but when has love ever purported to be?