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Ideal Couples and Romance

Psychology Today polled Americans on their ideals of love and romance and who would be the ideal couple.

Which are the love relationships we hold most dear and would most like to duplicate in our own lives? We may not achieve it ourselves, but contemporary Americans are especially admiring of endurance in love. Given a choice among models of romance, they voted most often for the long-running personal and professional bond between Hume Cronyn and the late Jessica Tandy.

That enduring closeness and collegiality make the most inspiring model of love in our time is one of several surprises that turned up in a new PSYCHOLOGY TODAY survey.

To probe the psyche of love, the magazine commissioned Lifescapes/ American Dialogue to poll 250 people on America OnLine. First bit of advice from the resulting road map to romance: Save your money. Some 62 percent of respondents consider a bouquet of wildflowers spontaneously plucked from the side of the road to be much more romantic than a dozen long-stemmed red roses; just 38 percent felt otherwise. And almost two to one they prefer a candlelit dinner at home to one at a fancy restaurant (66 to 34 percent).

Deborah Tannen was right. Men and women do not speak the same language--especially when it comes to love. For Valentine's Day, four times as many women would rather receive tickets to a concert or show as would opt for a $100 gift certificate (33 vs. eight percent). More would even opt for that night out than would want a dozen roses (28 percent). Interestingly, more women would prefer a luxurious cashmere sweater (18 percent) to a "friendship" ring (13 percent) from their lover.

But men, by a wide margin, would rather send flowers. Some 59 percent consider a dozen roses to be the best expression of their affection on Valentine's Day. Another 18 percent would prefer to send a "friendship" ring, while 12 percent would consider tickets to a concert or show an ideal gift. Just six percent would consider presenting their lover with a $100 gift certificate while another six percent would opt to give a cashmere sweater.

Men and women may not speak the same language, but they select the same ideal of love. Given a choice among romances--the quirky Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, the sturdy Jane Pauley and Garry Trudeau, the emotional Romeo and Juliet, the mature yet still illicit Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Maurice Templesman, the enduring and close-knit Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, and that of their parents--those polled put their faith foremost in Tandy and Cronyn (36 percent). A close second was their parents (30 percent). Only 10 percent longed for the all-consuming passion Shakespeare's teens felt, while just six percent each wanted to model their relationship on the Lovetts, Trudeaus, or the former first lady and her diamond-merchant companion.

That may explain why, by a margin of three to one, panelists find a couple renewing their wedding vows on their 25th anniversary to be more romantic than a couple exchanging marriage vows for the first time (75 vs. 25 percent)--despite all those fragrance ads featuring an obviously first-time bride. The fact that half of all marriages end in divorce may be tempering their enthusiasm.

Love need not involve great ex-pense--but it does require energy. When asked to discern signs of love, respondents cited a partner, unasked, taking on a chore that they themselves usually labor over (36 percent). A phone call made or a card sent for no specific reason was close behind (34 percent). Less welcome signs of love were a surprise visit to one's workplace or home (17 percent) and uncomplainingly accompanying one's lover to a restaurant only he or she adores (13 percent).

Respondents would welcome a hug only slightly more than a back rub but significantly more than being called by a pet name. They'd also be touched by being lent a scarf or gloves when it's cold--a modern expression of chivalry. As for phone protocol, respondents are divided on the value of not being put on hold; they can't decide whether it's significant or meaningless.

How do you know you're in love? Which experiences clue you in? Apparently it's your anxiety level. Thirty-five percent of respondents say the most important sign is that they worry about their "friend." Twenty-seven percent know when they laugh at the same joke, while for 25 percent it's when they impulsively call to check in. For 14 percent, the tip-off comes when they move their internal body dock from owl to lark or vice versa to coincide with their partner's biorhythms.

What will do the most to seal love for the long haul? Having a child together slightly edges out buying a home together. Still significant, but in third place, is comingling finances. Sharing a religion is significantly more of a long-term bond than sharing political views.

And when it comes to quashing feelings of love, a partner's affair will do it for more people than anything else. On a scale of one to five, from least to most significance, an outside liaison scored a whopping 4.67. Other potent love killers: a lie or other deceit scored 4.38; inattentiveness 3.78; and little sexual interest weighed in at 3.70. Bad grooming can cool the flames, too--it scored 3.13. Outside influences such as parents, children, or work can also douse ardor (2.71). The onset of emotional problems such as depression in one's partner scored a moderate 2.46, but the loss of a job or the loss of status only 1.75. Lack of money registered just 2.07--less than if one's partner suddenly gained 30 pounds (2.15).

Illegal activity is another strong love killer--trailing just behind sexual disinterest. A partner doing something illegal rates a 3.27. And if that illegality is publicly censured, a la Marion Barry, it's 3.56.

And what will turn love on? Music from a piano is most romantic (32 percent), followed by the saxophone and human voice (each 28 percent), while the violin scores a mere 11 percent. In fact, respondents are almost equally divided over whether being serenaded by a violinist in a restaurant is romantic or annoying. Only 13 percent would be captivated by being unexpectedly "kidnapped" for a weekend away at a B&B; 87 percent would be peeved.

Surprisingly, slightly more people find couples who kiss and cuddle in public to be an exhilarative rather than an eyesore (52 vs. 48 percent). And only 26 percent consider couples who call each other cutesy names in public to be an earsore. Fully 74 percent consider that romantic.

But getting married in Las Vegas is not. Almost three of four (72 percent) consider it tacky, although it's not as egregious as couples who wear matching outfits (92 percent).

But our tacky-meters are not consistently sensitive. Some 62 percent consider renewing wedding vows after just five years of marriage to be romantic; 38 percent find it tacky. If you're thinking of printing a Valentine's love note in the newspaper, go ahead. Chances are the object of your affection will be pleased (60 percent). Slightly more than a third would be put off by a marriage proposal on TV, in skywriting or any other public venue, although most would not. Even getting married in a hot-air balloon or underwater is voted slightly more romantic than tacky (53 vs. 47 percent).

Actions don't always speak louder than words, though. Almost half of respondents (45 percent) verbally declare their love to their significant other more than once a day. Another eight percent parse out the message once a day, while 15 percent speak it about once a week, and two percent once a month or so. Only four percent rarely utter those powerful words. Astonishingly, one of four--25 per-cent--never do, two percent because they don't have a significant other. "Tell them too often, and they'll assume you don't mean it," said one respondent for the minority view.

How often would people really like to be whispered sweet nothings? Forty-one percent say they want to hear they're adored more than once a day; 18 percent need those words once daily. Another 22 percent are content with once a week, while two percent can get by on once a month or so. Then there's 18 percent who say they never need to hear it; for them actions always speak louder than words.

Most respondents make a dear distinction between love and romance. "You can't have romance--that 'dreamy' feeling--unless you are really in love," says one. But most say love is broader and can include family members--even a spouse--in a nonromantic way. "Romance is a part of partner love," says one. "Love is larger--extending to children, parents, family, friends, and others."

Love is more enduring. "Love is sticking together through the good times and bad. Romance is just the fun part." Or "Love is the way you feel; romantic activities just express the mood." Another: "One is a fairy tale, ethereal; the other is lasting." Others distinguish between emotion and action. "Love is what you feel; romance is how you act upon that love," says one. "Love is a feeling. Romance is more of a journey, an exploration, where you learn about each other until the love is entirely mutual. Then romance keeps the bond alive."

But nothing is absolute in the terrain of love. Says one respondent, "You can have romance without love but probably cannot have love without romance."

"Romance is the creative spark of love, little things you do together, like walking hand in hand, and big things, too, like surprising each other with a trip to Europe," notes one poll participant. "Romance makes babies, and love is what keeps your husband in the delivery room with you when he feels like fainting!"

Romance is the flourish; love, the solid foundation. "I like the flourishes,but it's the knowledge and agreement between us that we'll be there for each other and accept one another for our faults that keeps a relationship going when there are no flourishes."

"Love is caring and sharing. Romance is wining and dining. It's how you show your love."

"Love is allowing your husband to turn down a big promotion because you know he really does not want the added pressure, even though the extra money wouLd help pay bills and its absence forces you to work more hours than you want."

"Romance is going to dinner at a five-star restaurant; love is making sure the waiter knows about your wife's food allergies."

Asked to create a romantic day or evening, people favor breakfast in bed, picnics in the country, elegant dinners with wine or champagne, and a Jacuzzi. Room service has its appeal. Almost all want a prolonged session for tender lovemaking.

For most people, romance is dressing down. For some it's dressing up. "A great romantic day wouLd include a picnic--and dress up for dinner out," said one. Another would include "a swim in a secluded ocean cove, a horseback ride, and a picnic lunch made by a famous chef."

"A surprise event arranged by a partner that allows for time to be spent together without interruption."

"Someone other than me plans it. We'd be dressed up to go somewhere. His attention would be on me. He'd never call his office to check for crises or take calls on his portable phone."

"We ride horses on a remote trail on a sunny day for hours, stopping at a meadow with a long view of the valley for lunch. We joke, stretch out in the sun, kiss, ride back and do chores together, then sit back and watch the sunset over a glass of wine."

PHOTO: Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn sported a love that endured decades, whether on stage, on stage, on air--as in this promo for their 1955 comedy, "Fourposter"--or in their living room.

PHOTO: For Cronyn and Tandy, a real affection turned a lifetime of work into plays. When they weren't on Broadway (r), they collaborated on screen, as Garp's grandparents in 1982 (far r), on TV in the 50s (I), or just hanging out with pals (far l).