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Why Love is Romantic

It's time for you to make your move, Romeo.

I was browsing the online post secret archive last night. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this movement, post secret is where you write down a secret on a postcard and mail it to an address. It's all anonymous. The secrets are sometimes published - you can buy collections, published as a book, at your local bookstore.

There was this one secret that stood out to me.

It whollaped me in the heart. Finally, some true romance! Here was this person, a man I presume, who I came to think of as a modern-day Romeo, pining away for the woman he truly loved. Out of love, he took the time to draw her face and make her eyes bright blue.

I was really interested in the way 48 people had responded, all saying that he should tell her that he loves her. Without knowing his reasons for not telling her for over 6 years, everyone unanimously agreed that he should confess his love. People cited the fact that they had been there and the opportunity had passed, so they now had regrets. Others said that he had nothing to lose.

Why is the scenario of delayed love so romantic? That's the big question. Presumably, we all want to be longed for, to be important, and to have someone think so highly of us that they love us for the long-term, no matter what. Don't most of us want to be watched from across the room, to have someone daydream about us - of course not in a stalker-type way though. There's even the song "Every Breath You Make" by the Police that goes "every breath you take, every move you make ...every step you take...I'll be watching you." Most of us want to have someone adore or be infatuated with us, or better yet, love us.

Fans of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice know this pattern well. After an amusing first meeting and handful of interactions, Mark Darcy is in love with Elizabeth Bennett, and confesses his love to her in a rather insulting, backhanded manner. She rejects him. Time goes by, her heart changes (mostly in response to seeing his good and generous nature), and they magically find each other, still single, later on. He obviously still loves her, has been pining for her in spite of her numerous flaws, and dares to hope that she might now love him - and voila, she does! The reader simply has to wait, hoping that the two of them figure it out. In the end they do and we all breathe a contented sigh of relief.

Delayed love could also indicate "true love" - if we think of true love as representing love felt towards one person, and only one person. Elizabeth Bennett and Mark Darcy are supposed to have it, which is why they came together in the end of the story. In my opinion, nothing sets the heart all aflutter like the idea that there is this magical person out there for us! What's even more romantic is the idea that our true love is waiting for us and loves us already. And they love us even though they know our flaws, and are ready to love us for eternity.

Disney has made a mountain of money capitalizing on this idea. The whole notion of "Prince Charming" or a "Sleeping Beauty" - that there is just one magical person we were meant to be with for our lives. The whole basis of delayed love is that you believe the person is your true love, and that is why you can't shake them from your head. You wait until the right time, as long as it takes.

I think part of the reason delayed love exists in the first place is because we're so scared to admit that we might love someone, especially if it's "the one." Rejection, especially of one's deeper feelings, is devastating, let alone potentially embarrassing. But isn't it worth it - why not take that risk in the hopes that it pays off, when the only cost is rejection and embarrassment? I think the key is shame, and the scientific literature indicates that shame has an unusually deep hold on people, compared to other potentially negative emotions (e.g., Davidoff, 2002; Tangney, 1995).

To avoid this bad scene, we have to become reasonably good at knowing whether someone is romantically interested in us. How good are we at this task? Well, many of us must be confused, given that when I merely type "how to tell" into Google (Canada), the first two phrases that come up are "how to tell if a guy likes you" and "how to tell if a girl likes you." The fact that they are listed immediately means they are extremely common searches. (Note that a friend of mine did the same search in the US and these were listed further down the list, so this could be partly a cultural effect.)

To explore this further, I then went to the first website listed, which was a wikihow website that gives point-by-point details on how to know if a guy likes you.
Their suggestions are actually rather congruent with the scientific research, such as pay attention to his body language and eye contact.

What surprised me was the number of times the page had been read: 3 255 098 times! Over three million people have visited this one specific website for ideas - and this is only one of dozens of similar websites. (Just so you know, the same website but dedicated to "know if a girl likes you" had been read 2 736 904 times.) Since so many of us need to get tips on how to know if someone is romantically interested in us, no wonder many of us just keep our love a secret and don't say a word! Many of us, it seems, simply can't tell if someone is romantically interested in us. Why is that?


I quickly searched the scientific literature and came up empty handed. So, time to speculate. I think part of it is that people might recognize the signs but are too scared to believe that someone is interested in them because if they are wrong, they'll look bad. It's better to assume that there is no romantic interest and save face. People possibly doubt their abilities to read the signals and ask friends to scope out the situation or turn to websites for confirmation, and only believe there is interest when faced with tons of evidence. Another possibility is that people are very good at deceiving (which other bloggers have recently discussed), and so we can't trust the signals that others send out.

As for advice for those experiencing delayed love, I must rely on a quote from Benjamin Franklin. He summed it up nicely by saying, "You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again." Maybe it's time for you to make your move, post secret Romeo.