Is "Romance" Helping or Destroying Your Love Life?

Some lovers decline marriage in order to remain faithful to romance

Posted Aug 06, 2014

Where does your idea of romance come from? Does your idea of romance always end with a wedding?

And by that I mean: does marriage end your idea and your ideal of romance?

Some lovers decline marriage in order to remain faithful to romance. Very few of history’s most passionate couples ever actually lived together—Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Beatrice and Dante, Catherine and Heathcliff, Hepburn and Tracy, Barbie and Ken—none of them could make it as actual live-in partners at all (or for very long).

Those great romance-couples who married didn’t fare much better: Romeo and Juliet (dead), Emma and Charles Bovary (dead), Anna Karenina (she’s under the train), Lucy and Desi (divorced), Gwenyth and Chris (consciously uncoupled, whatever that means).

And although the Beach Boys vowed in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” that “We could be married/ then we’d be happy,” and the Motown hit “Going to the Chapel” declared that once we crossed the threshold in a white dress “we’d never be lonely anymore” it turns out that neither promise was enough to persuade most women in America to give an adult man a copy of their house keys. Maybe that’s because women grew up singing, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” while men grew up singing “We’ve Got Tonight, Why Don’t You Stay?”

The cultural has changed in the last hundred years, to be sure; reliable birth control has probably made more of a difference than anything else, but other factors are also significant. The very terms we use to describe the idea of romance and the institution of marriage have altered.

For example, younger women are more likely than their counterparts in previous generations to agree publicly with Mae’s West’s assertion that “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet” or to echo Lizz Winstead’s answer to why she’s unmarried: “I think, therefore I’m single.” 

But when I hit 13 back in 1970, for example, my mom told me that I should start thinking about marriage because a mate would offer me support. She made a husband sound like an underwire bra. He would help to rein me in and keep me control, sort of like a girdle. He would help disguise my imperfections in much the same manner as a slip. Men, from my mother’s perspective, were basically one big foundation garment—something you should make use of once your secondary-sex characteristics became apparent. You wouldn’t think of walking down the street without one. 

A hundred years ago, humorist Helen Rowland wrote, “When you see what some girls marry, you realize how they must hate to work for a living.” 

But now that there are (knock wood) some better jobs available for (some) women these days (and a remote possibility that within our lifetimes women will get within striking distance of a man’s salary), women don’t have to marry for status or a paycheck. We can buy our own towels, blenders and sheets; we don’t need a bridal shower to stock up on appliances.

People can marry for romance and love—but they can also have love and romance without marriage. Stuck in a habitual search for a positive reflection of ourselves, looking for romance becomes a narcotic that will simply dull the pain of our low self-esteem or lack of power over our own lives.  Neither marriage nor romance should be the single most important way we validate ourselves; the burden is too great.