Romance is a mood or state of mind akin to several others, including love, friendship, sexual interest,
contentment, self-assuredness, and so on.

It is normally experienced in the context of an actual relationship, although it may be experienced in other ways, such as in fantasy, expectation, or possibility.  It may also be experienced vicariously, such as when watching a romantic movie or real couples in romantic situations.  It is even experienced occasionally with friends or relations.

It is, more specifically, associated with courtship and with the intimations of sexuality that go with it.  It is itself, however, not primarily sexual.  In fact, it often has an innocent feel to it, and is associated with "puppy" love, first love, early flirtations, and the like.

Romance often involves courtship symbols, traditions, and stereotypes, such as flowers, gifts, hand-holding, candle-lit dinners, "romantic" music, ....  These, however, are not essential, but rather seem to derive from certain natural ways of expressing romantic feelings.  Once upon a time, they were probably original!  These symbols, etc., are now often used to "set the stage" for romance.

The romantic state of mind often seems to come on suddenly, a matter of rather abruptly becoming aware of being in a romantic moment.  It very often involves surprise.  This is where many of the aforementioned symbols come into play:  Romance often involves being surprised by signs of someone's affection, whether it be in the form of a gift, a helping hand, an appreciative glance, a confidence shared, or what have you.

Associated with surprise is the sense of great motion, lightness, being swept up in the moment, or swept off your feet!  On the other hand, some people instead focus on a feeling of steadiness and solidity, reflecting the firmness of a commitment or the solidity of a relationship, especially in adversity.  The lightness in oneself and the steadiness of the other are by no means incompatible.

There is often a degree of gender stereotyping involved in romance:  "He made me feel pretty, feminine....  He is my knight in shining armor....  He swept me off my feet....  I found comfort in his broad shoulders...."  These comments are used to good advantage in romance novels, but have their sources in ordinary experience.  In men, we find similar statements, in reverse:  "She made me feel strong, like a real man...."  Please note that this is not to be understood as a "power thing," but rather an awareness of the need to care for a woman, to "nurture."  The connection with courtship seems quite strong, despite the many exceptions.

The mood may come upon both people naturally, but it is often "arranged for" by one or the other.  The structure of the romantic episode seems best left simple and it is greatly enhanced by at least the appearance of spontaneity.

Circumstances can be very important.  A small gesture or sign of support in adverse circumstances can be far more valuable than great generosity in good circumstances.  Romance seems, in fact, to thrive on adversity, as in our common recollections of our "poor days."

This introduces as well the symbolism of the hero and the fair maiden in fairy tales.  Selfless help in adversity, revealing deep affection, is a theme common to most fairy tales, many movies, and many real-life romantic moments as well.

The key feeling would seem to be one of a heightened self-worth seen as coming from the other person. Examples would include feeling especially attractive, important, strong, interesting, intelligent, and so on.  Even the sense that one has been involved in something important can bring on a sense of romance.  The increase in self-worth, curiously, results in an increase in one's valuing of or affection for the other.

Paradoxically, these feelings can also occur in reverse, so that coming upon the other person in circumstances that lead you to particularly value him or her may lead to feelings of strength, security, confidence, etc., and this too is felt as romantic!  Common to both is the sense of being fortunate or lucky to be you, to be there, to be with this person.

Other aspects of a romantic mental state include (a) lightness, airiness, giddiness, a glow, excitement, enchantment, joking and laughing; (b) coziness, cuddling, contentment, comfort, closeness; and (c) riskiness, danger, and naughtiness.  Set (a) seems most common, with the others being variation, and (c) being the least common, but certainly not rare.

The essence of romance seems to me to be the sudden discovery or bringing to awareness (whether by accident or by arrangement) of your importance or value to another, along with an awareness of their value to you.  It is a confirmation that one is "lovable" or worthy of affection, whether in the eyes of a desirable young man or woman or in the context of a long, comfortable marriage.  This confirmation comes with many of the qualities associated with other kinds of "ego-transcendence" or "ego-expansion," such as love itself:  By losing yourself in your affection for another, you become stronger as an individual.  As is often mentioned, it is just one of those things that defies logic!

(Based on a class exercise)

©Copyright 2000, Dr. C. George Boeree