America is a country of romantics: we love our reality dating shows, rom-coms, and Disney princess movies. Romantic beliefs, like the ideas of love at first sight, “love will overcome all obstacles,” and “happily ever after“ are pervasive in our culture. Have you ever wondered whether these idealized beliefs regarding romanticism hurt relationships? The argument that they are harmful goes like this: (1) high romanticism leads to high expectations for your relationships: that you should never fight with your partner, that they will never let you down, and that you will always have amazing sex together. Sounds great, right? The problem is that with such lofty ideal standards for your relationship, (2) you’ve set yourself up to fail because these unrealistic expectations are, well, unrealistic. With such high expectations, your partner and relationship will surely let you down, and (3) this disappointment should cause you to be dissatisfied. But is this 3-step plan to dissatisfaction supported by the data?
Researchers investigated this question in a study of people in dating relationships recruited online (average age of participants = 24 years old; 90% heterosexual). Participants answered questions about their romantic beliefs, their expectations for their current and ideal relationships, their satisfaction and commitment with their current relationship, and relationship history (e.g., number of past relationships).
The data supported the first part of the argument above: people with higher romantic beliefs tended to have higher expectations for their relationships. The third part of the argument was also supported: those who reported that their expectations were unmet in their relationships were more likely to be dissatisfied and less committed. However, the second step of the argument above (that “your partner and relationship will surely let you down”) was not supported. Those with higher romantic beliefs did not report that their expectations were going unmet.
In addition to dispensing with the notion that romantic beliefs lead one down a path that eventually leads to poor relationship quality, two other findings of note run counter to preconceptions. First, there were no sex differences in romantic beliefs; women were not more likely to be romantics than men (per the common stereotype). Similarly, based on the self-reported relationship histories, people did not appear to become less romantic as they got older or had more relationships; romantic beliefs don’t seem to fade with age or past relationship experience, but keep in mind this wasn’t a longitudinal study so it’s difficult to say for certain this is the case.
So take heart, all you romantics out there. Yes, you likely to have lofty expectations for your relationships. But it turns out that you also tend to think your partners are meeting those expectations, so it’s all good!
Vannier, S. A., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2017). Passion, connection, and destiny: How romantic expectations help predict satisfaction and commitment in young adults’ dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34, 235–257.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.