Romance vs. Love: What’s the difference?

by mssinglemama on November 23, 2011

I always pick books up, read a chapter or two, set them down for weeks and then pick them back up later to read a few more. If you recall a few posts back I recommended Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within. And as usual, I then didn’t finish it… but a few nights ago I started reading it again and flipped directly to the chapter titled Romance versus Love. I’ve attempted to write about the difference here and here – and it’s been a running theme on this blog. The big questions being – what is love, what does love mean to us as single moms, as single women and why do we always seem to choose the wrong men? Had I found this book then, I would have found that Steinem has already sorted it all out for us.

I wanted to share some of her thoughts, as I found them completely awesome.

It’s not easy to generalize about love. Like each person who feels its invisible filaments stretching to another person, it is unique in each instance. Unlike romance, whose plots are uniform enough to be conveyed by shorthand – “if-I-can’t-have-you-no-one-will,” “transitional affair,” “middle-aged crazy,” “the other woman,” “wartime romance,” and so on – love has no standard storyline and no agenda except to deepen the joys and cushion the blows of very individual lives. As Robin Morgan sums up in The Anatomy of Freedom, “Hate generalizes, love specifies.” And romance generalizes, too. When we look for a missing part of ourselves in other people, we blog out their uniqueness. Since most of us have been deprived along gender lines, we generalize about the “opposite sex”, thus rendering it a blank screen on which we project our hopes (in romance) or our fears (in hate). No wonder romane turns so easily to hate, and vice versa.

Steinem continues to write that, as described by those who experience them, the characteristics of love are remarkably similar to the marks of high self-esteem. You’ll have to pick up the book to read the details of each, but here are the characteristics of love:

1. Each partner feels loved for an authentic self. You have to discover the independent part of yourself first, before you can love another.

2. Each one knows she or he could get along without the other – but doesn’t wish to. Free choice is essential to love. We can’t say yes to anyone unless we can also say no.

3. There is plenty of room for playfulness, lightness, and humor. When two realities bump up against each other in intimacy, romance views the contradictions with anger or disillusionment, but love acknowledges them with humor. Romance is inflexible because it tries to predict and control, while love is open-handed and can improvise.

4. Each partner feels empathy for each other. You feel each other’s pain and joy.

5. Love is not about power. Romance is a means to the end of self-completion, but love is an end in itself. Or, as Margaret Anderson put it, “In real love, you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person.” If we love someone, we want them to continue being the essence of themselves. If so, then we can’t absorb or change them.

And then this, she adds, “All of this sounds like common sense – but unfortunately, it isn’t common. There are many more people trying to meet the right person than to become the right person.”

You can buy the book here. Do it and we can intermittently read along together. Love you, mamas!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Candice November 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Thank you for this post! I appreciated the opportunity to reflect — to know that what I have with my ex was romantic love, and what I am currently embraking on is real love. I have moments when I have wondered whether this was real love because I have the, “but I know I can do without you” moments. Those moments have me comparing how amazing and swept up I felt with my ex — but that I have had a more rational and practical love experience with my current (and hopefully future) love. It is a mature love, rather than immature — which is the difference between the romantic love and the real love. But amazingly enough, I don’t think that I was capable of mature real love without having had the gut-wrentching loss of the romantic love. You know?


Maria January 26, 2012 at 12:07 am

Wow Candace. I just lost my marriage and had the textbook romantic love affair that went wrong. Your post gives me hope that I needed that to grow into being able to appreciate something real next time.


Shekhar February 3, 2015 at 5:10 am

There’s just something about the plpoee that live in the big open spaces that make such great stories. I recently finished Linda’s whole McKettrick/Stone Creek/Creed series I think it was about 20 books! I’m looking forward to another of her western series.


Maureen November 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I love that you referenced Margaret Anderson. The exact quote you put in is exactly how I try to explain what real love is to my fellow friends. I’m seriously considering purchasing Steinem’s book, thanks to you. 🙂


KQ November 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm

This is so very interesting…and I can definitely understand the trouble when one person is in love and one is interested in romance. I felt, from experience, I had a handle on that, but this just clarifies why! Because you’re looking for different things and have different expectations. And it’s hard to understand why someone you love gets angry about those “contradictions” if they profess to love you, too. I have found that you can still love someone, while living without them, when understanding that their need for romantic love drove them. Life and love and single motherhood is SUCH a learning process, every day! I needed this, big time! Thanks!


boho mom November 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

THANK YOU !!!!!!!!
What a fabulous blog you have! I am so happy to have found you and am adding you to my links!
Great post – love it!
Happy Monday


Liz November 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Perfect – I’ve been looking for a new book and this sounds right up my alley.


Bear December 2, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Really insightful. Excellent find—well done.


Stephanie Constantina December 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

To me Romance is a rather selfish thing — where you’re in a relationship for selfish reasons, what you can get out of it. Love, on the other hand, is not selfish but selfless, you’re in a relationship for what you can give the other person.


Andrea February 4, 2015 at 5:54 am

I was as heartbroken as 健吾 toadrws Kay Tse’s new album (or precisely the 主打歌).I think a negative review still has its own virtue. The undertone of 健吾’s review is the environment under this Kay’s latest album was produced; the priority is the consumption or reception rather than technicality. As I read along, Kay’s disappointing album was already out of my concern. I start to think about how her case represents in general the Hong Kong pop music industry .以音樂論音樂? I don’t think we can expect this in mainstream paper in Hong Kong. I envy New Yorkers. They can enjoy New York Times’ wonderful section devoted to quality and in-depth (and very musical) reviews of music, be it classical or pop, theatres, movies, and the like. There are just not enough platforms for pop music criticism in Hong Kong.健吾 positioned himself as an outsider; he relied on word articulations and apparent melodic structures, etc. Say for her Mandarin song, it brings forth the question who the target demographic this particular version is for, given her subpar Mandarin is not a matter in the recording. Have they brought in Taiwanese/Chinese producers to do the song? These small decisions reflect at least some aspects of the attitudes behind making a Mandarin version of the hit that made her a top Hong Kong female artist.Anyway, I wonder if there is really a problem here. From the start the industry has not nurtured good listeners. Who really listen to the key changes or chord changes crafted carefully and beautifully by the writers/arrangers? It was lucky enough to have an artist like Kay who can deliver these to the point.Kay is a happy outcome in this weird Karaoke-driven music scene. She was both an underdog and a warrior before she rose to fame; she questioned and did not compromise. Finally she reached the top but this unique brand of her didn’t seem to be registered in her new 主打歌. Yes I meant 主打歌. I know there are songs in her latest album that are so 謝安琪. But 主打歌 is what we wanted from her to strike a complete discord, now that she has assumed a mainstream position.


dating tips December 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

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Samuel Christian December 16, 2011 at 12:16 am

What an interesting post to read, thanks for bringing it up.


International Pen Pals Services January 3, 2012 at 8:15 am

Understanding love, romance… hate even, is complicated so what you are saying is very helpful.


susan January 8, 2012 at 3:58 am

how did i miss this post? inspiring and enlightening and yes, we should know it…but we don’t. I have just come from a short but crazy thing…which i beleived was heading for true love…but he didn’t….and i see in sharp relief now that actually it was totally about that selfless thing…he was completely out for how it made him feel…and didn’t take how how felt into account at all…he seeks the one he can’t live without. I saw a person I could easily live without but didn’t want to. what a revelation.


Chicago Matchmaking January 12, 2012 at 4:12 am

Love is far above all gives and takes from other person. Love needs only loyalty from both partners and not cheating or selfishness from any of the partner.


Ana - Best Dating Sites January 12, 2012 at 7:02 am

Your blog is really interesting. The words you said is very true. Yes a true relationship needs knowledge, work, effort, responsibility, comprehension and more to be successful. True love is far more than romance. It requires clear understanding what both needs and the desire and capability to help each other obtain their life objectives and the capability and wish to reveal really like with effective engagement to keep really like refreshing and in existence.


Barnett February 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for referring the Steinem’s to us!

It seems like the book so far covers how to find true love. And like you stated romance (or lust) and love are different. When it comes to love you must 1st get yourself ready for it…in others words have love and respect for yourself.


anton August 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

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Giada February 4, 2015 at 4:16 am

dadash sharmande kardi dari komkaam mikonia.bebakhshid. bashe ina ro montaghel mikonam.vali mikham bedonam chera vase nasbe patch azam masir nemikhad? bad shoma file be name kitserver mishnasi? man nadaramesh.


Elle August 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm

good question. I see it as an opportunity to clarify things for myself. For me romance is where you play the game with your man and where you do the dance. Love is where the bond, the connection, the important things are maintained or sustained. Love is the sacred place where only you and your mate may enter. Romance is the place where you socialize with each other and others.


Aap January 29, 2015 at 2:08 am

Genuine Lies sounds like the Nora Roberts that I used to love to read. Her last books haven’t been as reirwdang to read. By the Amazon review the book is about afamous actress who decides to have a popular author to write her biography and what happens as the book is written. I believe I would like this book.


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