A Critique Of Contemporary Romance

For the longest time now, I've watched myself and how completely desensitized I've become when it comes to issues about romance, love, or any other concept within that bracket. I no longer have the desire to talk or connect with another human being. I've thought hard about why this is happening and if I'll recover from it. "Maybe it's just a phase" that's what I keep saying, but maybe it's not, perhaps I have developed deep hate for the modern concept of love and romance, and I'm no longer willing to participate.

A lot of us grew up watching movies and shows that painted an image of what romantic love was supposed to be like, it often followed a template, so they mostly always had the same string of events and results. The gospel of this supposed "true love and romance" is that one day the right partner would come into your life and sweep you off your feet, from that day onward, you would not experience feelings of loneliness, hurt, betrayal, etc. As many of us might have found out, this gospel was a false one. Even the second or third coming of this one true love cannot save you.

In my opinion, I think this template has become a grand failure, we as a society are primed to have a narrow view of what romantic love is meant to be like, and if it doesn't follow the well-known social patterns, then it's not romantic enough. This template guides how we view and value relationships, it is almost like there’s the way the couples have to be or behave to fit what the archetype of a “Happy relationship” is about. Date nights, vacations/trips, food together,  matching outfits, etc. Of course, these things are not necessarily bad, but they’ve been predominantly pushed as what a romantic relationship should be about.

I’ll start by highlighting and explaining some ways in which the modern concept of romance fails to deliver us;

1) Unrealistic expectations from partners.

This is something I’ve always thought about, but Esther Perel has found ways to put it in better terms, she’s a known commentator on modern relationship and their issues.

"Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”

"The modern ideology of love is compelling. Never before has the couple been such a central unit in our social organization. Never have we expected more from our intimate relationships, and never have we crumbled under the weight of so many expectations."

- Esther Perel

What Esther Perel has said is what we see manifest in society at this moment, the gospel of “True Romance” tells you that you’re going to find your person and that his person would be every and the only person you’d need, you wouldn’t have to look elsewhere for security, comfort, provision, and care. This belief forces people to try and optimize for all their human needs in a relationship with one person. I don’t know how we got here or how this gospel was sold to us, but it makes me worry so much that people now have unrealistic expectations from people who they want to be romantically involved with, there are now boxes that people have to tick before we deem them as lovable, you hear people say “I have so-and-so needs and my partner has to tick all these boxes”. I very much think that this reduction of humans to boxes is all that’s wrong with romance and love today.

2) Romance and love as a commodity.

I remember making fun of Jennifer Lopez's “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” a few months ago, I laughed so hard at the line and said, “Love these days, cost you money, time, blood and sweat”. We live in a time when love has a price, you have to pay for it, you need to be able to afford it or else you’d be seen as not deserving. Just like we’ve commodified everything in modern society, attention, learning, kindness, etc. Love and romance were not left out, what we practice can now be termed as a “transaction”, every day, lovers both buy and consume love from each other, if this transaction stops, the relationship crumbles. Today we use phrases like “The dating marketplace” because we’re all aware of what is going on. Love, humans, and bodies have been turned into commodities. Since 2019/2020, there has been high usage of certain phrases which makes this even more evident. “High-value man/woman”, “Sexual market value”. The previous sentences might have painted a clear picture of the grand commercialization of love and romance. I do not blame the players of these games, but I mostly blame the society they’ve found themselves in, a society that is balls deep in capitalism; capitalism asks for one thing and one thing only - optimize for money and high material gains.

We see this manifest itself in the playground of society, “If they’re not buying me enough stuff or giving me enough stuff, then they’re not worthy of my love”, this attitude of commercialization makes us want to give our attention and love to those who are the highest bidders. This commodification of romance asks that you search dutifully for the lover who can give you all the things, even the things you can’t give yourself. We should also be aware of how this is used as a manipulative technique, someone might desire something cool and expensive and manipulate their partners into buying it for them by saying, “If someone truly cares about me, they would go out of their way and get me this stuff”, this can sometimes create an internal conflict inside the partner who might in most cases want to prove their love and affection. They blindly go ahead and fall for this manipulation even if it’ll cost them too much more than their currently willing to sacrifice since the modern concept of love asks us to constantly prove our love by buying expensive things and experiences for our partners, they see no harm in it. 

The above situation is what creates the fake perception of what romance and love are meant to look like, especially on social media. If you’ve been observant you’ll notice a subtle competition on how a random couple wants to outdo other couples and make others sprinkle strings of "God When?" in their comment section. We no longer reach for love, we’re now reaching for romance that is “Fit for the gram” and “Picture perfect”, we want a romance that’ll make others jealous, to sell an image of perfection and ease that might not even be evident in real life.

We’re doing more harm than good if we continue to spread the idea that romance and/or love is a game of  “Pay to Play”. All these are the kind of games we play in a romantic relationship that hinders true intimacy, we are stuck in the idea of how love should be or how it should be offered to us, and we don't experience or pay attention to all the good that is already happening.

3) Pop psychology is ruining love and romance.

In an article written by Nick Haslam wrote for “The Conversation”, she explained pop psychology in some words I’ve paraphrased below;

“The genre of pop psychology includes publications/posts that aim to make us better leaders and lovers, more capable partners and parents. They speak to those of us who want to be happier, thinner, fitter, richer, smarter, sexier, or more productive.”

I’m going to introduce a new term in this article that would be similar to what “Pop Psychology” means, let's call it “Insta Psychology”, any person who is active on social media would have come across it, they are posts, pictures, quotes, etc. that are meant to give us advice and tell us how to navigate life and different scenarios. I do not see any wrong in getting advice from others, but my problem with Insta Psychology is how it aims to sometimes sell you an image of what romance and love are meant to look like and also gives you prescriptions on how to approach romance, it tells you that if your love life doesn’t look a certain way or follow a certain script, then it's not romantic enough.

These one or two-sentence posts/quotes are heavily reductive and leave a lot out of context, something that surprises me is how some people take these things as infallible truth and constantly repeat them as their life mantra.

Insta psychology continues to sell meaningless and banal things like  “You need to set standards”, “Do not settle for the bare minimum”, or worse of all tell you that you have a soulmate out there and you shouldn’t settle till you find them. I once did a podcast and I said "Anyone can be your soulmate". I do not believe there's a divine individual who would come around and hand you all the promises of love and romance, I got backlash for this because Pop Psychology has done a good job of convincing people about the concept of “Soul Mates”.

Another big lie that Insta psychology has sold is that if someone truly loves you, then you won’t have to ask for anything, the lover would understand you completely and do all the things you desire without any need to communicate them. I was once involved with a girl who told me that I didn't understand her, that I was meant to know what she needed and how she needed it without her having to say anything. This idea that the person that truly loves you and cares about you should understand you completely is flawed and appalling, yet it's an idea that continues to be propagated by Insta Psychology and in turn, reinforces the template understanding of love and romance.

The reason why pop psychology has become prevalent is that we humans have biases and beliefs, so we actively seek quotes and posts that confirm our biases and beliefs. If you take a look at social media, there’s a post, quote, or picture that can help us confirm and reinforce our beliefs even if they aren’t necessarily objective truth.\

4) The reduction of romance to “Languages”.

I’ve always hated the concept of “Love Languages”, I don’t know why people continue to talk about them and spell them out like mantras. Every girl I’ve ever tried to be with has asked me the question. “Kelvin, what is your love language?”, my reply has always been, I don’t know and I don’t believe in them. 

I got to hate the concept of love languages, even more, when I read about its backstory. The idea of love languages was gotten from the book “The 5 languages of love” written by Dr. Gary Chapman, the book was first published in 1992 under Christain literature. Dr. Gary has a Ph.D. in Adult education but has the title of “Marriage counselor” at his church. It leaves me surprised that someone who has no educational background in counseling apart from a church role has managed to spread this idea that a lot of people now use to shape and define their love. It has no background in educational psychology, it simply can be taken as the common platitude you find in a self-help book.

The concept of love language is just Pop psychology, packaged in a book that sold thousands or millions of copies, it’s a scam, it’s literally just common sense, what worries me is how couples in this day and age follow this bogus prescription of how to give and receive love like it’s “deep”, thereby setting up themselves for failure.

To believe in love languages is to follow a template for romantic relationships, what we instead need to do is take romantic relationships as fluid; The needs, likes, and dislikes of people change constantly and in turn the relationships they maintain with other people. It would be highly reductive for us to constrain ourselves and our relationships within the box of the “five love languages”, there are millions of ways to express, give and receive love, and we should be open to the idea that all these might keep changing within the relationship.

5) Gender roles and sexism persists in modern dating.

One of the things I’ve always been concerned about is how gender roles affect modern dating. As a society, we’ve tried to address equality in different areas, but one that is rarely talked about is in the field of dating and romance.

I consider myself as someone who acknowledges the politics of the time, so I fully support gender quality in all aspects of life. This of course makes me see all types of relationships as a place where equality should thrive, not a lot of people have thought the same, We’ve been conditioned (both men and women) to have gendered expectations of people, especially in romantic relationships. This comes as a concern to me in so many ways.  We’ve come a long way since the days of extreme sexism, but sometimes I wonder why this consciousness is still alive in the minds of a lot of people and then I remember that years of conditioning are hard to change. Popular ideas in heterosexual relationships like "A man is meant to provide and protect", and "A woman is meant to nurture, cook and clean”, continue to proliferate themselves in the minds of people and society at large. 

In my opinion, these gendered expectations of people that creep into romance, do more to hinder true romance. I have a framework from where we can start talking about these issues in heterosexual romance and maybe resolve them;

- How men see women and what expectations they have of women.

- How women see men and what expectations they have of men.

- How men see themselves and what expectations they have of themselves towards women.

- How women see themselves and what expectations they have of themselves towards men.

If we start discussing these topics we can maybe get a sense of how to tackle sexism and gender roles that continue to spread inequality in our human society.  When we start to talk about inequality we mostly talk about workplace inequality, but we forget that romantic relationships are the bedrock of homes and families, and the attitudes that persist there are what people learn,  internalize and spread back to society.


In this article, I’ve tried to critique the contemporary concept of romance in five points, there might be a lot of counter-opinions to some arguments here, but I believed I’ve laid down some baseline on how we can start talking about the flawed concept of romance that we continue to propagate. 

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