How We Experience Romantic Love

I’m currently reading David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage, which I’ve been meaning to do for YEARS. In one of the Introductions (there are two in the updated version), he writes:

“Romantic love is a relatively new development of which we know little, especially in marriage. In Love in the Western World, Denis DeRougement notes that Western culture has no history of happy romantic love within marriage; the notion of romantic love didn’t even exist until the twelfth century. Our literature holds stories of spouses finding love outside of marriage, but even then it is tragic. DeRougement says we view passionate love as an irresistible impulse that sears and annihilates us in its triumph. We approach romance like a privileged form of suffering that makes us feel more alive – living dangerously, magnificently, and tragically.”

Which kind of sounds like adolescence. Or too many of my own adult relationships and that whole “I love the blues, they hurt so nice” philosophy of tragic love.

The more I ponder relationships, the more I think there are different kinds of people – some who might describe themselves as very passionate with lots of ups and downs and maybe those people approach romance like Schnarch describes above. And then there are people who are more narrow in their form of expression, who have fewer dramatic swings of happiness/excitement or sadness/tragedy. And not being one of the latter, I’m not sure how those individuals approach romantic love but perhaps through some lens of calm contentment – at least as far as I can tell.

How do you “know” you’re in love? What do you feel? The dramatic tragic tides that make you feel “alive”? Some calm wave of contentment? Joy? Lust? What is it like for you?

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About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at