Maryville Professor: Love, Romance Not Always Same


As Valentine’s Day approaches, romance and love are on the minds of many. But one Maryville University professor says many notions of romance are romanticized themselves. And that can lead to failed relationships.

“The most complicated of emotions has produced a range of myths that demonstrate how we romanticize love,” said Linda Lindsey, Ph.D., professor of sociology and coordinator of women’s studies at Maryville University. “To the extent that these myths carry over into beliefs and behaviors related to gender roles, marriage, and the family, romanticization can have dire consequences.”

Lindsey has written or co-authored five college-level sociology textbooks and has conducted extensive research on the impact that gender roles play in society, both in the United States and globally. She received national attention in the late 1980s for research she and a fellow social scientist conducted on the subject of love. “The original research had to do with the values men and women bring to a relationship, what they regard as important in selecting a mate – especially a permanent one,” she commented. “It turns out that ‘romance’ is highly structured and we fall in love with people on less of an emotional basis than we think.”

In the intervening years, Lindsey has continued to monitor gender-related research on romance and love and has written extensively on the subject in her textbooks. “Stereotypes and myths are often shattered – much to the chagrin of many young people,” she remarked.

One such myth that has taken a beating in recent studies, Lindsey observed, is that love is blind. According to published findings, over the past several decades, both men and women have placed a higher premium on physical attraction when choosing a mate. “Although men are now like women in that they add a woman’s economic prospects to their marriage partner shopping list, men continue to place a higher value on attractiveness than women,” said Lindsey, a past president of the Missouri State Sociological Association.

For evidence of this, she remarked, one needs to look no further than “personal” ads in the newspaper, where men are more likely to mention that they are looking for beautiful and slender women or those who have proper weight in proportion to height. “Male preoccupation with physical attractiveness cuts across race and social class,” Lindsey said. “Because men value it more than women and it is the first trait they notice when checking out possible dating partners, physical attractiveness is an important factor in explaining why men fall in love sooner than women.”

A related myth often proven to be erroneous is “love at first sight.” Lindsey contends that falling in love is a rational process marked by sustained interaction and that initial excitement over physical attraction tends to fade over time. “As a prerequisite to love, interpersonal attraction is enhanced by the mere exposure effect—being frequently exposed to a person increases liking for that person,” she stated. “Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds liking. This explains why college dormitories are major marriage markets where love can flourish. It also explains why the adage ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is incorrect. Its opposite, ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ is the empirical reality.”

Perhaps the most important myth that needs to be eradicated, Lindsey said, is that love conquers all. “Total agreement with another person’s views on life and love is impossible,” she maintains. “One’s partner cannot fulfill all needs and make all problems disappear. If love indeed could conquer all, the divorce rate would plummet.”

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies. Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.