Valentine’s Day Question: Romantic love: Real or Social Constuct?

May get in trouble on this one. I’m all for warm fuzzy feelings, but it seems our society places too much emphasis on “falling in love” and such. We were watching an episode of Midsomer Murders where the various love interests led to multiple murders, which could describe about half the dramas on TV these days, and which prompted the question, along with my aversion to buying flowers on Valentine’s Day, but often do it anyway.
Marriages were often arranged in the past, but there seems some support for romance with the story of Jacob and Rachel, and perhaps Sampson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba (hum, not that different from modern murder dramas….) Not a lot of romance in the New Testament, though. Ananias and Sapphira come to mind, and that didn’t end well.
So, any thoughts for we who are romantically impaired on this Valentine’s Day?


Falling in love and pair bonding is purely evolved mating psychology, nothing cultural about it at core. Plenty of culture accretes to it.

1 Like

I can just imagine the young ladies swooning over this already … If you’re ever thinking of opening a romance cards line, all I can say is - I’d recommend holding on to your day job. :smile::heart:

I suppose Ruth and Boaz are often held up as the quintessential romance (Song of songs aside, perhaps). You raise an interesting point that we seem to have to go to the old testament to find any of this. Paul doesn’t exactly look like any kind of romantic which may be understandable. For him, taking time for romance was comparable to taking time to argue about what you should start fixing for dinner while your house is burning down. (1 Cor. 7) It just didn’t make the list of things he thought we ought to concern ourselves with. It would be interesting to get Peter’s wife’s perspective on everything. There are the passing mentions of couples like Priscilla and Aquila. And those were apparently working relationships where they both seem exclusively tuned to the missional necessities of the time (or at least their teamed mission focus is the only thing authors see as relevant to mention.)

I think the New Testament is so bereft of lesser tales of romance probably because it understandably focused on the one highest Romance of all: Christ pining after his bride, the church. All other romance is subsidiary to that in the gospel view.

Happy Valentine’s day! Love you all.


I heard a saying once that went something like: “In the past a marriage started as an economic arrangement and ended in love, but now it starts with love and ends with an economic arrangement.”

I wonder how much of our ideas about romance come from our first-world privileges – when we don’t have to exert quite as much energy on the simple matter of staying alive, romance [or at least extravagant forms of it] can become a more common expectation – not that it didn’t exist before, but probably was seen more as a bonus than a necessity. As with a lot of things, probably communication and being on the same page about expectations are important – I’m not much of a romantic either but I try.


I appreciate the reference, but you actually intended to refer to Samson, the guy with more hair. :smile:

For me, the emphasis began in the 1st Grade, … the first grade in which students were seated in their own desks, not on a floor or on a jungle-gym. Proud tenants of desks were obliged to tape paper sacks to our rotating seats to hold the Valentine cards that we passed out to other students.

Then I aged some years and discovered “falling in love” and enjoyed it so much that the pleasure of it carried me through the trauma of each break-up. “Special effort” actions were “essential” in my case.

Then, when I married, I had the good fortune to marry a woman who had little use for special displays of affection on February 14th …after we married, while we marveled at the efforts of kinsmen “to please their wives” with trinkets of “special attention”.


Annanias and Sapphira seem (to me) to be a story all unto themselves. Sure - in the binary thinking so encouraged of religious people both then and now … are you with us or against us) everybody has so easily written them off surely as a tale of nothing but woe. How could there have been anything good of somebody that God ultimately smites for trying to make themselves look better than they were?

And yet, when setting aside all such polarizing proclivity - I can imagine they may have been quite the romantics. Wanting to watch the home front - she not willing any more to live without him. It’s only the all-too-common “Christian” cruelty that so many take delight in the thought that God smites people for their indiscretions. While I believe that that story is based on actual events, I also believe it was relayed as a hard-edged moral narrative for the time. I would love to know more about those two than what we’re told. I’m far from sure that death was the final end of the matter for them. Meanwhile … don’t leave fear of God out of your calculations.

1 Like

Our half-year anniversary is 2/14. That can be very romantic or… as far away as you can get from the date of our marriage. :grin:

1 Like

I don’t get it… social constructs are not real???

What are you asking?

Are you asking if love is something non-social? like an invisible mist that floats around in air?

No I do not believe that there is a love stuff any more than there is a life stuff. You cannot bottle it, to be sure… find a chemical reaction to produce it… or look at it under the microscope!

Are you asking if love is something objective rather than subjective? Because I certainly do not think THAT! Love is definitely subjective AND it is definitely REAL! I believe subjective things are real – I even believe there is an irreducibly subjective aspect to reality itself. And yes I identify the spiritual with that, but love is certainly an example of that part of reality also.

But objective? Something that exists regardless of what you want or believe? No. It is definitely one of those thing you have to believe in… something you must want. Or your life is little more than a piece of oily cardboard!

1 Like

Careful there, Phil. The next question could be: religious belief, real or cultural construct? Hopefully both are false dichotomies. But I think Hollywood and written stories too do build up some rather extreme expectations. Maybe what bothers some of us is the idea of enacting shows of extreme romantic love when what we really value is the companionship, affection and intimacy. There is potentially an issue regarding authenticity, being true to ourselves as well as each other.

We tend to scoff at Hallmark holidays at my house but we’re coming up on our 40th anniversary this year so maybe some relaxation and comfort with each other is to be expected. I do remember making a lot of effort in making another relationship after the brief marriage of my early twenties dissolved. I know what I really wanted was a strong bond around common values and interests with someone I really liked and respected. An object of romantic worship didn’t make the list of marry-able criteria, though compatible attraction and interest in intimacy did.


Social constructs seem to have something of a bad name around here … as in, it is taken as code lingo for: “Ahh yes - so it doesn’t really exist now, does it!” But I think they are some of the most real things around - given how important and central to our lives human relationships are to us. “Race” may be a “mere” social construct, but it is very, very real social construct indeed! Ask any minority group that has had to fight hard (and is still fighting) just to have the dignity of being considered fully human!

So, for both good and ill, social constructs are a very concrete part of our lives. Perhaps more than just a ‘part’.

1 Like

I agree with that, but which ones become operational in our lives seems to vary. I sometimes wonder how much being a navy brat and changing schools and communities every couple years gives conventions less of a grip on me. If you grow up seeing the interchangeability it is probably harder to become immersed completely - both for better and for worse.

Good point. There will still be the many (myriad I should think) of constructs that we share in our wider national culture. The internet will have helped to broaden this out to international levels even - though it also helped people self-sort into subcultures not defined by geographical boundaries.

I think it would be impossible for even the most transient “military brat” to escape all of that - again, for better and for worse. I think our stereotypes and social constructs (in their positive sense) are the necessary tools that allow our brains to relax and get on with other ostensibly important things. If brains are resource-expensive, then it makes sense that we develop “premade” decision structures that give us the quick, inexpensive message “that’s dangerous” or “that’s bad” … run! - rather than pausing to analyze, think, and come up with probably more accurate, more non-prejudicial answers and nuances to everything. Meanwhile, you got eaten by the tiger while your less discriminating, less curious, less exploratory friend escaped with his life. His stereotype about “things that make sounds like that” served him well in that instance.

Social constructs, like stereotypes - allow us to be lazy thinkers. Or put more positively: allow us to channel our mental energies in other directions.


That’s why I sit in the same seat every Sunday. It frees me up to better serve. :wink:

1 Like

My marriage was arranged.

Unplanned by either of us, but as result of our education and career paths, I chased her around the country for five years, through three states (once back and forth between two) and finally catching up with her in a fourth where we were married nine months later. I knew of her through a classmate in the first state, our paths crossed (unknowingly) in the second state where we both were at the same concert, but I didn’t meet her for the first time until we were in the third state, and there twice. We saw each other again in the first state and then next in the fourth state. :flushed: Along with some other particulars giving more depth to my incredibly unromantic, but memorable, statement, I said, “It must have been God, I wouldn’t have thought of it!” :grin: Do I believe in God’s providence? Just a little.

My times are in your hands. Psalm 31:15

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3


I just finished watching “Wives and Daughters” (book by Elizabeth Gaskell) which is a romance set in 19th century England - about when it was written too I suppose. The movie spends most of its attentions with high society (or those aspiring to rise to that), and their talk and attention - especially among the ladies anyway - is all about “economic arrangement” - which seems to be uppermost on the minds of the older gossips as portrayed. But one gets the idea that this is a small subset of “real life” which would consist of the working class just surviving and doing whatever they must. Does economic arrangement come into play even more when that is the case? Or is it such a given that it can be acclimated to as mere background? It isn’t that true romance wasn’t present at the higher society levels (portrayed as the exemplary exception to the the more craven ambitions of some parents.) It was there. And even at that level they all struggled because most wished to rise above wherever it was they were. The heroine stays blissfully above all that, though.

[I highly recommend it by the way - the acting was superb.]


Interesting… I’ve heard of the author before but I don’t think I’ve read anything of hers yet. Sounds a bit like Jane Austen.

Yeah, considering marriage was often one of the only avenues for social mobility for women, being barred from most employment opportunities. But I can see how romance could be less likely the higher up the social ladder you go, because there are fewer potential spouses to pick from (it’s lonely at the top!).

1 Like

Also sounds a little like the show we are watching on PBS, a BBC adaptation of Dicken’s Bleak House.

1 Like

Yeah - anyone who liked “Pride and Prejudice” (I saw the one with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) would really like this BBC drama too.


For a not-so-relevant contribution, here is a picture of two Dinocardium robustum. Cardiids are called cockles, but the name is derived from the resemblance of Cardium to a cardium.


@Mervin_Bitikofer and @Laura ,
“Wives and Daughters” is outstanding, and I recommend both the movie and the novel, as well as a good Wikipedia article (at least) on Elizabeth Gaskell as well. There are similarities between Gaskell’s novels and and Austen’s, but real differences, too. Gaskell was an early feminist, who was working nearly 50 years later than Austen, and it shows. While Austen was concerned with the economic challenges that the English system created for women and how women could navigate those while maintaining their virtue, Gaskell demonstrated that system as destructive to women (and even men), and proposed options for women, that largely freed them from the artificial limitations imposed on them by English society. Molly’s “loose” upbringing by her widowed father exposed her directly to the character of an honerable and educated man, whom she emulates as a young woman. At a time when Molly is expected to excell in the womanly arts, she is more interested in reading her father’s science journals, studying a wasp’s nest gifted by the nerdy man of her dreams, practicing horticulture in the dirty yard and eventually joining her husband, joyfully digging around Africa. All the while she has intellegence and manners enough to circulate with the ultra-rich without embarrasing herself. She is Gaskell’s model New Woman.
Gaskell’s interest in feminism extended into the economic systems of the time and included an interest in early socialism. You can see it at work in “Wives and Daughters” if you look for it. Sneaky woman, hiding critique of The System within an excellent love story.
Read on……