What's the difference between romantic behaviours and loving ones?
January 26, 2008 4:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to define the difference between a loving, helpful action and a romantic action. How would you define romance, and what would you consider to be romantic?

I've been reading the previous questions tagged with "romance" in the hopes that I could find examples of romantic actions. So far, many of the posters have said things like "do extra chores for your loved one to lighten his/her load" or "surprise your loved one by taking care of a problem (such as taking in her car to be fixed)."

These are loving behaviours, but to my mind they're not romantic. I think that part of the key is that a romantic behaviour can't be practical or pragmatic. Practical help is part of every day living and (I think) romance is the extra touch that goes above and beyond the everyday.

I know that romance will depend to a certain extent on the people involved, but I'd like to know what other people think.
posted by purplesludge to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's defined by the mindset of the action taker and the circumstances around which the action is done, including the nature and history of the relationship. For those examples given I can easily see them being interpreted either way, depending on the context. Obviously there are some that always fall in the romantic category but for most I'd say it's really more about intent and mindset than the specifics of the action.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:43 AM on January 26, 2008

I'd agree that romantic gestures are less practical. I think that there also has to be a specific, "I'm doing this because I love you" message. You could perform the most objectively romantic gesture in the world, but if you have an uncaring attitude about it, it'll come off flat.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:23 AM on January 26, 2008

I disagree that pragmatic gestures cannot be the result of romantic emotions. Emotions can be expressed in a number of ways.

An example that does not involve flowers or hiding love notes all over the house:

I recently discussed the new HPV vaccine with my girlfriend, and I offered to pay for it if she wants it. The cost is $360. I'm willing to pay for it because I love her deeply and I want what's best for her, despite the fact that there is no guarantee that this relationship will last into the long term.

As a matter of fact, the vaccine would be a complete waste of money as long as we're in this relationship. We're both definitely disease free, and if we stay monogamous, she's not really at risk of contracting HPV (rape being unlikely).

The vaccine would keep my partner healthy, but she is not at risk of becoming unhealthy as long as she remains my partner. If she does benefit from the vaccine, it means we've broken up and I'm just keeping someone else's partner healthy. Therefore, my willingness to pay for the vaccine is completely irrational.

However, I'm still willing to pay for it, because love turns people into damn retards. All I care about, is what's best for her. I think this counts a pragmatic "romantic gesture".

Wait, there's more:
Last night, I was forced to re-evaluate the relationship, after a deeply hurtful exchange that resulted in me weeping for 90 minutes (I'm an adult male, imagine that). As of this moment, I am no longer willing to pay for her vaccine.

I'll leave you folks to draw your own conclusions from that.
posted by BeaverTerror at 5:28 AM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Romance is when you steadily feel love in your heart. Romantic gestures surprise you and strengthen the connection between your heart and loving mindfulness.

BeaverTerror it is so sad to hear how you've been treated! It sounds like you are following your instincts and that is a good thing to do. Give yourself a romantic gesture by not paying for the damn vaccine.
posted by mamaraks at 5:57 AM on January 26, 2008

I think people need to be able to accept "loving, helpful" actions as being romantic actions, and vice versa, before they can possibly be satisfied in life. Otherwise there's always something "missing".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:15 AM on January 26, 2008

I think a romantic behavior is any behavior that indicates you know and care about your partner enough to do what he or she thinks is romantic. Which means it may or may not be pragmatic, depending on whether your partner would be more touched by a big bouquet of flowers or by you noticing that he/she's had a rotten week and doing the dishes, giving a backrub, whatever. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. Mostly, I prefer the pragmatic side of things. That said, once in a while I do get all warm and fuzzy at being given flowers or surprised with a really fancy dinner out or something. That said, the big sweeping gestures some people find romantic strike me as ridiculous and/or irritating, so what's romantic to me is if my partner knows me well enough that he or she would never propose in public / organize a treasure hunt directed by love poems / whatever. For me, the big sweeping gestures are the opposite of romantic.
posted by Stacey at 6:18 AM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here's what I used to think "romantic" was:
Surprise flowers, moonlit walks on the beach, stolen kisses in the toolshed.

While those things may be romantic, it was things that, to me, had no real romance value that partners said were extremely romantic. One ex told me how romantic they thought it was when I fixed her broken things and changed her car parts. One loved it when we worked on the server together. Another thought it was amazingly romantic that I would always cover her face at just the right moment to, well, keep her eyes from burning from "foreign" liquid.

Everyone has their own threshold. And while those big things at the top may be romantic, I've learned that it's the little, unconscious things that really transmit "romance".
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:31 AM on January 26, 2008

I think what's romantic is any gesture large or small that shows that you were thinking about them when you didn't need to be.

I recently discussed the new HPV vaccine with my girlfriend [...] posted by BeaverTerror - Eeeewponymous!
posted by nicwolff at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2008

BeaverTerror, that is the worst possible example of a romantic gesture, even if you had gone through with it. It was loving, it was caring, but it wasn't romantic.

My understanding is that loving and caring gestures are individual, and that romantic gestures can be objectively defined. Kissing her hand, sweeping her literally off her feet and carrying her, giving flowers, kneeling to propose, calling her "my lady" -- that kind of thing. These gestures are certainly romantic, and they may be also loving and caring, depending on the couple and on their history. But they might be just be manipulative or desperate.

Personally, I would rather have gestures of the plain loving variety, rather than the romantic. Whenever I think of this kind of argument, I think of a column Mike Nelson wrote in which he mentioned getting his wife a brand-new high-powered dishwasher for her birthday, so she wouldn't have to listen to the long, loud pot-scrubbing cycle anymore. Aww.

Language moves, anyway, so the idea of a loving gesture may be already conflated with the romantic.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:40 AM on January 26, 2008

What Countess Elena said.
posted by nonmerci at 10:48 AM on January 26, 2008

Rock on, Beaver Terror. Countes Elena and nonmerci are from the wrong planet.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2008

I suppose it depends on what you mean by romantic. I like nicwolff's explanation.

When it comes to pragmatic or practical actions, there's a world of difference between my SO graciously making me dinner every night for the last week because I've had to work late (practical yet romantic) and the fact that he took out the trash and swept the floor on Wednesday (practical and, while appreciated, not really romantic.)

Oh, and he just brought me coffee for no reason other than he made some for himself and knew I'd like a cup. Romantic.
posted by desuetude at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2008

To me, the "traditional" romantic stuff with flowers/candy etc. seems kind of generic. To me a gesture is romantic when it shows thought. Buying red roses is sweet and much appreciated. Buying me pink tulips because that's what we had in our wedding and he knows I love them is sweet AND romantic.
posted by oblique red at 2:57 PM on January 26, 2008

My only qualification in answering this question is that I am a shameless romantic. (Fair warning: if you are cynical about such things and read this, you will die in seven days.)

There are many romantic styles and choosing from among them is a matter of taste, both your own and your partner's. I admire Isak Dineson's descriptions of her romance with Denys Finch-Hatton in Out of Africa, but as a domestic, unadventurous sort of person, making goo-goo eyes among the lions doesn't interest me. It is not fatal if you are not cut from the same romantic cloth -- if one of you is a lion and the other a domestic short-hair -- but it does require more effort and attention to detail than it would otherwise.

However, another trait that marks romance is: spontaneity, or more likely, the carefully planned appearance of such. Great romance is effortless and elevated from the humdrum nature of life. It has the quality of magic. That is why surprise is so often part of a romantic gestures, with rings appearing out of hidden boxes and that sort of thing. If your partner feels buoyed along, you are doing it right.

That leads to the last, least tangible thing of all -- the lightness of heart required -- the willingness to be a fool. Look, go rent Top Hat, and really look at Fred Astaire. He is purely goofy and not too terribly handsome. What makes him charming is that he is so clearly utterly gone on Ginger Rogers. There are birds visibly tweeting in a circle around his head whenever she's near. His whole body yearns towards hers when they dance. She delights him (and well she should) and he is completely unafraid to show it. That is romance, right there, and when it is sincere it is not at all creepy in that overweening seductive player style. It can't be successfully poured on like syrup; it is permitting what is in your heart to fearlessly shine through.

The modern style -- casual, disposable, overly busy and full of complex detail -- is hell on romance. Romance is not required to fix someone a nice dinner or take out the trash -- thoughtfulness and kindness, for sure, but not romance. Pausing all the daily noise to focus your attentions solely on the person you love, permitting instinct to guide your time together instead of rationality, daring to be a fool for love: that is what distinguishes romance from average life.
posted by melissa may at 3:19 PM on January 26, 2008 [12 favorites]

I'm trying to define the difference between a loving, helpful action and a romantic action.

The actions are the same. The difference is in the eye of the beholder.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2008

melissa may: that made my day. it had the quality of magic.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2008

Read about The Five Love Languages. Spending time with me or on me is a romantic gesture in my eyes. The key isn't to do what YOU think is a romantic gesture but to do what the OTHER person views as romantic.
posted by tamitang at 7:19 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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