A girlfriend of mine told me her boyfriend asked her last week which she preferred -- opals or pearls. She said, "Ink cartridges." Her boyfriend was crestfallen when she explained that she'd prefer that he gift wrap a six-month supply of those expensive little ink cartridges for her printer/scanner than slip her a romantic necklace the night before Christmas.
This came as no surprise to me. In my own long-term study of married couples, and from the many studies I've read on romanticism among the genders, it appears that yet another gender myth can be dismantled: Men, typically, are more romantic than women.
When relationship researchers talk about romanticism, it refers to a person's general beliefs about love -- not one's feelings about a specific person and his or her behaviors.
Between you and your partner, who is more romantic? The answer might surprise you. Take this quick true-or-false quiz to learn more about your own level of romanticism.
True / False -- I believe in love at first sight.
True / False -- I fall in love easily, and when I do, I fall hard.
True / False -- I believe there is a perfect soul mate out there somewhere for me.
True / False -- If I don't have passionate feelings for someone right away, chances are s/he's not "the one."
True / False -- No matter what challenges life presents, love can conquer all.
True / False -- When you're truly in love, passion never fades; it can last forever.
Now, count up the number of "true" answers.
- 1-2: You're a realist. You are probably more interested in a partner who can take a toaster apart or get along with your eccentric parents than one who makes passes at you in public.
- 3-4: You're a secret dreamer. You may harbor secret fantasies about love and romance, but you're still firmly attached to the idea that a partner is, above all else, a source of security and your anchor in life.
- 5-6: You're a total romantic. You can list the best on-screen kisses of all time -- because you've watched them over and over! You envision you and your partner madly in love at 90 and still whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears.
Okay, now you know a bit more about your own romantic beliefs. But what about those of your partner? What do you do if you are a lot less -- or more -- romantic than your partner?
My own research and that of others shows that men tend to believe that love should be more passionate than women generally do. It also shows that men fall in love more easily than women. In my long-term study, I was genuinely surprised by the number of men who were smitten with their wives long before their wives even took them seriously. That's a pattern other researchers have found, as well. Women, in general, tend to have more pragmatic views of love.
If you are a man, you may be frustrated by your girlfriend or wife's practical approach to lovemaking and romance. Does she roll over, put on her bathrobe, and start checking her e-calendar moments after you've made love? Does she e-mail you to schedule a "date" after the gym but before her 7 o'clock meeting? Don't take these behaviors personally. She's not dissing you. She's simply compartmentalizing her romantic feelings. This is common among women. If it bothers you, let her know that you'd like to do things your way sometimes. That is, linger in bed in each other's arms listening to jazz. Or spontaneously making love -- at an odd time or in an unusual place -- once in a while.
If you are a woman, you may feel put off by his amorous advances when you're trying to study at night. Or his complaints that you don't seem to care about him anymore. He's not being a big baby -- he's being a guy. For men, frequent shows of physical affection and small endearments, such as holding hands or kissing, are very reassuring. It's fine to be practical about your love relationship, but at least some of the time, let him feel like the two of you are in a movie. Take the time to create a romantic mood or scene for him. You'll both be glad you did.
When two partners are sensitive to each others' attitudes toward romanticism, and make an effort to gain insight into what each other needs and likes, you may discover that both his romanticism and her practical approach to love have their advantages.