Romanticising romance

Written by Jane Chan


The changing reality of what love means in the modern age

After jumping off a cliff into exotic waters, laughing with a partner along the Seine, and posing forlornly in the middle of a tree-lined street, Natalie Portman asks the ultimate question -  “and you, what would you do for love?”

Though preceded by the image of Dior’s new Eau de Parfum, the portrayal of love in the advertisement shouldn’t be overlooked, despite the gauziness and dramatic soundtrack set to “Chandelier”.

This is because it poses an underrated but crucial question: what would we do for love? To what extent would we drop everything to achieve this ideal? The answer, especially for inexperienced and naive teenage girls (and boys), would be “anything”. If we find our soulmate, no amount of material wealth or individual success will ever match up to this feeling of love. Indeed, this answer seems to be what Portman herself implies in the Dior commercial.

And who could blame Portman or ourselves for this perception of love, when history books maintain the idea of love as an uncorrupted, pure form of absolute devotion? Homer’s the Illiad tells us how Paris started a war for love, destroying an entire city.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tells us the passion and angst of being ‘star-crossed lovers’. Even comparatively modern works like The Notebook generate cult-followings resonating to our modern day, based on a demographic of wide-eyed girls charmed by dramatic and grand gestures of kissing amidst the pouring rain.

But at a time where marriages result in a 50% divorce rate, this idea of what love should or shouldn’t be fails to match expectations. Wide-eyed girls eventually grow to become women, toughened by rejection, heartbreak, and more important things (i.e. affording rent). Yet the virginal and sanctified understanding of romance still influences individuals in their forties - how oft have couples broken up, owing to a relationship that remained less-than-perfect? And how often have people thrown themselves at toxic relationships, hoping to salvage the remains into an ideal?

Studies argue that 54% of abuse victims still perceive their partners as ‘highly dependable’, a shocking statistic Doctor Craig Malkin claims to be a result of wanting to “stay for love.” Of course, other factors such as economic uncertainty prevent partners from leaving. But it is irrefutable that the “[the victim’s] desperate, often palpable hope, [is] if you sit in the room with them, the abuse will go away.” He states “abuse survivors cling to the positive traits in their partners -- like being affectionate and reliable...block[ing] out all evidence to the contrary.”


By elevating the concept of love to a pedestal, we allow ourselves to create excuses for our actions, whether as extreme as tolerating abuse or mundane as skipping classes. This leads us to toxic behaviors that can unhinge our futures, destabilize our emotions for years on end.

So the question is: why do we value love so much? There are a few reasons: the need for a devoted partner in the caveman era, lest you risk dying in the cold winters. The need to create offspring, the one factor our evolutionary instincts care the most about.

Yet, notice most of these reasons were in the past. Do we need a loyal partner when we have grocery stores instead of hunting spears? Do we really need more crazy kids when the world is over-running with tiny humans? No - after all, love is just a flood of endorphins engineered to maximize humans’ population size, not achieving a state of nirvana.

We don’t need to find ‘The One’, and we don’t need to find the perfect person to achieve happiness. If you break up, move on. If someone rejected you, move on. If you’re just not interested in anyone, who cares?

We don’t need to spend our nights bemoaning our lack of a romantic partner; love isn’t all that it’s made to be. Like everything else, love is just living your life. It’s boring, it’s a mess, and it’s hard.

So to answer the penultimate question, “what would you do for love?” The answer shouldn’t be a desperate “anything”, but instead, a nonchalant shrug: “If it happens, it happens.”