What Is “Romantic” in Romantic Love Across Cultures?

Once, Western historians and literary scholars believed that “romantic love” was invented by West-European civilizations during the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Beginning with the “courtly love” (amour courtois) of the 12th and 13th centuries in France, Spain, and Germany, the presence and importance of romantic love ideas in European literature increased over the following centuries.

What Was “Romantic” in the Early “Fin’amor””?

The trobadors of southern France, the trouvères of northern France, and the Minnesänger of Germany were the early poets and singers of love known as fin’amor, which meant “refined love” in the Occitan language, spoken at that time in Southern France and some regions of Italy and Spain.

This lyrical, melodic, and fascinating love of poems, songs, and novels was really “refined.” It was distinct from short-term passions and sexual desires. It was a kind of love centered on emotional attractions and attachments, a re-ordering of life priorities, and long-term commitments.

In medieval literature, romantic love was viewed as spiritual rather than physical and as a long-term rather than short-term experience. For trobairitz and troubadours, describing sexual desire as an appetite wouldn’t be an adequate way to depict how lovers felt about each other.

Hundreds of love stories, from “Tristan and Iseult” to “Floris and Blancheflour”, appeared in literature at the turn of the 12th century and enjoyed tremendous success throughout Western Europe.

“The Romance of the Rose” (“Le Roman de la Rose“) was a romantic medieval poem of love written in the Old French language. This poetry was a beautiful example of “courtly love” literature because it showed the art of romantic love through an allegorical dream.

The growth and flourishing of love fiction in Western Europe during the Central Medieval period (1000–1300 years) occurred at a time of an extensive increase in population, substantial urbanization, and a rise in gross domestic product per capita (see for review, Baumard et al., 2022; Duby, 1994). Growing economic development was an important factor in this literary evolution.

How Did Cultures Develop Their Notion of “Romantic Love”?

Western scholars thought that these European ideas of romantic love had disseminated over time across other cultures throughout the world.

However, recent studies have demonstrated that Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian cultures of the past centuries developed their own literary traditions of “romantic love” fiction concurrently and mostly independently from Western literature (Baumard et al., 2022; Karandashev, 2017).

How can we say that it was the same “romantic love” across all these cultural literary expressions? Researchers found that the plot and the narration of all these romantic stories available in different cultures have similar psychological elements of love. These are idealizations of the beloved, emotional attractions and attachments, re-ordering of life priorities, long-term commitments, and others (see Karandashev, 2017, 2019, 2021b).

All romantic novels, epic poems, and tragedies across different cultural traditions contain the same topics: “love at first sight”, “tragic separations”, “faithful love”, “suicide for love”, and alike. They are all the elements of content, genre, and style designed to stimulate people’s interest in love, pair bonding, and relationships.

These elements are easily recognizable in the romantic stories of the early and later historical periods. Let us consider a few examples.

Romantic Love in the Literature of Ancient Greece

The ancient Greek novels of the Early Roman Empire of the 1st–3rd centuries AD, “Leucippe and Clitophon,” “The Ephesian Tale,” and “The Aethiopica” are clearly romantic: young couple in love, of extraordinary beauty, are plunged by hostile fate into various adventures and dangers, until, in the end, for the most part after a rather long separation, they are united in a stable, faithful love for a life that is henceforth unchangingly happy” (quoted in Baumard et al., 2022, p. 507).

Romantic Love in the Literature of Ancient China

In the same way, the Chinese caizi-jiaren are romantic stories with all the key romantic elements. The protagonists are attracted by each other’s physical and personal qualities. They usually fall in love with each other at first sight. They also succeed in overcoming the obstacles and marrying each other. Thus, they represent an idealized couple.

“The Story of the Western Wing” by Wang Shifu (Xixiangji in Chinese) was the most well-known love story of the 13th century. It is about the adventures of the star-crossed lovers, Oriole and Student Zhang. This play influenced numerous later plays, novels, and short stories that were prominent in the Chinese cultural history of romantic love.

Romantic Love in the Literature of Other World Cultures

The plot and narrative of romantic love, along with corresponding literary elements, are evidently present in the Sanskrit love tale of East India “Nala and Damayanti”, in the Japanese jōruri play “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki”, in the Persian tragic romance “Khosrow and Shirin”, and in the Arabic old story “Layla and Majnun”.

Thus, we can see that the literary themes, plots, and narratives of “romantic love” have been omnipresent in many world cultures throughout human history. And they emerged and developed independently from each other, but surprisingly, during approximately the same periods when their societies experienced economic growth, an expanding population, and increasing urbanization.

How Did “Romantic Love” Emerge in the Literary Evolution?

We evidently recognize that “romantic love” can exist on both the plane of cultural ideas and the plane of individual realities. Folklore, poems, novels, and other pieces of literature and art represent the “ideas of love” as made-up fiction with the plots of stories and narration of behavior, perception, and emotions associated with love. This plane of love represents “what love can be.”

Individual experiences and expressions, “loving” interactions, and relationships with the loved one, on the other hand, represent the “individual and relationship realities of love.” This plane of love represents “what love really is.” In human societies, romantic love can exist in any of these forms or in both.

A Fascinating Literary History of Romantic Love

This article looks at when and how “ideas of romantic love” became important in the history of literary fiction across different times and places.

French and Spanish studies recently verified the cross-cultural universality of passionate love beliefs. Nicolas Baumard, Elise Huillery, Alexandre Hyafil, and their colleagues from France and Spain recently compiled and analyzed a huge database of literary fiction from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Modern period, spanning across 3,800 years and 19 globe regions of the world (Baumard, Huillery, Hyafil, et al., 2022). They have demonstrated the cross-cultural universality of “the ideas of romantic love” in terms of plots and narration.

The Surprising Synchrony of the History of Romantic Love

Recent research has revealed that the emergence of romantic love in literary fiction in certain periods of history occurred not only in Western societies but also in other parts of the world. Literature historians have also documented a similar rise in the importance of love in literary fiction in the Arab world, Persia, India, China, and Japan across centuries. For example, romantic love appeared at nearly the same time in the Early Modern period in the literature of both the East and the West (Baumard et al., 2022; Karandashev, 2017).

Economic Wealth and Romantic Love

Studies suggest that the flourishing of romantic love in literature is a product of economic development in societies (Baumard et al., 2022; Duby, 1994).

Researchers discovered that economic development in ancient societies contributed to the rise in importance of romantic love by combining literary history, cultural evolution, causal methods, and model-based analysis. They demonstrated that higher incidences and prevalences of love themes in narrative fiction are strongly related to regional differences in economic development. The higher levels of economic development in these societies are associated with an increased abundance of romantic love literature in their cultures.

Similarly, anthropological studies have revealed that in horticulturalist and pastoralist societies, which are associated with low economic development, ideas of love for men and women are culturally marginal experiences and expressions. On the other hand, in societies with intensive agriculture and production, associated with relatively higher economic development, love can play a much more important role (Goody, 1998; Gregor, 1985/2008).

The Human Evolutionary Transition to the Consumption of Meat Could Create the Arts

Different interpretations of these findings are possible. Here is one of these possibilities. There is a common saying derived from our evolutionary past that “eating meat created art” in human history. What does it mean?

People in the gathering societies, whose main food was plants, were always busy searching for their subsistence. They were continually hungry. It is because plants provide them with low-energy resources for nutrition. So, people just did not have time to think about art and literature.

On the other hand, eating meat provides a higher energy resource for nutrition. So, people in societies that eat meat could afford to stop and think for some time about something else beyond their daily needs. Since they had not been hungry for a while, they were relatively free from thinking about food. Therefore, they had time to think about art.

Such an evolutionary idea sounds logically convincing, doesn’t it?

How Did Economic Development Increase the Cultural Importance of Romantic Love?

In the same vein, the economic development of a society liberates men and women from the constraints of daily hassles and concerns about subsistence and survival. Therefore, the economic development of societies, along with wealth, brings people freedom from their daily needs and the freedom to think about love. Consequently, these affluent conditions of life increase the cultural importance of love.

So, when individuals have more resources, they change their priorities. Love becomes more important for them than survival. Baumard and his colleagues showed how this is reflected in literature: narratives about war and status become less frequent than narratives about love (Baumard et al., 2022).

Only men and women who did not have to struggle daily for their subsistence and survival were able to think and write about love. They had spare time to write. Or, they had money to pay authors who could write and entertain them with romantic love ideas. And they had leisure time to read about all this. Others’ love is so entertaining to read about when one is affluent enough to relax and enjoy such reading.

For example, the remarkable variability of love fiction across time occurred in these societies.

“during the Roman period in Greece, the Abbasid Caliphate in the Arabic countries, the Heian period in Japan, and the Central Medieval, and Early Modern periods in France and England. In each case, this corresponds to periods of high economic development. By contrast, the level of romantic love appears to be lower in the least developed European areas (Wales, Ireland, Norway, Russia and to some extent Byzantium).”

“The convergence of Eurasian societies can be observed at the end of the time frame. France, England, Japan, India and China all experience an increase in romantic love.”

(Baumard et al., 2022, p. 512).

Who Invented “Romantic Love”?

A great variety of feelings, emotions, motivations, dispositions, traits, and values represent people’s experiences of love. Romantic love includes certain cultural ideas, beliefs, storylines, narrative schemes, and emotions. There are two realms in which romantic love exists: the realm of cultural ideas and the realm of individual realities.

Two Realms of Romantic Love

In the first case, the “ideas of love” are imaginary descriptions narrating “what love can be.” Writers, artists, and musicians use poetry, novels, and the fine arts to express creative narratives of stories, ideas, events, beliefs, and feelings of love.

In the second case, the “individual realities” are the experiences describing “what love is.” People describe love as their individual states, feelings, emotions, dispositions, traits, beliefs, and romantic behaviors.

The focus of this article is on the ideal models of love as they are presented in folk stories, novels, paintings, sculptures, and music portraying “what love can be.” They portrayed romantic love through cultural ideas, beliefs, stories, and depictions of the emotional lives of characters. For hundreds of years, oral folk stories and written novels have been the main ways that the educated elite in many cultures have come up with and spread these ideas about love (for a review, see Karandashev, 2017).

Did Europeans Invent “Romantic Love”?

Literary scholars, philosophers, and other thinkers previously believed that romantic love was a European invention with origins in “courtly love” in the 12th and 13th centuries. The presence and importance of love in European literature were enhanced during the Medieval and Early Modern periods. The ideas, stories, and descriptions of “romantic love” further developed in the following centuries.

Thus, it was once assumed that these European ideas of romantic love were disseminated in other cultures around the world. Recent studies, on the other hand, have shown that Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Persian societies all followed the same cultural patterns of literary evolution, mostly independently from each other.

Extensive research into the cultural histories of many different societies (Baumard, Huillery, Hyafil, et al., 2022; Jankowiak & Fischer, 1992; Karandashev, 2017) has shown that romantic love has existed in many different places and times.

Surprising Cross-Cultural Universality of Literary “Romantic Love”

A group of French and Spanish researchers recently completed a large-scale study that confirmed the cross-cultural universality of romantic love ideas. Nicolas Baumard, Elise Huillery, Alexandre Hyafil, and their colleagues did an amazing job of building an extensive database of ancient literary fiction from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Modern period. They put together the literary data for 77 periods covering 3,800 years of human history and 19 geographical areas of the world (Baumard et al., 2022).

Baumard and his colleagues showed that romantic elements in Eurasian literary fiction have substantially expanded over the last millennium. They also found similar literary boosts earlier, in Classical India, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. The researchers were also interested in learning what kinds of ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural factors play a role in such literary proliferation.

Romantic Love Is Interesting, but Largely for Those Who Are Wealthy Enough to Afford this Leisure

The authors found that higher incidences and a larger prevalence of love themes in narrative fiction strongly correlate with regional variations in economic development. The higher levels of economic development in these societies are associated with the increased abundance of romantic love literature in their cultures. The researchers were able to reconstruct the latent evolution of love. They also evaluated the roles of other facets of economic development and cultural diffusion.

Who and Where Invented “Romantic Love”?

The findings appear to show that romantic love emerged and evolved in various world cultures concurrently. And it happened in their early histories of economic development. Only relatively affluent people could afford to entertain themselves with the idea of romantic love. It is a luxury to contemplate romantic love. So, only men and women who don’t have to struggle every day for food, shelter, and survival could take advantage of such an opportunity.

The Amazing Latin Love and Latin Lovers

The genre of romantic novels has been prolific for recent centuries, not only in Europe but also in the Latin-speaking worlds of Europe and Latin America. The terms “Latin love” and “Latin lover” are commonly associated in the minds of many people.

What Is Latin America?

In public view, Latin love is strongly associated with Latin American and South American countries of the American continent, such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica. The term “Latin America” refers to the countries of that region where people predominantly speak Spanish, Portuguese, and French—the languages of Latin linguistic origin. However, the term is widely overlaps with other terms, such as Central America and South America. Many other countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, may also be considered, in some sense, Latin American ones.

The character of the Latin lover resembles, in some respects, the “macho man”, but only partially.

What Is a “Latin Lover”?

The cultural stereotype of the Latin lover, however, has another origin. The notion of the “Latin lover” first appeared in the writings of Ancient Rome in its original Latin language. The idea and image changed throughout the centuries as the romantic literary genre evolved over time (Johnson, 2009).

The modern term “Latin Lover” was coined early in the 20th century. It became a label for the Italian-born American actor Rudolph Valentino (1895–1926), who was a popular character in several well-known silent films. He was a sex symbol of the 1920s and became an early pop icon. The modern stereotype of a “Latin lover” portrays a romantic, sensual, and passionate man of Latin or Romance European origin.

Is this also true for Latin America? This may also be accurate when considering popular media imagery portrayed in Argentine tango and Brazilian carnivals. Nevertheless, Michael Schuessler (2014), a professor from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, disagrees with this way of interpretation. He noted,

“this a stereotype promoted by people from the United States. There they see the Latin Lover as someone exotic and attractive. In the US, the figure of the Latin Lover was converted into that of a sex symbol, whereas in Mexico it is the reverse. Here the sex symbol is the blond – we Mexicans have always found them attractive. Moreover, the blonde gringas are seen as the ultimate sexual conquest. And we see this a lot in the novels of José Agustín, Ricardo Garibay, a little in those of Carlos Fuentes, such as Frontera de Cristal, in which bedding a gringa is the maximum sexual conquest that a Mexican macho can aspire to. I think this comes from the way many gringas come to have sexual flings with the beach boys in Acapulco. And of course, the gringos do the same…”

Schuessler (2014).

What Does Love Look Like in Latin America?

Many readers familiar with European literature may recognize Walter Scott and Alessandro Manzoni as classic authors of romantic love novels. In the same way, some of the romantic novels published in Latin American literature from the middle to the end of the 19th century present magnificent examples of the romantic literature genre with unique stories of Latin American love. A particular romance has become the “national novel” in almost every Latin American country (Sommer, 1994).

The 20th century was a good time for modern Latin American romantic love writing to flourish (Faris, 1992; Kenwood, 1992, ed.).

Gabriel García Márquez Is Talking about Love

For example, the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014) is probably the most well-known writer of Latin love internationally. He portrayed the Latin American concept of love vividly and wonderfully. The quotes nicely compiled by Frannie Jackson (2014) from several of his romantic novels vividly illustrate what romantic Latin love is:

1. “It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”— One Hundred Years of Solitude

2. “The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

3. “Think of love as a state of grace; not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

4. “It was the time when they loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

5. “There is always something left to love.” — One Hundred Years of Solitude

6. “She had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

7. “Only God knows how much I love you.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

8. “They were so close to each other that they preferred death to separation.” — One Hundred Years of Solitude

9. “There is no greater glory than to die for love.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

10. “The girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.” — Love in the Time of Cholera

(Jackson, April 19, 2014).

Slim Scholarly Knowledge about Latin Love

Romantic novels are well-known worldwide. However, scholarly studies on romantic love in Latin America are sparsely published in English. Therefore, our current cultural knowledge that international scholars have about love in Latin America is fragmentary, patchy, and piecemeal so far (Karandashev, 2017; 2019). Nonetheless, research interest in the topic of romantic love has been growing among Central and South American scholars in recent decades. Therefore, we’ll learn more about what Latin love is in the coming years.

The Recent Evolution of Mexican Marriage

For years, Mexican society has been a collectivistic society, with strong family bonds and cultural values of “familism.” People’s selves were deeply imbedded in family relationships. And both men and women valued their strong connections with family.

Traditional Mexican Marriage

In traditional Mexican communities, marriages have customarily functioned to maintain societal order, bonds of commitment, and social reproduction. The connections of responsibility, respect, and reciprocal obligations hold a family together. Men and women understood relationships and the fulfillment of traditional gender roles as their “real love.” Serving and caring for each other and for the common good of their family was the essence of marital love.

Romantic love is not a prerequisite for marriage. Intimate and companionate love and personal self-expression were of low value. Fulfillment of family duties for the sake of “familism” and good living together was of high value (Hirsch, 2007).

However, in the last 50 years, Mexican society, culture, and daily life have changed dramatically in both urban and rural settings. Men’s and women’s relationships have been transformed due to these cultural transformations.

Evolution of Mexican Marriage in Companionate Relationships

Accordingly, over these decades, Mexican marriages substantially evolved from the bonds of obligation to the bonds of love. The importance of love in premarital and marital relationships has grown significantly. The value of companionate love and relationships in marriage also increased (Hirsch, 2007).

The men and women of the younger generation speak about their marriage style in a new way, emphasizing making decisions together, talking, and spending time with their spouses and children.

Gender Equality in Modern Mexican Marriage

The marital lives of men and women have obviously shifted toward more gender equality. The gendered divisions of family labor are less stereotypical than before. Although some men may not wash clothes or change kids’ diapers, they may get up to get a glass of water during a meal. Many men abandoned traditional machismo ideology, turning to a more egalitarian personal identity. Their masculine power is commonly intertwined with the seemingly more equal division of family labor. They become more involved in housework and caring for their children (Hirsch, 2003, 2007; Gutmann, 1996).

For many women, their gender roles and experiences have also changed. They tend to be more socially involved, work full-time jobs, and visit friends and relatives. They have more decision-making power in their relationships and families. Many couples have changed their communication styles. They are more open to talking about their feelings, communicating more politely, being considerate of one another, and respecting their mutual rights within marriage (Hirsch, 2003, 2007).

Intimacy and Trust in Modern Mexican Marriage

The most noticeable generational differences in marital ideals of love are the increased values of intimacy and trust. Men and women more often communicate with each other and develop intimacy by sharing secrets and kisses. After they are married, they build and maintain emotional and sexual intimacy in their marriage. They view pleasure as the driving force that holds their relationships together.

However, early romantic ideas and relationships do not always carry over to later marriage life. Let us look at the marital life of Gustavo and Veronica. They have been married for just over two years. He works as a stone carver, and she looks after their two-year-old daughter. Here is an excerpt of the interview that Veronica gave to Jennifer Hirsch:

“She told me, laughing, that they first kissed after only two weeks of dating and that he wrote her love letters while they dated. Once they married, she recounted, they had sex several times a day, keeping things spicy with the lingerie he bought her and the porn videos they occasionally watch. Gustavo, in his conversations with Sergio about their marriage, spoke as well about their intimacy, emphasizing not just its physical aspects but the fact that he wanted to marry her, rather than any of his previous girlfriends, because of the quality of their communication and the strength of their emotional connection. There are ways, though, in which Veronica’s early married life differs little from her mother’s experience. She and Gustavo live in a two-room shack, adjoining his father’s house, which Veronica does not leave without his permission. She has no access to the money he earns – and is not even really sure how much it is. On Saturdays when the workday ends early, he will usually bring a kilo of deep-fried pork or rotisserie chicken for lunch – but sometimes he does not show up until the next morning, having left her lunch to get cold in the car while he drinks or plays pool with his friends. If she asks him where he was, he gets angry. Even if he wanted to leave her a message, though, he could not do so; his sisters hate Veronica – saying, among other things, that she is a whore because she worked as a waitress in a restaurant before they were married – and so they do not pass her telephone messages.”

(Hirsch, 2007, p.95).

Remarkable History of Mexican Love and Marriage

Traditional collectivistic societies of the past had greatly interdependent social structures of relationships between people, in which extended families and clans were the major units of society. The strong position of a group was beneficial both for the group and everyone in it. People’s interdependence, as well as the collective family support of each member in those social units, provided numerous advantages for their survival, subsistence, and physical and social security.

On the other hand, this interdependence incurs the obligations of a person to the family. Each had responsibilities for the group’s interests. Therefore, the “self” of each person included the “group”, “family,” and “personal responsibility for the group.” And this part of the “self” in a person’s awareness often precedes their “individual self.”

Mexican Love and Traditional Marriage

Due to this collectivistic psychology of a person’s self, marriages in history have been mostly social and relationship responsibilities of men and women rather than a matter of their individual preferences. Marriages have usually been a system for societal organization, bonds of obligation, and social reproduction in traditional Mexican society.

A family was held together by the ties of responsibilities, respect, mutual obligations, and the fulfillment of gender roles. Love was understood as “practical love” for the common family good. The man was responsible for earning money, while the woman was responsible for cooking, keeping the house clean, washing and ironing clothes, and raising children (Hirsch, 2007). Love was in all these actions of serving and caring for each other and their families..

Marriage was not a matter of romantic love, companionate love, emotional intimacy, or personal fulfillment. “Familism,” as a cultural value, has been the main driving force of Mexican marriage. The notion of love was closely related to familism. Love developed as the result of good living together, not necessarily an ideal to strive for (Hirsch & Wardlow, 2006).

The Half-Century Evolution of Marriage in Mexico

However, over the past 50 years, the society, culture, and everyday life of Mexican people have significantly changed in both urban and rural contexts of Mexico. The cultural transformation of society has also transformed men’s and women’s relationships.

In the period from the 1950s and 1960s up to the early 2000s, Mexican marriages significantly evolved from bonds of obligation to bonds of love. The role of love in premarital and marital relationships has considerably increased.

For example, ethnographic research in a Mexican transnational community conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s revealed a remarkable cultural evolution in Mexican marital values over the last few decades (Hirsch, 2003, 2007). The notions associated with love have gained value for both men and women.

New Ideals of Mexican Love

The ideals of courtship (“noviazgo“) for the new generation of young adults have changed from the emphasis on devotion and respect to a desire to have fun and gain the trust of one’s future partner. The priorities in these ideals have also shifted from the high value of respect (“respeto“) to the high value of intimacy or trust (“confianza“). The values of trust and intimacy in a relationship precede in their priority the traditional cultural concept of honor. Men and women are looking for respectable partners rather than a respectable marriage.

These cultural shifts were especially noticeable in the border areas where transnational Mexican communities live, both in Mexico near the US border and in the Atlanta area of Georgia. Their experience of migration and the influence of North American culture have precipitated the development of love and companionship ideals for marriage (Hirsch, 2007).

However, during the same period of the cultural evolution of Mexican marriage, other relationship tendencies also occurred, and other cultural phenomena played important roles. Due to the influence of modern social media, the role of personal desire and sexuality has heightened. Love and sex are increasingly commodified in public view. Fertility in families declined. (Hirsch & Wardlow, 2006). 

In recent decades, Mexican marriage and love have substantially evolved into companionate relationships.

When Romantic Love Was Real

Romantic love ideas and folk and literary stories filled with love, romance, drama, happiness, suffering, and tragedy have inspired educated people across centuries and cultures. They were fascinating, captivating, and often intriguing. The love stories were engaging and emotionally sweet, bitter, or, more frequently, bittersweet. They attracted the interest of readers and listeners. The romantic fantasies have been delightful. People shared them and talked about them (Karandashev, 2017).

Was “Romantic Love” Real in People’s Lives in the Past?

What about the reality of romantic love? Throughout history, romantic love has been largely a genre of folk tales, literary novels, and art. It was rarely imbedded in the real lives of people. Commoners were often preoccupied with daily subsistence tasks, but in their spare time, they enjoyed oral folktales of love. They were commonly illiterate, so they were unlikely to read love stories.

Moreover, their day-to-day hard work did not leave them much time to think and cultivate romantic love in their real lives. The practical daily love of doing and caring for others was more important than romance. These practical bonds were stronger than romantic ones.

The educated people of the middle and upper social classes had more leisure time to read about and contemplate romantic love. However, their various family obligations of social and economic sorts also did not give them much freedom to entertain romantic love in real life. Socially and economically, they could not afford to listen to their hearts. They needed to listen to their social minds and their reasonable duties. They needed to care more about their family interests than their individual choices. In this regard, they were more like collectivistic people than individualistic ones.

Many kings, queens, sultans, lords, sheiks, and other upper-level aristocracies and gentries could love romantically but could not afford to marry for love. They were tied to my family’s connections and responsibilities. Some dared to live out and embrace their romantic dreams of love, sometimes even getting married for love. Some succeeded, yet many others failed. Many of these true love stories ended in sad and unhappy ways (Karandashev, 2017).

How Did Western Cultures Adopt Models of Romantic Love?

The cultural evolution from conservative traditional societies to liberal modern societies gave men and women more freedom in love and marriage. Some cultural contexts have historically been more favorable to romantic love than others. This is why some cultures, such as France, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Russia, are more romantic than others, like Japan, China, India, and other countries in the East Asian and Middle Eastern cultural regions.

The folklore and literary genres and stories of courtly love emerged in French and Spanish cultures in the 11th and 12th centuries, with certain cultural evolutions in other European countries, such as Germany and Italy. Some literary critics believe these plots of courtly love were the origins of the literary genre of romantic love. I believe it was still courtly love. The real flourishing of romantic love in literary novels and art was in the 17th and 19th centuries in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Russia.

Many men and women in some European countries’ growing educated classes were more independent of social ties and family commitments, as well as economic dependency on their families. Some could afford to love and even marry for love. Their individualistic cultures gave them the possibility of real romantic love. They were more independent as individuals. That gave them the freedom of romantic love(Karandashev, 2017).

How Real Was Romantic Love Across Cultures in the 20th Century?

Only the 20th century allowed romantic love to prevail and even conquer marriage in some cultural regions of the world. Love marriages have become culturally normal in modern Western cultures, such as Western European and European American countries. It became possible because of their high geographic, economic, and relational mobility. Individualistic European American and West European cultures of the 20th century emphasized autonomy and individual choice. Men and women had more possibilities and partners to encounter. They were socially and economically independent, so they could afford to listen to their hearts’ love without social and family obligations. When they loved someone, they wished to marry their beloved.

Many East Asian and Middle Eastern societies have been collectivistic cultures with strong interdependence values. Even though the genres of romantic love were present in those cultural contexts across centuries, the number of romantic literary and artistic examples was lower compared to Western European cultures. Moreover, these were largely romantic dreams rather than romantic realities.

Even in the latter part of the 20th century, people in South-Asian, East-Asian, and Middle Eastern societies had relatively low geographic, socioeconomic, and relational mobility. Their collectivistic social norms underscored the cultural values of harmonious family interdependence and social duties rather than individual freedom. Even though men and women were free to dream about love, they were often not free to love in real life and relationships (Karandashev, 2017, 2022).

The only recent individualistic evolution in those collectivistic cultures has brought many more opportunities for men and women to follow their romantic love.

Bitter-Sweet Nicaraguan Love in a Rural Town

In the traditional patriarchal rural communities of Nicaraguan society, the conservative values of gender inequality and Latin American cultural norms heavily influence feelings about love, relationships, and marriage.

Romantic love, in accordance with the Latin American stereotypes of “machismo” and “marianismo,” plays its role in the premarital relations of young adult boys and girls. Once they are married, their romantic love evolves into customary love. What does marital love look like between a wife and a husband in the rural setting of San Juan, Nicaragua?

Transition of “Romantic Love” into “Real Love” in a Nicaraguan Couple

In the context of Latin American culture, the dating and premarital relationships of Nicaraguan young men and women may appear romantic. However, once they have married, their “romantic love” transforms into the more traditional “practical love” of daily routine. Their romantic love evolves into another kind of love — “customary love” of action and service, “pragmatic love,” or “realistic love.” These notions of love are common in peasant communities where men and women do different but complementary jobs and have different roles (Karandashev, 2017).

These practical views on love have more meaning in rural and agricultural settings, in which a substantial part of the Nicaraguan as well as the Central American population, still lives. Such practical versions of love are more in accord with the subsistence needs of people living in those social contexts. This kind of love is more adaptive to such conditions in life. Men and women have different gender-specific roles and a gendered division of tasks in the traditional patriarchal gender order. Proper gender role fulfillment and work in complementary cooperation are all given top priority. In everyday life, a husband can do his wife’s chores when she is sick, which is also considered an act of love. Serving each other, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, building, and fixing something in the house are actions of benevolence and love for each other and their families. All these things indicate love. This is how love works in a variety of sociocultural contexts (Karandashev, 2017).

This is how, for example, marital love is commonly expressed in the rural settings of Nicaragua and Brazil (Hagene, 2008; Montoya, 2003; Rebhun, 1999).

The Controversies of Patriarchy and Divided Love in a Nicaraguan Rural Community

The patriarchal ways of family life and practical love in traditional Latin American societies, such as Nicaragua, sometimes turn into unexpectedly different family relationships. The rural Nicaraguan community of a small coastal town, San Juan, presents one such example (Hagene, 2008; 2010).

As I noted above, in such situations, Nicaraguan women are economically and socially autonomous from men. They provide for their children and a “visiting husband” with everything that the family needs. They still fulfill their marital and sexual duties to their “absentee patriarch.” Despite being economically independent, they tolerate unequal and unfair relationships with men.

Women give their husbands services in exchange for very little, but they frequently have to deal with their husbands’ violence and infidelity. Many women choose to be submissive to men in the hopes of finding emotional fulfillment in the realm of love (Hagene, 2010).

The alternative of breaking means a “loss” for these Nicaraguan women. They often do not want their husbands to tolerate their infidelity. The discreet infidelity of their husbands, away from prying eyes, is more acceptable to them.

However, they are concerned that people will find out about it and spread the word through gossip. The public exposure of infidelity is distressing. So, women perceive infidelity in public in front of neighbors as upsetting. Otherwise, they are willing to tolerate and accept it as “divided love.”

Gender Relations in Latin American Patriarchy

Traditional patriarchal norms, rural conservatism, and gender inequality in Latin American societies heavily influence men’s and women’s feelings about love, relationships, and marriage. In rural areas of the country, more than in urban areas. The cultural ideas and stereotypes of “machismo” and “marianismo” play significant roles in gender relations in many Latin American countries in Central and South America.

Traditional Latin American Patriarchy and Gendered Values

The “machismo” and “marianismo” cultural norms of Latin America have a significant impact on the relations between Nicaraguan men and women. According to these cultural stereotypes, men are strong while women are weak in various qualities, not only physical ones. Socially, men have more options when it comes to interpersonal interactions than women do.

In general, men have more power, higher status, and more relationship freedom than women. Thus, intergender relations appear initially as they would in a traditional patriarchy. Once again, people in the country’s rural areas are more traditional and culturally conservative in these regards than those in urban areas (Hagene, 2008; Rebhun, 1999).

What Is the Traditional Patriarchy in Latin America?

Many Latin American countries in Central and South America still have patriarchal cultures. Nicaragua is among those. In these countries, society is typically conservative and characterized by inequalities between men and women. This societal structure commonly characterizes classical patriarchy.

Men’s and women’s gender roles in family life are quite different and unequal in several respects. There are persistent stereotypical distinctions between male and female gender roles and family duties. Men are the dominant members of the family, while women are the submissive members. Despite this inequality, both men and women fulfill their respective family roles, with reasonable contributions from both sides. The man provides resources, establishes rules, and manages family issues. The woman stays at home, takes care of her family, and raises her children. Women are dependent socially and economically on men, who provide them and their families with the resources for subsistence. Such dependency relations look like gender inequality, characterizing this patriarchal culture of gender relationships.

Strange Cases of “Absentee Patriarchy” in Latin America

Sometimes, however, patriarchal practice can turn into the structure of family relationships unexpectedly different from traditional patriarchy. These relationships can be called the “absentee patriarchy.” Here is an example of such a “patriarchy” from Nicaragua—a small Central American country located on the land between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Let us consider relations between men and women in the rural Nicaraguan community in a small coastal town, San Juan (Hagene, 2008; 2010).

Men are often romantic in their relationships with their wives until they become married. Then, their “romanticism” stretches beyond their wives. Husbands often womanize and even engage in parallel relationships. Women tend to tolerate such extramarital affairs. The relationship turns into polygyny of some kind when women accept their husbands’ infidelity..

Because a man frequently has more than one wife and family, he can be away from his family for extended periods of time. Nonetheless, he attempts to maintain control over his wife and her life. So, in the reality of marriage and family life, he is like an “absentee husband” and an “absentee father”—the “absentee patriarch.”

In such cases, Nicaraguan women are economically and socially independent of men. They work for a living, do housework, and care for their children, and still, they fulfill their conjugal responsibilities to their “visiting” husbands—the “absentee patriarch.” Thus, women live in a state of tension between agency and subordination to their husbands in their marital lives. They accept such unequal exchanges with men despite having little economic dependency.

How Romantic Love Turns Into Practical Love in Rural Areas

Patriarchal norms, rural conservatism, and gender inequality heavily influence how women in traditional Nicaraguan and Brazilian societies feel in love, relationships, and marriage. The Latin American cultural norms of “machismo” and “marianismo” have a substantial impact on Nicaraguan and Brazilian gender relations. People highly values practical love.

According to them, men are strong, and women are weak. Men have many choices in social relations, while women are limited in their social encounters. Overall, men have more power, higher status, and more relationship freedom compared to women. Thus, intergender relations appear at first like those in a traditional patriarchy (Hagene, 2008; Rebhun, 1999).

Romantic Dating in Rural Areas of Traditional Societies

Thanks to social media, Nicaraguan and Brazilian women and men are familiar with what romantic love is. Many people in Latin America watch “telenovelas,” which depict charming and captivating romantic stories.

Many of these telenovelas are produced by Brazilian, Argentinian, and Mexican cinematographers. They portray romantic love in Latin American cultural contexts, thus imprinting culturally specific scripts and expressions of love in women’s and men’s minds. They naturally and unconsciously incorporate “machismo” and “marianismo” values and behaviors into the way they think and act.

These cultural stereotypes form the scripts and roles that women and men play in romantic and familial relationships. People see romantic love as one in which passion and sexuality are closely intertwined. They still learn what Latin love is and the culturally proper roles of Latin American men and women (Hagene, 2008; Rebhun, 1999).

Traditional Romantic Macho Love

In romantic relationships with women, men show their masculine manners, superior position, high self-esteem, assertiveness, benevolent dominance, and sexual potency. For them, romantic dating is mostly a sexual affair. They take leadership in the relationship. All these behaviors are pleasing to women and appear as romantic conquering. If they like a man, they like to be concurred upon. The “chase and catch” game looks romantic. Thus, they demonstrate themselves as culturally normative Latino men.

In romantic relationships with men, women show their feminine manners, humble status, weakness, shyness, submissiveness, dutifulness, and altruistic dispositions. They willingly accept the men’s leadership and guidance. being agreeable and responsive. Thus, they demonstrate themselves as culturally normative Latina women. They romantically enjoy the man’s wooing and commitment and promise to marry, pair-bond, and have children with her. For them, dating is very romantic due to expectations of marriage, family, and children (Karandashev, 2017).

Turning Romantic Love Into a Practical Love of Service

Romantic dating and premarital love run pleasantly up to the point of marriage. Then, Nicaraguan or Brazilian romantic love turns to the customary practical love of daily routine. Romantic love turns into love as service action. In peasant communities, where men and women do different but complementary jobs and have different roles, this idea of love is common (Hagene, 2008; Rebhun, 1999).

The practical perception of love has much meaning in rural and agricultural settings and can be considered a version of love in accordance with the gendered division of tasks in the traditional patriarchal gender order. Work, proper gender role fulfillment, and cooperation are prioritized. In everyday life, a husband can do his wife’s tasks when she is ill, and this is also regarded as an act of love. In many different sociocultural contexts, doing each other favors indicates love.

Men frequently refer to women’s cooking and other housework as acts of love. As one man commented,

“I can never get to clean a glass or anything because she will do it all for me.”

A woman expressed her perspective on love as action this way: “I remember how he cared for me after I had given birth to our son. He bathed me, combed my hair, and cooked for me.”

This woman did not say that this was an expression of love, but her voice and dreamy smile seemed to indicate it (Hagene, 2008, p.221).

Men and women love in these cultural contexts by doing something good for each other and their families, rather than experiencing and expressing love verbally or nonverbally. They feel love when they consider what they can do for someone else. For them, love is work and service for the common good of the family.

Habits of Practical Love

These notions of love refer to love as a habit or customary love that a wife and husband develop through their day-to-day complementary practical cooperation. Spouses communicate love less frequently through sexual and verbal channels and more in the practical actions of serving each other and their families. What they do for the family is what really conveys love.

In this customary love, the values of emotional experiences and verbal expressions diminish. Intimacy does not play much of a role. In the context of this love, sex is a part of the wife’s housework routine. In this context, a woman may perceive the man’s infidelity as not being as problematic as it appears at first glance. For her, it can endanger the social side of the relationship rather than the emotional one. These family unions are driven more by social than emotional motives (Hagene, 2008; Rebhun, 1999).