The New Marital Aspiration of Brazilian Companionate Love

Traditional gender roles in marriage, familism, and respectful relationships are the cultural values that Brazilian couples strive to live by in cooperation and trust. In many families, husband and wife coexist as partners bound together by their family responsibilities, fulfillment of marital duties, complementarity of gender roles, and reciprocal support. Yet, Brazilian companionate love is becoming the new aspiration of young men and women.

Obligations, duties, and devotion of obrigaço and consideration, respect, and sympathy of consideraço are the cultural norms of Brazilian marriages, which are often maintained in families. Husbands provide and maintain the home, while wives handle housekeeping and raise children. Their household work and chores reflect their implicit feelings of companionate love, like in the Brazilian proverb,

“Love and faith you see in actions.”

Brazilian proverb

The ways of marital and family life, however, may differ between young and older people and between couples living in rural and remote regions of Brazil, small towns, big cities, and metropolitan areas. The current views of men and women on their values and priorities in gender and family relationships reflect the rapid changes they have witnessed throughout their lives. Modern economic relationships influence this transformation. Couples and nuclear families, rather than extended families, are becoming the basic relationship units.

Despite these good cultural traditions of cooperative and companionate love in families, many couples encounter expected and unexpected challenges that they need to overcome. Some of them are expected due to customary Brazilian practices and cultural stereotypes, such as the rigid gender roles of “machismo” and “marianismo”. Other challenges are brought into their lives by the new opportunities of modern society (Karandashev, 2017).

Traditional Gender Roles as Barriers in Courtships and Marriages of Young Brazilians

A passionate Brazilian character may compete with a strict sexual morality code and old-fashioned cultural stereotypes. Marriages among young girls are still common, particularly in rural areas and remote regions of Brazil. Women’s chastity is a family’s honor of high cultural importance. Men marry when they have enough money to provide and furnish a home for a family. They have more freedom to express themselves sexually. They are generally forgiven for sexual indiscretions before marriage.

When it comes to marrying and starting a family, men and women often still follow their traditional gender roles. Gender stereotypes are still prevalent. Men in “macho” roles still have more relationship freedom than women. It is permissible for them to pursue their physical, sexual, and emotional desires. However, many women must uphold their “marianismo” roles and values. When it comes to courtship and relationships with men, they are more reserved and traditional.

Men and women have different economic, personal, and sexual interests. Their stereotypical gender roles are often stamped by their “machismo” and “marianistmo” culturally specific beliefs. So, they may have different expectations in their marriages. However, they rarely talk openly about their relationships and these emotional issues. Therefore, they may frequently encounter disappointment and misunderstand each other. Breakups of marriages occur quite often. It turns out to be easier to end less official, not registered, relationships. Consensual unions are still common among the lower socioeconomic classes in Brazil. Even without marriage licenses and certificates, men and women can live together as husbands and wives.

Surprising Gender Differences in Understanding Husband-Wife Relationships in Brazilian Companionate Love

The personal identities of women are often embedded in their families and social networks. They typically sustain the emotional bonds that hold networks and families together. To meet this need for close connections, they may try to build the same kinds of relationships with their husband.

However, many men think about relationships from different perspectives. They believe that financially supporting a wife is sufficient proof of a man’s love. This really fulfills their obrigaço as their husband’s obligations. They rarely think about developing the emotional intimacies of relationships with their wives.

Consideraço, in the meaning of consideration, can be interpreted differently by men and women in different senses. Many women desire emotional intimacy as a consideration in love. For example, women say that discussing problems together is a sign of affection, companionship, and consideraço. On the other hand, men believe that sparing their wives’ worries about personal problems is considerate. Therefore, they do not understand their wives’ discontent.

Marital Infidelity and Abuse in Relationships

Another problem that many Brazilian wives face is the infidelity of their husbands. Driven by their “macho” stereotypes and passion, men are generally forgiven for their sexual infidelity not only before but also after marriage. Many Brazilian men, as “machos”, may continue to womanize and entertain their extramarital affairs. Sometimes, a young married man may even pretend and brag in front of his male “macho” peers that he has an extramarital affair with another woman (even if he doesn’t) because it is an important cultural stereotype of a macho man.

Married men may even maintain long-term residential relationships with other women at the same time. Although officially married, Brazilian men can still be in unofficial polygamous relationships with other women, being visited by husbands and fathers. This family arrangement, in some regards, resembles the Nicaraguan “absentee patriarchy,” which I described elsewhere.

Secret infidelity relationships, away from prying eyes, can be acceptable for many women. The infidelity that is publicly known by neighbors and relatives is upsetting to them.

Sometimes, women may have to tolerate their husbands’ abuse and violence. They would rather be submissive and obedient; they may even prefer the adversity of being beaten to the risk of being abandoned (Karandashev, 2017).

What Is Special About Brazilian Love and Courtship?

What is love for Brazilians? A wide range of mental associations may come to the mind of a Brazilian woman or man when they hear the word “amor.”

These can be various feelings, emotions, images, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions in which they experience “amor.” These can be in multiple family relationships, social connections, sexual encounters, and emotional relations.

Generally, love is a topic of great value for Brazilians in various sorts and forms of social relationships. Brazilian love begins with the vital importance of family love. Love for them is a bunch of various interpersonal connections in the extended family that is implied in Portuguese “parentela”, which means “relations” and can also mean “family.” Their sense of self-identity is in a familial group. Affective bonds and emotional support permeate their close family connection.

Brazilian Romantic Live Intertwine with Marital Relationships

As for heterosexual relationships, romances, and marriages, the distinction between “paixao” and “amor” arises as of special importance. The personal experiences of paixao and amor can be related and overlap. The Portuguese word “paixo” characterizes the key feelings associated with passionate love, such as obsessive infatuation, strong sexual attraction, and joyous passionate emotions. The Portuguese word “amor” characterizes the key feelings associated with companionate love, such as a calmer, more stable, and deeper experience of love. They frequently can’t tell which of those emotional complexes represents their true love.

The two sorts of love emotions somewhat interweave in the beginning and early stages of an evolving relationship. The joyful rhythms of Brazilian carnivals, music beats, songs, dances, and cheerful erotic outfits seem to predispose men and women to love. The passionate romantic love they feel embraces their lives.

Passionate Brazilians

Brazilians are widely known as cheerful, passionate, erotic, and expressive Latin Americans. Their warm climate and the fact that they evolved as a mixture of Native Americans, Iberians (especially those of Portuguese descent), Italians, and Africans could have made them more extraverted and outgoing people. This may be why Brazilian love emotions are passionate, erotic, and openly expressive. From their behavioral appearance, Brazilians may look like classical Latin lovers, in contrast with reserved Nordic lovers. This cultural image of Brazilians resembles the old-fashioned anthropological stereotypes of South Americans and Polynesians, as expressed in the frequent quote:

“There is no sin below the equator.”

The Brazilian Way of Courtship

This cultural stereotype, however, can be misleading for an understanding of Brazilian love. The Catholic beliefs of Brazilians may have a counterbalancing effect on the real nature of true love in society. For many people in Brazil, like other countries in Latin America, Catholic religious values shape their culture, relationships, and emotions. So, moral conservatism and religious marriage traditions have an influence on the real relationships between men and women.

These gender relations, however, vary in big cities, rural areas, and small towns. In urban regions of the country, men and women can participate in relatively free forms of courtship. Families in rural areas, on the other hand, can still have control over traditional chaperoned courtship. For example, the courting couples go out in groups with their siblings and cousins. Occasional glances and smiles are the major means of courtship. In rural settings, only couples who are officially engaged go out on dates alone. Premarital sexual relationships are restricted. Honor and chastity remain important cultural values.

Nowadays, the modernization of Brazilian society transforms the ways of courtship, especially in urban settings. Dating for young people is easier and freer than before. For many young women and men, their interpersonal attraction and love feelings guide them on their way to marriage.

Nevertheless, men and women continue to take into account practical considerations, family interests, and traditional gender roles when they decide to marry and create their own family. Traditional gender stereotypes persist. Men in their “macho” roles still have more freedom in their relationships than women. Men are frequently able to pursue their physical, sexual, and emotional desires. Women need to adhere to their “marianismo” roles and values.

New Ideals of Brazilian Love

The new ideals of romantic love, however, come to life more and more often than before. Young women and men understand that their love marriages can be idealistic dreams, vulnerable to mistakes because of inequities in social arrangements, the psychological shortcomings of partners, and faulty behaviors. They understand that they can still make the wrong choices and mistakes. They can underestimate the repercussions of their actions. They may “lament their failures in love, nursing their hurts and snarling their angers, in the end they still strive for love. In their own way they achieve it” (Rebhun, 1995, p.260).

Many young men and women are disillusioned by their experiences, while others believe that one day they will find real love and ideal unity. Therefore, they try to talk openly about their thoughts, emotions, difficult interpersonal relations, challenging situations, and various circumstances. They strive to figure out how they feel, what they should do, and what the effects of their actions will be.

What Is the Brazilian Lexicon of Love?

Love and marriage in Brazil have a fascinating history that has been influenced by conquest and slavery during the early European settlements. Following European connections had a substantial impact on the development of Brazilian society, communities, and families. Being a former Portuguese colony, Brazil has had a significant influence of Portuguese culture and language.

Brazilian Portuguese is a Portuguese language that has a substantial regionally and culturally specific lexicon. The vocabulary of love is also interesting to know from a cultural perspective. It has a rich and multifaceted lexicon with multiple meanings and connotations.

What Is Love in the Minds of Brazilians?

In Brazil, the concept of “love” (in Portuguese, “amor”) encompasses a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors characterizing gender relations, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The meanings and emotions associated with the word “amor” are ephemeral, ambiguous, variable, and transient.

Brazilians are frequently unaware of their own feelings. When they try to understand and explain what they and others feel in relationships, they are often unclear, elusive, and figurative in their verbal expressions.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Varieties of Brazilian Love Words

Brazilians utilize various words when they refer to different kinds of love, relationships, and emotions. Among those are, for example, amor (love), paixão (passion, infatuation), amor verdadeira (true love), amor da mãe (mother love), and consideração (consideration). In recent decades, the Brazilian love lexicon has been enriched by new love words, such as “lόvi,” in the meaning of modern love, and “amor da novela,” in the meaning of “soap opera love.”

The Modern Lexicon of Brazilian Romantic love

Nowadays, the social life of Brazil, North American mass media, and Brazilian soap operas (telenovelas in Portuguese) have introduced people to the new realities and vocabulary of love. Due to the popularity of the Brazilian amorous telenovelas, the language of love today is more romantic than it used to be.

The romantic telenovelas portray the beautiful situations when loving couples look passionately and deeply into each other’s eyes, sentimentally declaring, “Ai lόvi iú.” This English saying is now everywhere in Brazil. This way, the new term “lόvi” came into the lives of Brazilians, enriching their emotional experiences. In other words, this kind of love is called “amor da novela”, whichin English means “soap opera love.”

The lόvi kind of love describes a mixture of Brazilian amor and paixão that is characterized by emotional interdependence, the verbal declaration of affection and tenderness. The lόvi embodies the magnificent images of the merging souls and bodies of lovers (Botas, 1987).

The lόvi, as a mixture of amor and paixão, brings together several love feelings. This kind of love includes the romantic emotional experiences of paixao with its passion and infatuation. It also embodies the wonderful fusion of two hearts. It represents the selfless devotion and self-abnegation of lovers and the adoration of marriage.

The Brazilian Lexicon of Romantic and Companionate Love

This lόvi kind of Brazilian love focuses on the primary significance of passionate attraction, emotional intimacy between lovers, and expressive facets of love. Both the infatuated passion of paixão and the deep, true feelings of amor are mixed together in this romantic love.

The lόvi also admires the loving man and woman as a wonderful couple. Lόvi is also viewed as a vital affective basis for marriage. This romantic love of lόvi paves the way to the essential features of companionate marital love that are based on “obrigaço”, meaning “obliga­tion”, and “consideração,” meaning “consideration.”

How Brazilians Distinguish Between Passionate Love and True Love

The Brazilian Portuguese word “amor,” which means “love,” refers to a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize gender relationships, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The challenges, however, arise when people distinguish between the “paixao” and the “amor” kinds of love. When they try to explains what these notions mean and how they differ, they are often uncertain, vague, and offer inconsistent explanations.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Brazilian distinction between paixao and amor love

The Brazilian lexicon of love distinguishes between paixo as passion and infatuation, associated with the tumultuous emotions of sexual attraction, and amor, as stable and deeper feelings of love. Nevertheless, for many, it is difficult to tell the subtle differences between paixao and amor. They are not always sure which one is true love. People may find it especially challenging to identify these feelings in the context of their personal emotional experience. As they say, the subjective experiences of paixao and amor are very similar. It is especially challenging to distinguish between these love emotions when a relationship is just in the beginning. At these early stages of encounters, the two feelings are intertwined together.

As American Professor of Anthropology Linda-Anne Rebhun noted from her study in Northern Brazil, when people tried to differentiate their descriptions of amor and paixao, they often used similar wording. For instance, as a twenty-five-year-old man said,

Amor is when you feel a desire to always be with her, you breathe her, eat her, drink her, you are always thinking of her, you don’t manage to live without her. There are moments when you will adore staying with her, and there will be moments when you will hate to stay with her. And about paixão, you feel an attraction as if it were a rocket: I want to hug you, to squeeze you, to kiss you. But this is not love, it’s horniness, a very strong sexual attraction for a person”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.254).

This Is How Brazilians Explain What Love Is

For many Brazilians, it is challenging to say whether what they are feeling is true love or merely paixão. They say that they can’t always tell what they’re feeling when they’re in love. Sometimes they realize that they love someone only later, when their relationship ends. They recognize that they thought they hated him or her. Actually, it turned out they loved them but didn’t know it or didn’t want to acknowledge it.

As a twenty-six-year-old man put it,

“Generally, paixão is shorted-lived while amor is more enduring and lasts much longer. Now, amor and paixão, they walk together, but before the end of the road, paixão, it stops walking. But amor goes the whole distance, no matter how difficult the road, amor walks with you, and if you fall, amor carries you.”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Brazilians characterize paixão as prone to more idealization than amor. Therefore, being in paixão, a lover is at great risk of disappointment and disenchantment. As a twenty-eight-year-old man said,

Paixão is that fantasy, that you see the person and start to imagine how they are. But with time the impression changes and one becomes disillusioned, and goes looking for another person to idealize, always thinking, “This is her! This is the only one!” But it never is, because it is imaginary”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Or, as another man of nineteen-years old commented,

Paixão is a temporary sentiment. It doesn’t last forever. It is only something that we beautify about someone. We idealize them, but that is temporary. At times paixão is the deceiver because it seems like amor. But paixão is quick, it is also very greedy; it only wants for itself. Paixão is where jealousy exists. Amor does not have jealousy, it lasts forever. It is certain. But paixão is unsure, and uncertainty is what breeds jealousy”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

How Do Brazilian Men and Women Differ in Their Understanding of Love?

Both Brazilian men and women discern between the words paixao and amor, although men appear to be more confused and puzzled when they need to distinguish between the meanings of these feelings of love. Many men acknowledge that true love can exist for more than one woman at a time, although women strongly deny this possibility. They believe that amor is only monogamous and committed feelings. In the same vein, some married men believe that their affairs will not endanger their marriages because their feelings for the “other woman” are “paixo”, whereas their feelings for their wives are “amor“.

Concerning this point, many women see this male mentality as a sign that they are incapable of experiencing true love. Women believe that paixão is youthful, immature feelings, while amor is a mature and committed emotional experience. Many women say that their feelings for their spouses evolve with time in their relationship and marriage. Some women believe this transition occurred due to their own personal maturation rather than because of the change in their paixão.

In recent years, the modern Brazilian understanding of the relationship between paixão and amor has evolved. People believe that these two kinds of love can merge together when sexual passion fuses with true love in marital relationships.

The Paradoxical Type of Latin Macho Man

The type of macho man has become a well-known cultural label, characterizing the typical image of a Latin man. This stereotype commonly describes a strong man with certain attributes of masculinity, such as demanding respect, assertive attitudes, domineering behavior, and the wiliness to control others, especially women. The man exhibits these typical “macho” traits in relationships with women before and after marriage.

This macho role is a Latin version of manliness that has historically been embedded in many patriarchal societies throughout Central and South America. The role of the macho man is balanced by the role of the marianista woman in the Latin American hierarchical structure of gender relations. In these cultures, men play dominant roles while women play submissive roles in gender relations.

Patriarchy in Latin Families

The classical versions of patriarchal families are widespread in many traditional societies across the world, often in Central and South America. In this family structure, men and women perform unequal yet complementary roles in the family.

The husband provides his wife and children with income and resources, secures their protection, and performs the manly chores. They often have a decisive role in family matters. On the other hand, the wife does a lot of womanly housework: cleaning, washing laundry, cooking, caring for their children, and providing daily service for her husband. These gender roles in patriarchal families are traditionally and rigidly determined.

The man’s and woman’s contributions to family life may look relatively equal. Both the husband and wife play complementary and seemingly equitable roles in family functioning. Yet somehow, it is deemed that the man’s family role and position are higher than the woman’s role and position. It is thought that the man is the “head” of a family. People have different ideas about whose role is more important and whose is less important, and who is more independent and who is more dependent.

The patriarchy of family relations in the past was related to issues of property inheritance. However, in recent times, it has been largely viewed as a man’s power to keep commanding, deciding, and controlling positions. “Patriarchy,” in this case, means a male-headed household. Many wise women, however, manage to respect such a “head” role in their husbands while still turning their “heads” in the directions they want.

These kinds of patriarchal family relations and gender roles have been traditionally widespread in many Central and South American countries. Nevertheless, in recent decades, another paradoxically strange type of patriarchal family has appeared in many Latin American societies and communities in that region.

Absentee Patriarchy

In Latin America, however, the dynamics of gender relations and roles are determined by the frequent incidence of female-headed households. Some scholars note that these were quite common forms of families in Central and South America for a long time (Dore, 1997; Hagene, 2010).

Despite their traditional subordination to men, many women have not relied financially on their spouses. Their headship of families and their economic independence have been a source of autonomy for Latin American women. Nevertheless, women continued to maintain their subordination in the household (Dore, 1997). Thus, in female-headed families, a woman’s economic independence and autonomy do not diminish a man’s dominance.

This family organization is referred to as an “absentee patriarchy” by Hagene (2010). A man is largely physically absent from the family but still tries to control much of the woman’s life. In family relationships, the man forces the woman to rely on him by threatening to leave her. They frequently do so, in fact. Such an ambiguous relationship can be called love, but only in one sense. This is the type of love that the woman refers to as amor compartido. This term refers to a man who has another lover and sometimes a second family.

Why do such unusual gender roles keep spousal relationships going?

Women-headed Families in the Nicaraguan Community of Central America

Researchers have found that the reasons women still subordinate themselves to men are more emotional than economic, stemming from their desire for intimate connections and their longing for close relationships. The Nicaraguan families from a rural town vividly depict these cases (Hagene, 2010).

The macho rules can make young men romantic in courtship. However, in marital relationships, the macho code of behavior suggests that women are supposed to serve men. Their gender norms, however, allow men to do whatever they want. They are free to go outside and socialize with other men at any time. They are free to drink and womanize.

Women tend to overlook their husbands’ misbehavior. They forgive their spouses’ actions and infidelity, justifying them with their macho roles. Many women believe their womanizing is due to their sexual drives, which are a part of their “male nature.”

At the same time, women continue to display their submissive and nurturing “marianista” character. They uphold virginity standards by fulfilling their gender roles as “good women. “Besides, their actions and relationships are reinforced by “social censorship,” “community control,” and “gossip” (Hagene, 2010).

Thus, women in these Nicaraguan households have significant control over their family’s economic and religious affairs. They are, nevertheless, emotionally and socially dependent on men to some degree (Hagene, 2010).

The Important Merits of “Marianistas” in Latin America

The cultures of Central and South American societies are substantially derived from colonial and Catholic traditions. So, this history shaped customary gender inequalities and patriarchal family organization in the countries of that geographical region. But the way people lived in these societies also led to certain cultural stereotypes about the roles of men and women in Latin America.

These roles refer to the cultural ideals of “macho”—describing the traits of proper manhood for men that are called “machismo,” and “marianistas”—describing the traits of proper womanhood for women that are called “marianismo.”

Here I review in more detail the major cultural virtues, merits, and beliefs about what proper “marianistas” are supposed to be.

What Are the Main Virtues of “Marianistas” in Latin America?

The key virtues that distinguish marianismo from machismo are spirituality and purity. Macho men are assumed to have moral flaws in their character and behavior. Therefore, morally proper women are supposed to balance out men’s less-than-holy roles.

The concept of “marianismo” originally referred to the religious devotion to the Virgin Mary (María in Spanish). She is regarded by Catholics for her virtues of moral righteousness, spiritual self-sacrifice, and suffering. The Virgin Mary is a marianista role model for Latina women.

The cultural values of “marianismo” of Latino women revere the feminine moral qualities of interpersonal harmony and the feeling of inner strength. They advocate for women to maintain their sexual purity, chastity, feminine passivity, familism, self-silencing, and self-sacrifice.

What Are the Beliefs of Marianista Women?

According to the ideals of “good women,” marianistas must adhere to specific moral beliefs. Among the key marianista beliefs are the following:

Being Spiritual

The Catholic spiritual values of marianista women put them in a special role. Latin American women are semi-divine, morally superior to men, and stronger spiritually than men. Therefore, they have duties, responsibilities, and abilities to lead their families in religious practice and spiritual growth. They should be “good wives” and “good mothers.” 


The concept of “familismo” refers to a person’s strong identification with and attachment to his or her family, both nuclear and extended. In Latino cultures, both men and women are expected to value their families, yet the ways in which they do so differ depending on gender norms.

Men are supposed to offer financial resources, safety, and leadership. On the other hand, women are expected to provide emotionally and physically by raising children and performing domestic labor. Proper marianista women should provide strength to families by ensuring their unity, health, and happiness. Latina women adhere to traditional values of keeping “family issues” within the family. For example, they are discouraged from discussing relationship abuse in the family with others. This way, they protect their families’ reputations.


The concept of respeto characterizes the respect of a proper relationship and the attitudes of duty, obedience, compliance, and deference that a person adheres to others in a hierarchical family organization. These attitudes maintain orderly family relations and proper behavior in interpersonal situations. Members of the family should not speak against those who are higher in status.


The marianismo virtues teach Latin women to keep their personal thoughts, feelings, and desires silent and unspoken. Latina women believe that “keeping things inside” and withholding them lets them stay away from disagreements in relationships. The adverse side of this attitude of suppression is the higher risk of anxiety and depression. This belief encourages women to be tolerant in any type of family relationship, even violent and abusive ones.


The concept of “simpatía” describes the high values of kindness and keeping peace in relationships. The simpatía attitude of marianismo suggests women restrain assertiveness and prevent disagreements for the sake of maintaining harmonious relationships.

The Culture of “Marianismo” in Latin America

Many sociocultural conditions in Central and South America derived from colonial and Catholic traditions have significantly influenced gender relations, love, and marital partnership in many countries in that geographical region. The Latin American cultural ideas of “machismo” and “marianismo” are two traditional stereotypes of manhood and masculinity for men and womanhood and femininity for women.

The Latin American notion of women’s “marianismo” is commonly contrasted with the cultural notion of men’s “machismo.” In the traditional patriarchal societies of Central and South America, these cultural ideas have been around for a long time.

Gender Roles in Latin American Patriarchal Cultures

Gender roles in traditional Latin American cultures are unequal and strictly imposed. In their patriarchal societies, men’s roles include responsibilities for resources, management, and the protection of the family. They often have decisive power in family relationships. These roles presume their higher status, independence, and dominance in family matters.

On the other hand, in the patriarchal societies of Latin America, women’s roles include responsibilities for many household services, such as cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking meals. They are supposed to serve food, water, and many other services in the house. Many women consider having sex with their husbands an act of service to them. Women are responsible for childbirth and their upbringing. They are the primary caregivers for their children. These roles presume their lower status, dependence on men, and submissiveness in marital matters.

The “Marianismo” Cult of the Virgin Mary

Spirituality and purity are the key virtues distinguishing marianismo from machismo. It is assumed that macho men are morally flawed. So, in Latin American culture, the ideal woman is set up to balance out the less-than-holy role of men.

The notion of “marianismo” is strongly related to Catholicism, the dominant religion in Latin America. These religious values directly shaped the cultural ideal of feminine “marianismo.” The Virgin Mary is regarded as the quintessential marianista. Latin women are supposed to follow the virtues of the Virgin Mary and acquire the traits she possessed, such as her moral righteousness, her suffering, and her spiritual importance. The Virgin Mary is regarded as the role model that Latina women and girls should follow (Gil & Vazquez, 2014; Morales & Pérez, 2020).

Generally, marianismo is a “cult of feminine spiritual superiority, which teaches that women are semi-divine, morally superior to, and spiritually stronger than men” (Stevens, 1973, p. 91).

What Are the Cultural Ideals of “Marianismo”?

Marianismo is a set of beliefs and psychological feelings that are deeply imbedded in Latinas’ cultural experience. To accept the “marianista role,” women must accept their fate as mothers and wives. They must be willing to tolerate the demands of motherhood. They should live in the shadow of their husbands and children, supporting them in any way necessary. The ultimate self-sacrifice of the woman is at the heart of marianismo. A woman’s self-worth is largely determined by what she can do for others (Gil & Vazquez, 2014).

This Latin American folk cultural idea of “marianismo” praises the feminine virtues of women, such as their faithfulness, modesty, purity, submission, motherhood, and self-giving. Among those “marianismo” traits of women are also female passivity and sexual purity.

According to these cultural values, women are supposed to be nice, kind, docile, and unassertive. They are expected to take care of the house by cleaning, cooking, caring for children, and serving their spouse. The role of being a good mother is valued more than the role of the wife in family relationships. The “familism” value is among the highest in Latin America. Latina women who are strong marianistas are respected for their devotion to the family. In Latin American societies and in the Latin communities of immigrants, women are still socialized in this manner.

In marital relationships, Latina women must be submissive and obey their husbands. It is difficult to develop an intimate partnership and companionate love between husband and wife in such an unequal marital relationship.

Who Is “Macho” and What Do Machos Do in Latin America?

The words “machismo” and “macho” originated in colonial times in Central and South America and characterize the key Latin American attributes of manliness. A modern understanding of “machismo” includes the assertion of male dominance in everyday life. This cultural stereotype of Latino machos includes dominating their wives, controlling their children, and demanding respect from others in the household.

The Macho Roles of Men in Patriarchal Societies

The term “macho” and associated cultural ideas were entrenched in the patriarchal societies of the past centuries. They were also related to the inequality of gender roles typical of the patriarchal system. In such cultures, men have strong and subordinate roles, while women have weak and subordinate roles in family relations.

In classic patriarchy, men and women have unequal hierarchical relationships in the family. Men have high status because of the resources they bring, the protection they provide, and other male household maintenance. In exchange, they have stronger power to make decisions on family issues, and they receive daily service for their needs from women (Stern, 1995). The household roles are strictly and rigidly gendered.

Man as “Macho” and his “Machismo” Traits and Behaviors

According to patriarchal values and norms in Latin America, “machismo” is a folk notion that assumes certain characteristics and rules of manliness and manhood. Men must be assertive with their power, dominance, standoffishness, defensiveness, and aggressive qualities in their behavior. For instance, according to the Mexican writer Paz (1961),

“The speech of our people reflects the extent to which we protect ourselves from the outside world: the ideal of manliness is never to ‘crack,’ never to back down. Those who ‘open themselves up’ are cowards.”

(1961, p. 29).

The cultural ideas of “machismo” traits and behaviors can have both positive and negative connotations in people’s minds. A man’s status as a “macho” is typified by such characteristics as bravery, courage, valor, and masculine pride. However, “machismo” is frequently described as hyper-virility and aggressive masculine traits. The corresponding behaviors are expected of Latino men in those societies and gender relationships.

“He is power isolated in its own potency, without relationship or compromise with the outside world.” (Paz, 1961, p. 82).

The Image of “Macho” and Gender Relations

The cultural roles of “macho” determine certain types of a man’s relationships with other men and women.

The manliness and social expectations of “macho” limit a man’s ability to communicate with others, especially with women. The role of “macho” requires them to show their male group solidarity. They also need to demonstrate their power, status, and masculine reputation in front of other men. The failure to demonstrate these macho attributes is detrimental to their reputation and self-esteem.

Machos adhere to traditional gender roles and believe they are superior to women. Their complex of “machismo” can have an impact on their love relationships with women in both positive and negative ways.

The positive implications of machismo allow the proper Latin man to be a good role model. One of the positive sides of the machismo image is caballerismo, which includes such traits as leadership and protectiveness. In addition to these positive attributes, “macho” men can be caring, nurturing, and compassionate. These qualities, however, may not be well noticed by others. It is because, despite their honest intentions and deeds, traditional gender roles expect them to adopt the “macho” cultural image for outsiders.

Latin American novels often portray how the basic features of the classical macho impede true and sincere love and intimate relationships between men and women (García Márquez, 1981/1983; Rulfo, 1955/1994). Separation and miscommunication, typical of this kind of manliness, inhibit the development of men’s genuine and heartfelt relationships with women, thus making a real union and affiliation between man and woman unattainable.

The “Macho” Stereotype of Sexual Potency

In Latin culture, the role of macho means physical strength, strong sexual power, self-confidence, and a bold approach toward women. The stereotypical “macho” images exaggerate men’s sexual vigor and paint a picture of a man as a ruthless conqueror who has a lot of power and is hard to control.

The playboy stereotype of machos portrays men who are okay with sexually aggressive behavior toward women. They allow themselves to be physically, sexually, and mentally abusive toward women. It is culturally acceptable for men to gain pleasure from pursuing women.

It is also appropriate for men to engage in adulterous relationships. According to the Latin social norms of “macho,” married men are free to have extramarital affairs, whereas women are expected to be faithful.

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.

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.