Jordan Gale / The New York Times

January 30, 2022

Hopeless Romantics: A Product of Pop Culture and Experience

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As Valentine’s Day approaches and stores are washed in ravishing reds and pretty pinks to show the affection present around us, we may subconsciously wonder — how does society develop its definition for lovers?

Hopeless romantics are people who cannot help but fall in love with every little thing in life. From the people they pass to the things they stumble upon, everything holds the potential for deep affection. Their innate emotion towards someone or something is to love, because that is how they cope with our random and unexplainable world. Love makes things make sense, even if the complications born from love do not. 

As a hopeless romantic, I know that love is like a magic potion that has the ability to positively transform the world. But where does it come from? And how is it possible to use something as nonsensical as love to process something as equally confusing as life?

A study done by National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the majority of loneliness experienced by young adults is fueled by our cultural emphasis on romance and relationships. From an evolutionary standpoint, love is adaptive. In the earlier generations, love was only second to the goal of marriage. As years progressed, the importance and value of love grew more prominent.

Changes in the American dating process primarily spurred this advancement. In “Choosing Mates – The American Way,” Harvard sociologist Martin King Whyte writes, “In little more than a generation, dating replaced calling as the dominant custom […] Dating involved pairing off of couples in activities not supervised by parents, with pleasure rather than marriage as the primary goal.”  

Whyte further establishes that dating conventions became molded by youth culture instead of adult standards.

The development of love was also dependent on cultural context. Individualistic cultures place a strong emphasis on independence and personal goals  (for example, Chinese cultures place a strong emphasis on personal career goals over fostering intimate relationships). In contrast, collectivist cultures focus on interdependence and working towards collective goals (for example, those in American cultures spend more time understanding their partners and finding common ground). Notions of love and relationships stem from specific societal norms.

In American pop culture, arts put the topic of love center-stage in their projects. Adele’s newest album 30, released Nov. 19, 2021, explores how she perceives love after her divorce. In an interview with Elle, Adele said that 30 allowed her to voice her opinions on love and how she has grown from her past experiences with love.

She said, “It was more me divorcing myself. […] self-reflection and then sort of self-redemption.”

Another recent pop culture project that shaped the philosophy and idea of love is Taylor Swift’s 10-minute extended version of “All Too Well,” a song originally released on the album Red. From accusing her exes of dishonesty in love to showcasing the heartbreaking reality of breakups, Taylor Swift’s masterwork got over half a billion people emotionally screaming her lyrics within days of release. 

Similar to other cultural phenomena, I believe the concept of love is shaped and molded by the artistic culture that we experience every second. Whether this makes a positive or negative effect varies based on the individual. Love can be magnified and romanticized through heartfelt rom-coms and passionate love songs. However, love can also be suppressed and villainized through heart-wrenching movies and emotionally-infused breakup songs. 

Amongst young people, the deluge of passionate content in pop culture and social media has the potential to foment loneliness for those who lack romantic connections in their lives. Yet, love is so subjective and influential that it is near impossible to generalize. Instead of a simple term, love is a collection of memories and experiences. Love could mean something completely different to you and the person beside you.

Hopeless romantics develop our burning passion for love through a combination of their own experiences and the influences of pop culture in diverse mediums of expression. We have frequently been hurt before. We have questioned why certain stories never continued. Every time our expectations are forced to rearrange, our desire for love grows. We fear that the love we wish for will never match the love we receive. Yet, we are not afraid of feeling, or of failing.

Are hopeless romantics weak? 

Well, weak people will give up. Do hopeless romantics give up on someone who brings them happiness, warmness, security and hope? No. Hopeless romantics will pour every ounce of their energy towards that source until they have run out of love to give for the day. Then, they repeat showing their love and energy the next day. And the next. They are not afraid of being hurt because feelings are natural. Feelings make us who we are. As John Green stated, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”

So, no – hopeless romantics are in fact the strongest people you will ever meet. I am proud to count myself among them.