We don’t want to accept limits in our earthly life, and we are constantly reaching for more.Romantic love becomes the way we can expand, the place where we imagine ourselves heroic.Feudal values, based on a system of private jurisdictions, fed the possibility of love for both men and women outside the bounds of marriage.The Renaissance turned things in a somewhat different direction.If we can’t live forever, then we have to fulfill ourselves now.Our individual hopes and desires gain more significance.It’s probably a bit late to be addressing this topic, but the use of romance and sexual insecurity as a hook for selling goods and services is so pervasive that it’s societal Muzak.
One modern romantic dysfunction that a young male colleague laments is that many of his thirty-something male friends screen their romantic partners for whether their male friends will be impressed with them (the attributes at at a minimum being good arm candy, but this is basically a low-end version of the trophy wife syndrome).
Instead of reciprocity, hierarchy was the primary structure of relationships between king and subject, man and woman, and, eventually, employer and employee. For women, love had to lead to marriage and it had better not stray beyond that boundary.
(Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, famously got caught in the crosshairs of this shift.) As the ideal of love as mutuality and reciprocity among men and women declined, love became, in the words of historian Joan Kelly, a “narcissistic experience.” It also reflected a general shift in the conception of the self.
I know a couple in Sydney who had been together 11 years and clearly were deeply attached to each other.
They were also pretty experimental sexually (Australians are much less uptight about these matters than Americans, so it was not hard to connect the dots).
As the Enlightenment loosened religious dominance, people turned to the inspiration of romance as a replacement for what had once been provided by religion. By the 19th century, the decline in the belief in immortality sped the transformation in the way people saw themselves.