Research report on Psychology
For answering the research question, two heterosexual persons were interviewed to understand their notions and experiences of romantic love. The persons were selected based on existing contacts in the researcher’s social circle. One participant was an unmarried female around 30 years who had her last romantic relationship 10 years ago. The other was a married male around 28 years old, with a small child. His romantic relationship was the one with his wife around 7 years ago.
Data for the research was collected through semi-structured interviews. The participants were informed about the aim of the study and the interview date and time. They were provided the questions in Appendix A before the interview. An interviewer agreement form was signed. They were told that they could discontinue the interview any time they felt distressed or uncomfortable, or for any other reason.
For conducting the interview, an interview schedule was prepared, and the participants were selected and interviewed on the particular date. The participants were informed that their answers would be voice recorded and transcribed verbatim, and the recordings would be deleted after transcription. They were clearly informed that the interview was voluntary and utmost confidentiality of the responses and identity of the participants would be maintained. The research was conducted only after the approval from the ACAP Human Research Ethics Committee. The transcripts of the two interviews are attached as Appendix B.
The responses to the semi-structured interviews were transcribed verbatim and subjected to thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is a method that helps identify, analyse and report themes in a data. It helps in detailed organization and description of the data. It starts with identification of codes or interesting features of the data. The codes are subsequently organised or grouped into themes. A theme refers to an important aspect of the data with respect to the research question and may be identified within the obvious meanings of the data. The themes are analysed for interpretation (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Repetition of thoughts or patterns in the data is one method to identify the themes (Ryan & Bernard, 2003). Thematic networks or illustrations help summarize the dominant themes in the data (Attride-Stirling, 2001). Thematic analysis is particularly suited for analysis because romantic love is an emotion and is, therefore, not observable. It can be interpreted in terms of how people talk about it. In this research, semi-structured interviews with probing questions helped elicit analysable responses from the participants. Subsequent analysis of data helped identify patterns and themes in the responses that were amenable to further analysis (Schäfer, 2008).
The researcher in this project is a young Australian college student. The persons interviewed are also from Australia and had their most profound romantic experiences at a similar age. Consequently, there is a possibility that there may be similarities between the researcher’s notions about romantic love and the interviewees’ understanding about the same. The researcher believes that romantic love starts with physical attraction and, if reciprocated, moves to the next stage of romantic love. The feelings are great and the misery of heartbreak is terrible. The researcher also believes that romantic love is only the initial phase of love and does not last forever. This is because we stop pretending after a while and come to know about each other’s real personality. We also lose the physical attraction. However, there are romantic days (e.g. an anniversary) or periods in a long-term relationship, though they are much less frequent as time passes by. The researcher also believes that theory cannot possibly create a universal definition of romantic love that is applicable to all persons from all cultures at all times. Romantic love has idiosyncrasies for different people. The researcher is, consciously or unconsciously, looking for a confirmation of her notions about romantic love and the limitations of theory in confining it to an all-encompassing definition.
As evident from the interviews, a layperson’s understanding of romantic love has some essential elements. A layperson associates romantic love with physical aspects, such as passion, sex, kissing, holding hands and being together. Communication and expression of love are also essential. Therefore, it is important to spend time and make efforts to be together and to do nice things. It involves great feelings. There is a desire to love the other person all the time. It is a type of love, and apparently the best one. There is an expectation or a desire for it to last forever. However, there is a realization that purely romantic relationships are transient. Romantic love has its moments in a long-term relationship as well, but it is not consistent. In fact, it is not that important after a while. It also fades away because of unrealistic expectations by the partners and the loss of interest in the activities required to sustain romantic love.
The need for romantic love arises due to the human need to be loved and to love. Romantic love provides an assurance that one is loved. It helps escape reality and enter the fantasy world, which appears deceptively real. An easy going and realistic partnership can help sustain the romance for longer. There is an expectation that it will last forever. However, romantic love can be a false feeling as well. Failures lead to shock and may even increase the lust for romantic love. One is particularly vulnerable to romantic love at a younger age when there is lack of clarity about what one wants. The notions about romantic love are influenced by movies, and commonalities with the partner accentuate the effect. Past relationships influence notions about romantic love, especially due to the expectations of the erstwhile partner. Romantic love is considered a phase and a type of love, not necessarily the right kind of love. The codes or the interesting features identified in the responses indicate that romantic love has some drivers (e.g. physical and emotional needs). It is essentially unrealistic, it requires effort to sustain romantic love and it is transient. In the context of the research question, the underlying themes and sub-themes are presented in the table A below.
What is an adult layperson’s understanding of romantic love?
A desire to love
Belief that it is the best type of love
Talking about each other’s lives.
Expressing love through words
Time spent together
Effort at being nice
Money for expressing the love
On & off
Not necessary on a continuous basis in a long-term relationship.
Can be false
Just a type of love, not the only one.
Assurance of being loved
Supportive factors / influences
Two of the main themes, namely physical attraction and the nature of romantic love, are discussed below. Firstly, the participants accorded high importance to physical love as an essential element, and even a prerequisite for romantic love. This is evident from the following statements. “..that’s when 2 people have a passionate sexual relationship”, “Kissing and all that good stuff”, “Romantic love to me is that passion to want to be with each other in that sexual way” and “Romantic love is passion, extreme love, willing to go over and beyond, sweet, time consuming, sex”. Further, the participants believed that romantic love was unrealistic, a type of love, a phase, and it did not last long. This is indicated by the following statements. “I had it once but that only lasted 1 month”, “He just stopped being romantic. I think he lost interest trying or had another girlfriend”, “Romantic love is not always consistent”, “not always realistic” and “It has its seasons or times it shows up. Romantic love out of all other types of love is something to me that is an on and off type of love”.
Overall, the findings of this research are consistent with the literature discussed in the introduction. As Gibson (2015) asserts, romantic love is a phase of love. Physical attraction is often a vital ingredient in the mix, but commonalities are also important. However, long-term sustenance requires long-term compatibility and romantic love alone is not sufficient (Gibson, 2015). Braxton-Davis (2010) also emphasizes on the importance of personality traits in long-term love. Sexual undertones of romantic love are also confirmed in the study by Galperin & Haselton (2010). Schäfer (2008) also acknowledges the biological basis of romantic love and the influence of stories and past experiences in its development. Further, romantic love is irrational, transient, but leads to elation. Sailor (2013) further highlights the fleeting nature of romantic love, though he asserts that the influence wears of gradually.
The main findings of the thematic analysis are that a layperson views romantic love as strongly linked to physical aspects (e.g. sex, passion, physical intimacy) and believes that it is short-lived. Further, transience of romantic love is accepted. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that romantic love is strongly linked to physical attraction. Further, it requires time and effort to be maintained. These two factors indicate that romantic love is quintessentially unrealistic and is, therefore, more vulnerable to transience. To conclude, there is an acceptance that romantic love is dependent on physical aspects and it is short-lived. Due to the transience of romantic love, the desire for a long-term romantic relation may eventually lead to disappointment. It is important to understand that romantic love is exciting, but it is not what matters in the long-run. In essence, one cannot depend on romantic love to sustain a long term relationship. This is because romantic love is transient and unrealistic. These conclusions can help people, especially young adults, to avoid sole focus on romance as a measure of the strength of heterosexual relationships.
The main strength of the study is that data was gathered using semi-structured interviews. This helped the researcher delve in more detail about a layperson’s understanding of romantic love through probing questions. The thematic analysis process helped interpret the feelings of the participants by proper organization. However, one main limitation of the study is that both the participants were around the same age (around 30 years) and had only one romantic experience. Hence their perspectives are essentially those of young adults with limited experience of romantic love. This makes it difficult to generalize the findings.
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