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A hopeless romantic can’t help but dream of their perfect partner, but there’s a negative association with the term that we should change.

My name is Ricky and I’m a recovering hopeless romantic. I’ve been battered and bruised by unmet expectations, the slow crumbling of unrealistic fantasies, and the gradual jadedness of looking for an idealized version of love. In my younger years, I had big ideas and even bigger visions for what true love meant. A love free from pain, a love that offered salvation, a way to rise above the mundane, the struggle and strife of daily life, with someone by your side.

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I’ve experienced the poetically tragic and the ineffably beautiful. And, I’m here to reassure you. Because amidst the hopeless romance, there is hope. Hope for a more mature, balanced approach to love. One which catapults you to deeper levels of fulfillment, doesn’t avoid the tough stuff, and allows you to, paradoxically, get closer to the type of love you may have always longed for.

What Does It Mean to Be a Hopeless Romantic?

couple romantic

It’s likely you already know what it means to be a hopeless romantic. What image intuitively surfaces? The hopeless romantic is an archetype in its own right, playing out over and over in stories, music, film, and poetry. The phrase dates back to around the early 1920s, appearing in a short story collection, to describe the mixture of “ passionate (romantic) yet ineffectual (hopeless) love.”

Dictionary.com’s definition of a hopeless romantic is:

A ‘character type in literature and literary magazines in the 1920 and ‘30s and was used for individuals who easily, recklessly, or repeatedly fall in love or chase after love for love’s sake, even when it’s impractical, unwise, or unseemly.’

A hopeless romantic has high ideas for love and will do all they can to pursue them. Of course, characters we read on pages or see on screen often reflect emotional or psychological processes within; there is truth in fiction. Many of us have the inner hopeless romantic, a yearning to find “the one,” a desire to pursue love at all costs, to place it above all else.

Signs You’re a Hopeless Romantic

couple romantic

It’s likely, if you’re reading this article, you have experienced enough red flags in romance to know your patterns need closer inspection. Above all else, the biggest sign of hopeless romantics is that romantic love, or more accurately romantic drama, consistently takes up a lot of space. Either in being distracted by a new love, engaging in toxic relationships, recovering from conflict, or becoming codependent. Other signs include:

1. You Use Romance Is An Escape

Hopeless romance is immature, to a certain extent. The desire for fairytale romance is naive. Relationships take work. Beyond the honeymoon period of falling in love, a relationship will challenge you to grow and mature. You’ll need to navigate your own shadow, trauma, and defense mechanisms. You’ll need to work on communicating whilst triggered, or overcoming emotional fallouts.

All of this is anything but an escape. In facing someone else, relationships encourage you to face yourself. Hopeless romantics, however, tend to view romance as an escape. The desire for this type of love is a way to bypass difficult feelings, obligations, or responsibilities.

2. You Experience Many Passionate But Short-Term Relationships

Because hopeless romance is founded in an idealized version of love, many people find that, when the going gets tough and the fantasy starts to dissolve, they leave the relationship to pursue someone else. If love doesn’t match expectations, it’s always the relationship’s fault or the other person’s fault. Without self-awareness, this perpetuates the cycle of chasing, falling, and becoming disillusioned. As a result, many hopeless romantics get stuck in a simultaneous state of yearning and cynicism.

3. You Prioritize Romance Above All Else

There’s a difference between prioritizing meaningful relationships and family, from a place of service or love, and the hopeless romantic’s approach to prioritizing. A hopeless romantic will place the pursuit of romance above all else, often leading to codependent relationships that are so intense, and lacking in personal boundaries, other areas of life become neglected. They stop seeing friends or pursuing solo hobbies or interests.

Despite being unhealthy, hopeless romantics get trapped, because their idea of love means giving it everything, being passionate, and making sacrifices. There’s a seed of truth in all of this — love does require giving, passion, and sacrifice. But when it comes from an imbalanced sense of martyrdom, or a need, it becomes unhealthy. 

Is Being a Hopeless Romantic Unhealthy?

The Notebook starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams

Modern portrayals of love emphasize this mixture of passion and ineffectiveness. Forbidden or impossible love makes for a dramatic story. What would The Notebook be without arguments or barriers to love between Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel MacAdams)? Or Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) in the Titanic? Or, stretching further back to the greatest hopeless romance of all, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

Of course, normal isn’t healthy by default. Hopeless romance often comes from a place of innocence. How can you argue against believing in love? Or wanting to find someone to share life with? The question then is, how does hopeless romance surface, and in what ways is it unhealthy, limiting, or holding you back?

I explored all of this in detail through my “recovery” from hopeless romance. Like most hopeless romantics, it got to the point where I knew something had to change because I was experiencing regular setbacks and heartbreak. I sensed I was stuck in various cycles of high expectations and disappointment, and intuitively felt I was placing too much value on my partner.

Impaired Spirituality, or More Satisfaction?

In Facing Love Addiction, codependency expert Pia Mellody explains one of the biggest pitfalls of hopeless romance — making your partner your higher power. By replacing your sense of spirituality or transcendence in a relationship, it’s possible to impair its healthy expression. This leads people to “try harder and harder to manipulate the other person to live up to the mental image they have created — that is, someone who will care for and love them the way they long to be cared for and loved.”

However, it’s not all bad. One study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discovered that people in long-term relationships who had romantic beliefs reported greater satisfaction. According to the study, “romantic beliefs do not appear to foster false or unobtainable expectations for romantic relationships, and the concerns regarding the endorsement of these beliefs may be misplaced.”

The Hope Isn’t Lost in Love

romantic sunset

I promised you there would be reassurance, and here it is — being a hopeless romantic isn’t a bad thing. I know from experience that there’s a temptation to judge yourself when spotting these patterns. How could you ignore the warning signs, and get stuck again and again? Part of the process of growth is to take what works, let go of what doesn’t, and build towards a healthier model of love.

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If you’re single, consider how you can reclaim the power you’ve given to the pursuit of finding “the one”. Know that true fulfillment comes from within. That being said, a deep, intimate relationship requires a mixture of self-fulfillment and giving. Don’t discard or suppress the inner romantic. Give a voice to that part of you, but don’t make it the leader of your inner kingdom.

The eternal optimism of hopeless romantics is something to admire. You don’t have to become cynical or give up, although that is often part of the recovery process. After exploring this within myself, and vowing never to be in a relationship again, I eventually entered a relationship that asked me to cultivate true love. 

It’s not always pretty. But we are growing together, because it’s confronting and grounding, and doesn’t allow us to escape. Best of all, there’s still space for passion, and romance, along with a wider spectrum of experience. The more these barriers and unrealistic expectations dissolve, the more vibrant the essence of romance blossoms. Not as a naive fantasy, but something we allow ourselves to indulge in, an expression that has found its rightful place.

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