If you’re a sucker for rom-coms and believe in love at first sight, you’ve probably been told to lower your expectations. But according to new research from Dalhousie University in Canada, being a hopeless romantic could actually lead to greater relationship satisfaction. The results are published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
To measure how romantic beliefs affects a couple's relationship, the researchers analyzed the responses of an online questionnaire called the Romantic Beliefs Scale. The beliefs included "love at first sight," "soul mates," "love never fades," and "love can overcome all barriers."
Two hundred and seventy participants between the ages of 18 and 28 completed the questionnaire—all of them were dating someone at the time of the survey. Despite the fact that romantic beliefs are popularly thought to create unrealistic expectations for relationships, the results showed that having them was actually linked to greater satisfaction and commitment.
The belief that was most commonly endorsed was “Love Finds a Way,” which meant participants were agreeing with statements that read "If I love someone, I know I can make the relationship work, despite any obstacle" or "If I were in love with someone, I would commit myself to him or her even if my parents or friends disapproved of the relationship.”
“These ideas probably sound pretty familiar to anyone who has ever watched a romantic comedy,” says Sarah Vannier, a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University and lead author of the study. “In our study, love at first sight was the belief that people were least likely to endorse. That said, other surveys have found that 55-60 percent of young people believe in love at first sight.”
To determine how unmet romantic expectations affect a relationship, the researchers also created a measure called the Romantic Discrepancy Scale. The participants filled out the scale three times: the first in reference to their current relationship, the second in reference to their ideal relationship, and the third in reference to possible alternative relationships if they found themselves single again. Unmet expectations were measured by looking at the difference between how people described their actual relationship, and how they described an ideal or alternative one.
“People who described their actual relationship as falling below their expectations for an ideal or alternative relationship tended to be less satisfied and committed to their relationship,” Vannier said.
The takeaway? Though unmet expectations are associated with lower satisfaction, romantic beliefs do not appear to promote these expectations—and might even be helpful if you’re already in a romantic relationship.
“They might help us see the world and our partner through rose-colored glasses,” Vannier said. “Romantic beliefs might also encourage us to act in ways that help us keep the romantic spark alive in our relationships.”