Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Romantic Love and the Power of Suggestion


Professor Irving Singer, in a free online MIT course entitled, Philosophy of Love in the Western world, states that romanti doc love as we know it today was practically unheard of in Western culture until it became popularized by wandering French troubadours eight hundred years ago, and further amplified by the invention of the printing press, which publicized the great works of romantic literature such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra ("Hark! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun!" or,"Shall I abide in this dull world which  in thy absence, is no better than a stye?)

With this model held up for all to see, the prevailing expectations of what it feels like to be "in love" evolved in an ever more extreme direction. For many years, one way to write a new hit song was to describe the experience of being in love in more glowing terms than the songs which were popular at the moment. The reviewer of the 1955 movie, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, writing in The Independent on February 8, 2010, stated: "Remember the lyric: 'Once, on a high and windy hill, two lovers kissed, and the world stood still. . . .' It still makes my knees weak."  Today, as products of a culture which glorifies romantic love, we tend to view human experience through these cultural lenses, and choose bits from history which confirm these stereotypes.  

The power of suggestion can do more than simply make us feel weak in the knees. In Victorian times, women were considered to be such delicate creatures that they were expected to faint if the air in a room suddenly became stuffy, or if they were suddenly and unexpectedly kissed by someone to whom they had become attracted -- and many did! 

The effect of suggestion and imitation in producing such a high degree of organismic involvement became dramatically evident shortly after World War II, wh oren the young crooner Frank Sinatra caused legions of teen-age "bobby-soxers" to swoon when he hit his high notes. It is therefore possible to conclude that the experience of "falling in love" as we know it today, and all that goes with it, is also an effect of social modeling and the power of suggestion. 

Suggestion has the power to teach behavior as well as to shape it. In 1933, after moviegoing had reached its height, Herbert Blumer found that many people said that they first learned how to kiss by watching motion pictures. Even today, many people probably still pick up  a few pointers about how and when to approach a partner for that all-important first kiss from motion pictures and from television.

Remember the modeling effect of romantic love portrayed in Romeo and Juliet, and Antony and Cleopatra? Today, searchable data bases of Internet pornography  contain literally millions of submissions, and almost anyone in the world can upload their own contributions to them. The entries are frequently ranked in terms of popularity, so that those which are viewed most often rise to the top. Some of these data bases require no fees, passwords, or proof of age, and are supported entirely by advertising. 

Will today's teen-agers and young adults learn sexual behavior by watching pornography, in much the same manner that people of earlier generations learned how to kiss by watching motion pictures?  Will traditional notions of romantic love be modified to allow a much more permissive model of sexual experimentation? While the exact nature of such chnges is difficult to predict, it is clear that the most popular depictions of pornagraphy, with millions, and sometimes tens of millions of reported views, I
the same influences of suggestion, modeling, and imitation that caused women to faint in Victorian times when a man kissed them, or teen-agers to swoon when Frank Sinatra his golden tones after World Wat Ii, can be expected to have a similar effect on the way that sexual behavior is both l perceived and experienced. 

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