Academic journal article College Student Journal

Beliefs about Romantic Relationships: Gender Differences among Undergraduates

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Beliefs about Romantic Relationships: Gender Differences among Undergraduates

Article excerpt

Three-hundred-and-twenty six undergraduates at a large southeastern university completed an anonymous 74-item questionnaire designed to assess beliefs about men, women, and relationships. Significant differences between men's and women's beliefs about romantic relationships were found on eight of 14 items. Men were significantly more likely to believe that cohabitation improves marriage, that bars are good places to meet a potential mate, that men control relationships, and that people will "cheat" if they feel they will not be caught. In contrast, women were significantly more likely to believe that love is more important than factors like age and race in choosing a mate, that couples stop "trying" after they marry, and that women know when their men are lying. Implications and limitations of the data are suggested.

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"Couples that live together first have a happier marriage." "Couples stop working on relationships when they get married." "Women want to control men." These are some examples of beliefs about romantic relationships commonly held by Americans today. Despite the problems that many Americans have maintaining satisfactory marriages, as evidenced by the roughly 4 in 10 marriages ending in divorce (Hawkins, et al., 2002) and the 1 in 5 reporting domestic violence (Field and Caetano, 2005), Americans are romantics at heart. Most of us marry (many more than once). We look forward to doing so, in spite of the erosion of the traditional supports and institutions for courtship and mate selection witnessed in recent decades.

Romantic relationships continue to be a focus of researchers (Hampel and Vangelisti, 2008; Koenig et al., 2008; Lincoln et al., 2008). How people think and feel about these relationships is often influenced by the unrealistic portrayals of love and romance on television (Sex in the City), in movies (Juno), and in popular music ("So Small" by Carried Underwood). College students use television and other mass media for everything from ideas on sexual expectations in romantic relationships to images of marital happiness (Aubrey, et al., 2003; Westman, et al., 2003). Beyond the influence of the media, there is another, broader cultural context shaping romantic relationships today: gender. Gender socialization and consequent gender ideology create different scripts that define expectations and understandings of romantic relationships (DeLucia-Waack, et al., 2001; Laner, 1995) leading to persistent differences in definitions of love (Hendrick, et al., 1984; Sprecher and Toro-Morn, 2002). That men and women use different cultural scripts is at the heart of Gray's blockbuster bestseller on men from "mars" and women from "venus" (1992), however distorted his presentation (Sollie, 2003).

Indeed, we live in a society that has high, often unrealistic, expectations about romance and high ideals for both partners and romantic relationships (Fletcher, et al., 1999). We seek the sexual chemistry and attraction of a "passionate love" while instantly expecting the security, intimacy and comfort that comes from a "companionate love" that develops only over time (Regan, 2003). These expectations, combined with the pressures of living in a geographically mobile, multicultural, and largely secularized society, have changed our view of romantic relationships and our ideas about appropriate partners. In particular, as Laner (1995,9) notes, "We place a relatively low value on broader considerations such as family or community, compared with the value that we place on emotional intensity between partners. We believe, that, as individuals, we know best what traits and qualities we want in our partners." We rarely seek help from traditional courtship structures; rather, we seek romantic partners on our own in other venues.

In these, our most intimate and closest relationships, the stakes are highest. And yet it is in this area where we have the least practical preparation. …

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