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Are Eastern Europeans more shallow lovers?

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

When scientists from New York and Moscow put their efforts together, they discovered a surprising fact: Europeans – at least Eastern Europeans – fall in love differently and view romantic love in a different light than their American counterparts. The quirk finding leaves room for lively debate about the cultural differences between nations.

It turns out that Americans report that the process of falling in love takes longer and that friendship and companionship are important features of a romantic relationship. Fifty eight percent of American participants indicated they fell in love within two months to a year, compared to about 90 percent of Lithuanians who reported falling in love within a month of meeting one another, with 39 percent falling in love within a matter of days.

The researchers surveyed 1,157 adults from the United States, Russia and Lithuania. Participants were given a 14-item questionnaire meant to gauge how they perceived romantic love, and also asked to write a freelist answering the question, "What do you associate with romantic love?" Group interviews were also conducted.

The responses from the survey indicated that most of the Eastern European participants viewed romantic love as fleeting, in contrast to U.S. participants, who saw romantic love as more enduring. "The idea that romantic love was temporary and inconsequential was frequently cited by Lithuanian and Russian informants, but not by U.S. informants," the researchers write in the journal Cross-Cultural Research. The Eastern Europe participants also referred to romantic love as "a stage," "unreal" and a "fairytale."

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Most intriguingly of all, American participants listed friendship and comfort as requirements for romantic love, attributes which were almost never mentioned by Eastern European participants. In fact, the word "friendship" is absent from the more than 500 terms elicited from the Eastern European samples.

The researchers note that friendship is viewed by both groups as a substantive and real relationship, from which can be expected such qualities as honesty, loyalty and comfort. The crucial difference between the two groups seems to hinge on the fact that Eastern Europeans do not view romantic love as having much to do with friendship. Culturally, romantic love is seen as something discrete and distinct from friendship. Thus, romantic love is not expected to yield the kinds of satisfactions that friendship engenders – and vice versa.

Which is the more impoverished view of romantic love is an intriguing question. The results of the survey are not surprising in light of the indelibly more patriarchal stamp in Eastern European culture. In such a culture, we would expect a more segregated ethos in regards to love relations with the opposite gender. In such cultures, men often have stronger friendship bonds amongst themselves, and women tend to be more objectified into feminine stereotypes. In the Anglo-Saxon world, in contrast, women have tended to hold a more equal position within the male culture, making friendship likelier within the framework of a romantic, or even spousal, relationship.

The downside to that state of affairs is that, in our increasingly atomized and individualistic culture, romantic or marriage partners are expected to fulfill every social and intimate role – an impossible, not to mention stressful, task.

The study was carried out by scientists at the State University of New York at New Paltz and Russia's Moscow State University for the Humanities.