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  • Cited by 69
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: October 2014

2 - The Emotions of Romantic Relationships: Do They Wreak Havoc on Adolescents?


Romantic emotions can grip adolescents' lives. A 14-year-old reports feeling so in love that he can think of nothing else. A 15-year-old is distressed that “everyone has a boyfriend but me” and broods for hours in her room. Another girl finds herself in a passionate lesbian relationship and feels elated, affirmed, and “chosen.” And a boy reports feeling so enraged by the betrayal of his girlfriend that he is obsessed with thinking up ways to hurt her.

Western thought has long been ambivalent about the role of emotion in human behavior. On the one hand, we have praised and idealized deep feeling. It is the motif for much of our entertainment in novels, television, and film. On the other hand, we have been suspicious about emotions and the disruptive effects they are believed to inflict upon rational thought and action; Kant (1798/1978), for example, referred to emotions as “diseases of the mind.” This same ambivalence is manifest in our society's attitudes toward adolescent romance and the emotions that surround it. We sentimentalize young love and the joys and pains that accompany it, yet we also view it with suspicion as a set of affairs that can play havoc with young people's lives.

What is indisputable is that emotions related to romantic relationships constitute a substantial part of adolescents' day-to-day emotional lives, at least in the United States.