For the hopeless romantic, love is the pulse of life—the most intoxicating rush of all. Hopeless romantics live for sparks and butterflies in their bellies, often dreaming of fateful encounters and wedding vows that land like poetry.
Sex and the City’s Charlotte is an example. (Cue her famous lines: “I’ve been dating since I was 15! I’m exhausted! Where is he?” and “But people do live happily ever after.”) While, throughout the series, each of the women encountered red-hot liaisons that turned out to be letdowns, often growing so disheartened that they considered giving up on romance altogether, Charlotte never did.
If you can relate, read on. We chatted with the experts about the signs, benefits, and potential risks of being a hopeless romantic. Plus, they offered a more hopeful alternative. And, hey, you might be surprised to learn that prioritizing logic isn't necessarily a bad thing—nor does it have to mean turning your back on passion.
Rom-coms aside, here are the classic signs of a hopeless romantic.
For this type of person, there’s always time for pillow talk, to send an amorous text, to say “I love you," or to have wine and dinner by candlelight. And, no matter how many painful breakups they've been through, their quest for love persists. This person can’t imagine their future without a big, cinematic love story.
“A hopeless romantic is someone who loves the idea of being in love and tends to think of love as having fairy-tale qualities. They might strongly believe in the idea of love at first sight, and that there is one perfect partner out there for them who will appear one day and sweep them off of their feet,” says Dr. Justin Lehmiller, social psychologist and author of Tell Me What you Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.
Katherine M. Hertlein, Ph.D., LMFT, professor of Couple and Family Therapy at the University of Nevada, says the hallmark of a hopeless romantic is that they place romantic love in a privileged position in their lives—whether they're in a relationship or in pursuit of one. “This person lives with constant hope that the fantasy of a perfect romantic love will play out,” she says.
It’s the friend who’s had a Pinterest board of whimsical wedding inspiration since college—despite never having been engaged. The one who falls fast and hard for a handsome suitor while swiping through a dating app—then gushes about a picture of him and his dog for the rest of the night. Love drives their inspirations and shapes their decisions.
There are good things associated with being a hopeless romantic.
According to Hertlein, hopeless romantics are more likely to prioritize communication, avoid game-playing, and reject cynicism from external influences.
She emphasizes, “A healthy dose of romance helps one assume good intentions in their partner. Being romantic allows someone to be vulnerable and take appropriate risks,” she says.
However, it can become a bad thing when they prioritize romance so much that it shrinks their sense of self.
“Hopeless romantics are more likely to ignore warning signs, social cues, and boundaries, throwing themselves into not well-thought-out scenarios in order to experience love," says Dylesia Hampton Barner, MSW, LCSW, interpersonal trauma and relationships therapist. "They are prone to idolize their love interests—not always because they’re in love with that person, but rather the feeling itself,” she says.
Dr. Edith Eger, psychologist and bestselling author of The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, says that dysfunction starts to brew when self-care takes a back seat. “Romance is wonderful, but not when it becomes so important that a person stops taking responsibility for their own happiness. Romantic interests should never become such a priority that a person puts their life in someone else’s hands.”
In some cases, being a hopeless romantic can create the opposite of what’s truly desired.
It’s typical for hopeless romantics to hold an unwavering belief in destiny—to believe that, one day, they’ll be gazing into the adoring eyes of “the one.” Dr. Lehmiller says that, while it’s perfectly normal to find the idea of a once-in-a-lifetime fairy tale appealing, it can actually hinder a person from forging a love that’s deep and abiding.
“Research tells us that people with strong destiny beliefs tend to have a harder time making relationships last. Rather than working through conflicts that might arise, they are often quick to plot an exit strategy—taking it as a sign that things aren’t meant to be. Then they might never learn the skills necessary to maintain a healthy relationship,” he says.
In such a case, the hopeless romantic might be so enthralled with their ideologies and so void of realistic expectations that they unknowingly sabotage their shot at lasting love—before it has a prayer to thrive.
So how do you know when romantic inclinations have become counterproductive?
Barner warns about the signs that a flare for romanticism might be a hindrance. Each involves prioritizing fantasy over truth. “People who have unhealthy inclinations toward romance often create shrines honoring their love interest or partner, exaggerating things in order to convince themselves that the relationship is more than what it is. They also might become defensive when told an undesired truth about their relationship, even if it's from a trusted source,” she says.
Another sign is that they're fueled by a lack of reciprocation. “Some hopeless romantics are not turned off by a one-sided relationship. When their love interest or partner makes no effort, they might make it their mission to eventually conquer them,” says Barner.
Hertlein agrees, adding that one shouldn’t become so swept away by their desires that they never take off their rose-colored glasses, especially if the relationship is making them sad or stressed. “It’s dangerous for a hopeless romantic to be in an emotionally or physically abusive situation, because they might be so set on seeing their partner in a positive light that they may not be aware of what’s happening,” she says.
In other words, hopeless romantics must take caution to not become so captivated by the idea of a storybook ending that they gloss over reality, abandon their instincts, and ignore mounting evidence.
The opposite of a hopeless romantic is a realist.
Unlike the hopeless romantic, realists crave predictability and stability, not fireworks. But, while this personality type boasts advantages, it threatens to siphon the spontaneity and excitement from a love affair. In the worst cases, extreme realism can tip toward cynicism, which can be a total buzzkill to even the strongest of bonds.
Barner stresses that, while too much romanticism can lead to the kind of paralyzing adoration and idolatry that suffocates a relationship’s ability to progress, being too rooted in realism can cause the relationship to become a snooze. While that's perfectly normal to happen over time, Barner says, “Passion is the force that drives a relationship and compels people toward commitment, action and connection. Without it, love would be nothing more than a concept,” she says.
Experts say there’s a better alternative to being a hopeless romantic: the hopeful romantic.
This romantic mindset involves being passionate, yet pragmatic. And, most interestingly, it’s more likely to spawn the kind of love story that a hopeless romantic ultimately craves.
“Being a hopeful romantic involves sharing some belief in relationship destiny, but means having a growth mindset at the same time. So rather than seeing a manageable conflict as a sign that the relationship is wrong, a hopeful romantic views it as a challenge to overcome—one that will make the relationship stronger if that can happen in a healthy way,” says Dr. Lehmiller.
Being hopefully romantic over hopelessly romantic might reap some steamy rewards in the bedroom as well. Instead of viewing a decline in passion as a sign of being poorly matched with their partner, the hopeful romantic might view it as a sign that it’s time to have an open conversation about intimacy, says Dr. Lehmiller.
So how does one strike a healthy balance between romance and realism?
While hair-raising romance is a pleasure in life, it should coexist with some level of realism. Even if fanciful thinking is most often taking the driver’s seat.
Barner says that, while setting the stage for a romantic atmosphere can be fun and keep the flames of excitement flickering, the main objective should be to build deep, lasting intimacy instead of chasing big, idealistic displays of affection.
“You can be a passionate person and love being in love, but also unwilling to risk your emotional security and mental health for a relationship. This means approaching relationships with hopeful caution, never lying to yourself in order to preserve a fairy tale, and only giving as much of yourself as reality warrants,” she says.
Because, at the end of the day, the real romance begins within…
Dr. Eger believes that falling in love with yourself is a prerequisite to building a fulfilling relationship with someone else, and that the rejection of self is the most tragic of all. Which is also to say that the realest “happily ever after” you could ever have is within.
“The only one you can ever really lose is you,” she says. “People often search for that perfect partner to cherish them, but the real love story is cherishing yourself.”
Or, to tie it back to Sex and the City, if we may, as Carrie Bradshaw once said, "The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that's just fabulous.”
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