Together and Alone: Intimacy and Alienation in the Age of Competitive Individualism
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I begin by discussing structural alienation in the United States and its relationship to the pursuit of romantic love. I argue that romantic love is idealized due the lack of community inherent in a competitive, individualistic society; the romantic partner becomes a replacement for the community individuals once relied on for material and psychological needs. Despite the allure of romantic love, the norms and values associated with it often undermine the development of intimacy, as does the larger society in which the relationship is situated. I refer to this phenomenon as the romantic contradiction. I then discuss some of the factors that contribute to the romantic contradiction, such as the commodification of relationships in a market-based economy, impression management in dating, and the role of gender in heterosexual relationships. Central to this dissertation, I investigate the dominant ideology of romantic love by conducting a textual analysis of the ten most popular romantic comedies and self-help books on romantic relationships from 2006-2010. My findings suggest the dominant ideology of romantic love promotes long-term, monogamous relationships as the primary way to meet a person’s psychological and physical needs. Furthermore, the ideal relationship is based on gendered needs and responsibilities: men are expected to provide material and physical protection, while women are expected to provide emotional support and sexual intimacy. The ideology encourages a dependency between women and men and various forms of inequality. It also reinforces individualism in relationships by placing greater emphasis on meeting needs rather than developing intimacy (e.g. knowledge, empathy) for its own sake. I conclude with a discussion of competitive individualism and romantic alienation, and suggest avenues for reducing gender dependency and alienation in relationships.