Lovesick: Unlearning Romantic Love

by Oliver Haug

Welcome to romantic love: a thrilling fantasy you’ve probably been taught — by movies, by your parents or other adults in your life, by the world around you and its accompanying structures — is the source of all of life’s meaning. Romantic love (or rather, a very specific version of romantic love: monogamous, long-term, ideally heterosexual) is more than a feeling. It’s an institution that governs access to resources; a site of assimilation for those of us who can’t or won’t conform to societal expectations in other ways; and ultimately, it’s assumed to be the focal point of our lives. But what if it didn’t have to be? What or who taught us to center this one form of love above all else, at least in modern U.S. society?

In this class, we’ll investigate this fundamental question and dive deep into the mythology of romantic love, with the goal of surfacing with a greater understanding of the role it serves in our culture and the ways it has been weaponized. In investigating and interrogating our preexisting conceptions of love, we can learn to see the world around us in a different light.

And who knows — maybe along the way we’ll come to realize that we all feel like we’re doing love wrong. And that sensation of wrongness is not due to individual failings, but rather stems from a system that was set up to fail us, particularly those of us who can’t conform to the hegemonic power structures that have profited from our exclusion from the get-go. 

This isn’t a class to teach you what love is or how to love better — I can’t do that, and neither can your partner (or your therapist, I suspect). The goal of this class is merely to start a conversation — to push ourselves to think a little deeper about the role love plays in our lives, to reckon with the ways it has hurt us and our loved ones, and to reframe our understanding of family and relationships — that is, if we dare.


For each text assigned, you have two options: 

1. Find a friend — someone you trust, whether you’ve known them for a long or short amount of time — and discuss the reading’s themes, assumptions, and conclusions, as well as your own take on the author’s idea. (Be sure to come into these conversations with an open heart — many people, most likely you included, have a lot of strong feelings about the role romantic love should or shouldn’t play in our lives.) 

2. Alternatively, you can journal about the content on your own. Entries can be free form, but I suggest approaching each topic from both a theoretical perspective, and a personal perspective. 

Unit 1: The Love Crisis

Guiding question: In what ways is our current conception of love failing us, and who is most impacted by these failings?

Unit 2: Where did this all come from?

Guiding question: What created our systems of romantic love, and how do our own identities and histories influence our experience of love?

Unit 3: Where do we go from here?

Guiding question: What do we want love to look like in our future?

Supplemental materials: 

  • If you want to read the classics: All about love: New visions, bell hooks, Harper Perennial, 2001. 
  • If you want to delve into the disability justice side of this syllabus: First read “What is Disability Justice?” by Sins Invalid, then read Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. 
  • If you like case studies: “Just Break Up,” podcast with Sierra DeMulder and Sam Blackwell
  • If you enjoy thinking about resisting systems you exist inside of: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell, Melville House, 2019.