What I Mean by Love Story

The first thing we need to define before we get too deep into the mechanics of the conventions and obligatory scenes of the Love Story is to clearly understand what kind of love we’re talking about.

There’s the love between mother and child.

There’s the love between brother and brother.

There’s the love between friends.

There’s the love of country.

There’s the love between business colleagues.

There’s the love of Apple computer products.

There’s the love of pizza.

None of the above is our concern. Other story genres explore those kinds of love either directly (the domestic drama for family, the performance genre for friends and/or business colleagues etc.) or indirectly as one of a slew of characteristics of a particular player in the story.

What we’re talking about when we’re talking about the Love Story Genre is the love between two people that involves the possibility of sexual congress.

The story does not have to be traditional male/female love story, like Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice. It can be male/male (Brokeback Mountain) or female/female (Carol) or male/transgender person (The Crying Game).

So that’s the very first thing. The Love Story Genre concerns stories about people (or anthropomorphic beings) that fall into a romantic relationship, which includes the possibility of sex.

You’ll notice I stuck in the word romantic in there.

What’s that all about?

Ahh, romance…

Now before I dive into the three sub-genres of Love Story and the emotional needs that each examine (desire, commitment and intimacy), we should take a stroll down memory lane.

Our understanding of what love is…isn’t all that old.

It was the age of Chivalry (12th century) that put forth a set of romantic ideals that to this day retain tremendous power. A French writer of the era, Chretien de Troyes, was perhaps most responsible for planting the flag for the modern romantic ethos.

Like many of his contemporaries, Chretien wrote narrative poems that featured the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But he was the first to introduce the exciting idea that Lancelot and Arthur’s wife Guinevere had a deeper form of attachment than the traditional King/Queen kind of partnership. Forbidden attraction!

He innovated the age-old epic action adventure story (who will pull the sword out of the rock?) by moving away from action tropes and throwing in something subversive…an attraction between a queen and one of the King’s most trusted brothers-in-arms.

In Chretien’s popular story, Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart, the pivotal love story notion of a “proof of love” comes to the fore. And that proof of love element proved so cathartic for his audience that it became the must-have for every love story that followed…yes even for that cheesy movie of the week re-run you saw on Lifetime last night had a proof of love scene.

Guinevere, ashamed of her attachment to Lancelot after he rescues her from being held hostage in another kingdom (Lancelot cuts himself as he breaks through the castle’s door and spills blood on Guinevere’s bed sheets…subtle Monsieur Chretien was not!), asks him to lose in an upcoming knight tournament so that their alliance remain undiscovered. He agrees even though it will mean certain death.

Lancelot’s chivalrous act (to die in order to protect his beloved’s reputation) of self-sacrifice moves Guinevere all the more. Which leads her to renounce her request when it becomes clear that he will surely die in the fight. She goes on to root him on to victory.

At the end of the tournament, they share a chaste embrace.

And from thereon the love story evolves.

Great debts are owed to the unknown poets, minstrels and songwriters of the age too. In addition to Chretien’s “proof of love” obligatory love scene, traveling performers told stories and sang songs that put forth five general love principles that make up the foundation for our deeply ingrained ideas about romance.

  1. The first is the notion that one plus one doesn’t equal two. Love between two people is actually a third thing in and of itself. Once two people fall in love, the two come together to form a third mystical union, often called “our love” or “us.”

They say our love won’t pay the rent… Sonny and Cher

Our love is here to stay… George Gershwin

Don’t give up on us baby… David Soul

Two hearts beat as one… U2

  1. When we fall in love, we become better people than the slobs we were before. To be in a relationship is to live on a higher moral plane.

“You make me want to be a better man”—Jack Nicholson to Helen Hunt in As Good As it Gets

  1. There’s a rule book. You can’t break the rules or you’ll betray the love contract. No Flirting!
  2. Love has rituals. You better follow the procedures that were established early on when one plus one first equaled three…or you’re in danger of violating principle three.
  3. Love is a powerful drug, filled with longing and desire, but it’s best not to ruin it with sex. If you indulge in the physical act, chances are you’ll end up destroying the mystical and unsullied union that keeps you enraptured.

From this fertile ground do all love stories grow.

Next up are the big three sub-genres of Love Story.

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  1. Mary Doyle on October 28, 2016 at 6:17 am

    So happy you’ve chosen this genre for this series Shawn – many thanks!

  2. gwen abitz on October 28, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Adding to what I Posted on Steve’s Blog Writing Wednesday and when I Posted it on My Facebook Timeline Page with “Oh that’s what it is all about Alfie” and commented with the lyrics to the song, Alfie. I don’t know is this another kind of “love?” OR is “it all” such a “mysterious treasure” everyone is looking for BUT already have it within ourselves.

    Burt Bacharach – Alfie Lyrics
    What’s it all about, Alfie
    Is it just for the moment we live
    What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie
    Are we meant to take more than we give
    Or are we meant to be kind
    And if only fools are kind, Alfie
    Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel
    And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
    What will you lend on an old golden rule
    As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie
    I know there’s something much more
    Something even non-believers can believe in
    I believe in love, Alfie
    Without true love we just exist, Alfie
    Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie
    When you walk let your heart lead the way
    And you’ll find love any day, Alfie

  3. Michael Beverly on October 28, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I’d edit: “Love is a powerful drug” to “Love is the most powerful drug.”

    But that’s just me.

    Someone gave me a new word the other day: Limerence.


    And with that word, she also gave me an observation, the gist of which was that because I’d not entered into a sexual relationship with a long ago beloved, I was still suffering.

    So reading Shawn’s words: “If you indulge in the physical act, chances are you’ll end up destroying the mystical and unsullied union that keeps you enraptured.” I realized how true both observations were and how they’d effected my life.

    The “mystical and unsullied” is a prison; an emotional and biological cell, the key to opening this door appears to be either sex (heaven, at least briefly) or rejection (hell, generally not so brief).

    Me, I wait in purgatory.

    I guess in order to write this stuff with greatness it helps to have suffered, or better, to be actively suffering during the act of creation.

    • Tina on October 28, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      ‘Limerence’ is a good word for a kind of love. Thanks.

  4. Antwan Martin on October 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Was at a workshop with spiritual sexuality teacher David Deida and he broke love down three ways.

    1. Basic Love: The love any human being can have for any other thing (parents, pizza, art, pets, music, nature, etc). We are capable of this at any moment with anything.

    2. Romantic Love: When we meet someone who makes us feel somehow completed. Usually they share some characteristics of our parents our other caregiver we had as children.

    3. Sexual Polarity: When any two masculine and feminine energies are around each other their is a desire for them to merge. Doesn’t mean just “sexual congress”, could also be how a young girl fantasizes about horses beacuse they offer her freedom and escape, or how a NYC business man fantisizes about beaches in hawaii.

    And he pointed out that each of these can operate independantly of one another, of course. and i think the kind of love you are talking about her, Shawn, is when all three of these elements are found in a human to human relationship, and that’s what we call the feeling of “falling in love”.

    not sure how Mr. Deidas breakdown fits into your model but i wanted to share it.

    thanks for the great post and for exploring this subject with us.

  5. Tina on October 28, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    This was fun. We don’t have enough single words in English for all the different kinds of love.

    • K M McGovern on October 31, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      It may be that we don’t have enough words or that we use love too liberally on things that we prefer or pursue but have fleeting if any significance on our own existence.

  6. David Kaufmann on November 8, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks for this! Genre structure and conventions.

  7. jimlow1990 on October 8, 2021 at 1:58 am

    Hi. your reasoning is very wise. I like it. there are writers among my friends, they work in top essay brands and they also like to philosophize. they also love to write articles and essays. at a very high level. always on time, inexpensively and efficiently

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