The Art of Loving: How Our Culture Shapes Love

The influence of cultural norms in shaping our romantic relationships.

Keeping the hair uncut
The Art of Loving

The Cultural Theory of Love


Love and relationships have their roots in neurobiology and evolution, but it would be wrong to say that modern relationships are purely biological.

According to cultural theory, the way we experience love is influenced by the cultural norms, beliefs, and values that exist in our society. These cultural elements determine what we consider desirable in a partner, the expected behaviors in a relationship, and the meaning we attach to love and commitment.

By extension, this theory suggests that our understanding of love is not universal, but varies across different cultures and time periods. As the nature of society changes around us, so does the nature of relationships.

Cultural Expressions of Love

One obvious example of cultural theory is the language of love, and the way that culture plays a major role in how we communicate our feelings.


In Latin America for example, couples often engage in playful banter known as ‘coqueteo’ which helps them get to know each other better before taking their relationship further. This is often accompanied by physical contact, like the brushing of a person’s arm.

In Europe, on the other hand, playful banter is also used, but physical contact is usually more reserved. Europeans might use eye contact instead as a simple way to communicate interest in a potential partner. Meanwhile, in some parts of the Middle East, eye contact is generally avoided between people who do not know each other well. All of these differences are cultural – they transcend evolutionary biology.

The Role of Culture in Shaping Emotions

Displays of love are heavily influenced by cultural norms. In some cultures, it is considered inappropriate to show too much emotion or affection in public, while others may be more open and accepting of displays of love.


For example, in the United States it is socially acceptable for couples to kiss or hug in public, but in some parts of China, couples are discouraged from even holding hands.

In Dubai, it is illegal for a couple to kiss in public. Violating this law can result in fines, imprisonment, or deportation. Displays of affection, such as kissing, are only acceptable in private spaces such as the confines of a hotel room or personal home.

Cultures of Physical Attraction

When it comes to physical attraction, beauty standards vary between cultures. This demonstrates the fact that attraction is cultural; there is no single definition of beauty.

A good example of this can be found in Polynesia. Traditionally, these people thought that larger bodies were more healthy and attractive, but in recent years, the infiltration of Western media has changed Polynesian beauty standards. Now, the women often strive to be small and skinny.

Male beauty standards also vary in different cultures. In places like Japan, the women often prefer men with smooth skin, slender bodies, and soft voices. In European countries, many women prefer muscular men with thick beards.

Love and Religion


Love and relationships can be influenced by a culture’s religious customs. The most common examples of this are religious head coverings.

In some cases, such as in Islam, head coverings are worn as a symbol of modesty and religious devotion. For many Islamic women, head coverings have also become a symbol of resistance against Western standards of beauty; removing your clothes is not the only way to be attractive to men.

In other religions, such as in Sikhism, the men wear turbans to cover their hair, which they keep uncut as a sign of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. While other parts of the world are constantly styling and dying their hair in the hope of becoming more attractive, Sikhs leave their hair untouched.

Love and Power

Love and relationships can be greatly influenced by power structures present in society. Gender roles, for example, can shape the way in which individuals experience and express love.

Traditional gender roles dictate that men are supposed to be the providers and protectors while women are expected to be emotional caretakers and nurturers. This can lead to unequal power dynamics in relationships, where one person holds more control or makes more decisions.

Power dynamics in love and relationships can also be influenced by social and cultural factors such as wealth, race, and education. For example, people with more wealth and higher levels of education may have more influence and control in relationships, while individuals from marginalized communities may face additional challenges and barriers in finding love and building relationships.

Erich Fromm: The Art of Loving

One of the first people to explore the cultural theory of love was Erich Fromm, a 20th century psychologist. In his 1956 book, *The Art of Loving*, he argued that contemporary Western society had led to a disintegration of love. Modern life is so focused on materialism and individualism that it has caused us to forget the importance of loving relationships.

Fromm argued that love should be viewed as an art form – something which people can consciously practice and improve on. For example, in order to cultivate love in relationships, Fromm encouraged individuals to learn about the needs and perspectives of their partners.

In other words, Fromm believed that people could resist the cultural disintegration of love and relationships by taking the time to practice and improve their own ability to love.

Breaking Free From Societal Expectations

To overcome the impact of society and culture on love and relationships, self-awareness is key. By reflecting on our own values and desires, rather than blindly adhering to cultural expectations, we can form relationships that are more authentic and fulfilling.

For example, gender roles have been ingrained into society for centuries, yet they don’t always reflect what works best for a particular couple or situation. Being aware of these influences helps us make conscious decisions about how we want to express love within our relationships rather than relying on outdated stereotypes or expectations from society.

Self-awareness also allows us to recognize when our own expectations are unrealistic or unhealthy, so that we can adjust them accordingly. It’s important to remember that no two people are exactly alike; each person has their own unique set of values and beliefs which should be respected in any relationship.

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