Do You Take Romance - Or Leave It? One Of Cupid's Consultants Has Stats: Northeasterners, For Example, Don't Spend Much Money On Their Sweeties. And She Has Some Heartfelt Advice.

Posted: February 12, 1995

You're a pretty unromantic lot out there.

Sure, you'll exchange about 950 million cards on Tuesday.

But Tuesday is Valentine's Day, and - as any true romantic will tell you - that's amateur night, a time when just about everybody's mind is on romance.

How do you fare the rest of the year?

Most of you say you are romantics, and more than a third of you complain about the lack of romance in your lives.

Yet in the average week, almost half of you Northeastern lovers spend less than $10 romancing your partner (that includes flowers, cards and dinner), and a quarter of you spend an hour or less of your time on romance.

Let's be clear what we're talking about here. Romance. Not sex.

"The majority of Americans define romance as the giving and receiving of expressions of love," says Rebecca Sydnor. "Only 20 percent describe sex as romantic."

She adds, "Love isn't just about hearts and flowers. . . . It's the day- to-day expressions of thoughtfulness and appreciation that make life together sweeter."

She should know. Sydnor is professional romance consultant to Lindt, the gourmet chocolate company that sponsored the survey that gave us all those statistics. Chocolate companies, naturally, have a vested interest in romance.

And Sydnor knows a thing or two about romance.

She is the woman who showed Oprah Winfrey how to flirt on television.

The woman who caused Zsa Zsa Gabor to walk off another talk-show set a few years back because Zsa Zsa didn't like Sydnor's practical approach.

Sydnor has talked endlessly about romance. She has written books about it. She has given seminars on it.

She is merely preaching what she has practiced.

Nearly 13 years ago, when Sydnor was in her mid-20s, with a degree in psychology and a jewelry business in Berkeley, Calif., she realized that her work didn't leave much time for going out to meet men. So she took the same approach to finding a husband that you might take to finding a new job: She advertised, then she interviewed the candidates.

"Attractive blonde belle . . . complete with soft drawl, pale skin and parasol, seeks the Rhett of her dreams," ran her personal ad. (Did we mention Sydnor is Southern?)

Not surprisingly, she got replies - 70 of them. All but seven were immediately rejected. To make sure the Rhett of her dreams didn't turn out to be the rat of her nightmares, the seven candidates were interviewed in a restaurant. None, of course, realized he was auditioning for the role of husband.

Number three, an emergency-room doctor named Neal Dickler, showed particular promise. "But you never invest all your money in one stock," says Sydnor, who had been married briefly before. So for a while she dated several of the candidates.

Within a year, however, she had married the doctor.

She also had a new career. So impressed were her friends with her prowess at the mating game that they asked for advice. One thing led to another, and before she knew it, she was toiling full time as Cupid's sidekick, giving romance-management workshops around the country and appearing on TV talk shows. Then came a book, Making Love Happen (now in Avon paperback, $4.99).

Today, she has been married for 12 years to the man she calls "the most romantic person I've ever met," and they have a son, David, who's 2 1/2.

To keep the romance in your relationship, she tells people, date your mate. She and her husband have a standing date every Friday afternoon - no child, a different restaurant each week.

"Married people complain this isn't romantic," she says, "but you never thought (dating) wasn't romantic when you were single. . . . What's important is to appreciate the people you love and not be taken for granted. It's not necessarily what you do, but that you do something to show you appreciate the person you love."

Does she follow her own advice?

Sydnor laughs. "I try to," she says. "When I don't, my husband threatens to call the media."


Back to that Lindt romance survey.

The Pathfinder Research Group of Acton, Mass., queried 800 people in relationships nationwide last fall, and categorized responses into broad geographic areas.

Northeasterners, it seems, spend more time on romance than couples in any other region, and men here are more satisfied with the amount of romance in their lives than men elsewhere.

"A total surprise" rated tops as the most romantic date in the Northeast, followed by staying at home by the fire with champagne and chocolates. The traditional candlelight dinner came in third.

As for gifts, although the most frequently purchased love token is a card, recipients would prefer flowers, thank you, or tickets to a show or sporting event, not to mention perfume, lingerie and (of course) chocolates.

So far, so good.

But the most romantic place to make love? The majority opted for outdoors.

Outdoors. As in sand. Bugs. Cold. (Have any of those surveyed actually tried this?)

Which leads to the question: Why do we find certain things romantic?

Cherry Hill psychologist and marital therapist Bernard Hershenberg says there are both biological and psychological explanations. The biological aspects have to do with what happens when we become infatuated, and the incredibly intense feelings generated.

"We suddenly become alive in ways that we haven't been before," he says.

Then there are the psychological associations: "If I say warmth to you, you make a picture of that based on many things - your experiences growing up, input from the media, books you've read."

But there are also variables. "So many of our reactions are based on systems of interaction of variables," Hershenberg says. "For instance, I often ask patients what causes a downdraft, and most say wind. But it's a combination of variables, of tall buildings, narrow streets and wind."

Got that? Those romantic images you have are probably based on infatuation plus associational patterns that you learned from many different areas of your life.

Don't try to examine it too closely, though. "As scientists, we reduce something that is wonderfully exciting to its base components, and it never really captures the specialness of romance, the intensity of it," Hershenberg says.

"It would be interesting to see what the differences would be culturally," he adds, "if the romance survey were done in Japan, for instance. Or in Samoa."

Here in the broadly defined Northeast, we're willing to suffer for love. Most men said they would tolerate the women they love being late, and women would put up with snoring.

We're also optimistic: 64 percent believe in love at first sight, and most of us think the best way to meet someone special is by chance - which seems to be asking a lot of Cupid. More than a third look to their friends for introductions, and just 1 percent thought they could meet their ideal through the personals.

We don't get too carried away with romantic ideals, though. Although 47 percent said that personality was the thing that attracted them to their special someones, nearly a third of Northeasterners surveyed admitted they would marry for money.

Sydnor is nothing if not practical about romance.

"You'd be amazed at how many people meet through the classifieds," she says. "They don't like to admit it. I've found out that several women who live in my neighborhood met their husbands that way. People get imaginative when they are ready (to get married)."

Her first book dealt with the practicalities of finding the right mate. Her second, not yet finished, focuses on women and clinching the deal - ''everything from where to meet marriage-minded men to offering an ultimatum." Its working title is Commit or Quit, and she describes it as "a how-to guide for smart women who are ready to wed."

"I think people have unrealistic expectations about romance, based on what has been said to them in the media," says the ambassadress of romance. "We have to realize that the exhilarating early stages of courtship do die down a bit, but that can lead to something richer and deeper."

For a couple, infatuation can be like a sugar high. Then they get to know each other.

"He might think, 'Oh, I thought she was so mysterious, and really she's just not that smart.' Or she might think, 'I thought he was really organized, but he's just compulsive.' So many people are so bitterly disappointed by the real thing that they run away in search of more of that initial attraction," Sydnor says. "But love is about learning to communicate and working on a day- to-day basis to give the person you love the affection and acknowledgment they need.

"There's always conflict, because Barbie and Ken are the only couple that is truly compatible. The rest of us have to work on it. All couples have times when they look at each other and wonder, 'What was I thinking of?' But if you have a storehouse of memories and kind thoughts to draw on, you can use them to get through the rough spots."

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