By Ekaterina Fedorova

Sometime ago I had a quintessentially edgy(™) conversation with some friends because apparently non-Valentine’s Day ads don’t exist this month. It went a bit like this:

A friend, facetiously: Capitalism is SO romantic 

Me, leaning into it: ROMANCE is so capitalist 

What did either of us mean by that? It’s unclear. Regardless, no one loves being the cold, romance (and late-stage capitalism)-hating friend more than me, but every once in a while I like being a data-backed, cold, romance-hating friend so I thought, “well surely nothing is less romantic than researching romance to back up my hate for romance,” and thus the idea for this article was conceived. 

However, therein lies the problem, if I’m totally honest, the reason I like to throw shade on Valentine’s day and other forms of the commercialization of relationships (particularly romantic ones) is because I don’t completely get it. Not necessarily the commercialization part, I can understand that there’s tons of money in leveraging human emotions, but the relationships part. In highschool I used to spend my time being an annoying asshole to my friends in relationships asking questions like, “But why do you need to be in a ‘relationship’?” or “Why do you need to define it specifically from friendship?” and in particular “Why bother having a girl/boy friend when you know you’ll just break up?” I probably wouldn’t directly ask those questions anymore, but I do still ask myself. 

It’s not as if I don’t understand friendship. I have a great many amazing friends and love them a lot, but that’s maybe exactly why I have difficulty understanding the existence of romantic partners. Other than the physical aspects of a romantic relationship, which of course are not even a part of everyone’s idea of a romantic relationship, what exactly is this distinction between platonic and romantic relationships? Is the difference one in the goal of the relationship? If it is, why? Traditionally, (read: in the traditions I am most familiar with) one might answer the biggest difference is that one becomes a marriage and the other, no matter how long term, doesn’t get any official title other than “friendship”. That’s crazy. That means there is a word to distinguish between someone’s wife and someone’s friend, but there isn’t a nearly as easy way to quickly distinguish between someone’s friend of 20 years and someone’s friend from last semester. Surely if there is this kind of distinction in language surrounding romantic and platonic relationships there must be some important, even inherent difference.

At this point, you might stop and think, “well there is definitely some sort of difference, but it’s complicated and why should it be so important to put it into words when I can feel it?” To that, I have no answer. I just like to waste my time chasing pointless and unanswerable questions. I’m cool with that and if you’re still reading I’m operating on the assumption that you’re cool with it too. Plus maybe it isn’t actually unsolvable because even just a quick google search provides A LOT of research. 


In a complete plot twist, having a large amount of hits on google in no way indicates that something is “solved”. Although there is no shortage of very interesting, mainly psychological, studies about friendship, romance, and other such relationships, even those with results indicating something significant have their limitations. A study from the University of Florence (Ponti, Guarnieri, Smorti, & Tani, 2010) which seeks to create measurements of friendship and romantic relationship qualities interestingly uses the same 5 dimensions (Conflict, Companionship, Help, Security, and Closeness) for both measurements and achieves results that indicate their 2 proposed measurements could be generalized. However, they use these same 5 dimensions with the major qualification that they choose to exclude love and sexuality in order to only compare the similar dimensions of romantic and platonic relationships. That’s not super helpful in trying to determine differences. Additionally, the potential existence of such measurements creates further questions: How generalizable can any such measurement be? What kinds of limitations would it have across cultures, nationalities, sexualities, etc?

A different study done in the U.S. (Campbell, Nelson, Parker, & Johnston, 2018) examined the differences in core themes between friendship and romantic chemistry. Survey participants wrote in brief phrases and words associated with the 2 proposed types of chemistry while researchers categorized these responses into themes. According to the study, the appearance of core themes important to the 2 types of relationships were similar, but the frequency of certain themes were very different between friendship and romantic chemistry. The theme of “Reciprocal Candor” was the most frequently cited theme in both proposed types of chemistries, but the themes of “Attraction” and “Love” were more frequently indicated in romantic chemistry while possessing “Similarities” was a core theme found more often in participants’ responses about friendship chemistry. But to what extent can these results be reasonably interpreted? As common sense might indicate, results like these might point to there being some inherent difference between at least initial romantic and friendship chemistry, but in the end such a study is really more exploratory than anything else, something noted in the paper itself.

One thing you come across very often if you end up falling into such a literature review are phrases like “scarcity of research available” and “lack of empirical studies” and “hope to inspire further research” and so on and so on. And, particularly in this case, these phrases aren’t playing around. After reading a variety of studies, not all of which I’ve discussed because this single article can’t be as long as a study itself, I have more questions than I wanted to ask in the beginning! But I guess in the end, it is what it is. It’s perfectly understandable why there aren’t clear answers when these are such confusing questions to do with human emotions and interpersonal connections. If anything, it would be deeply suspicious if someone were to say they fully understood our weird ideas about how we should and do interact with each other.

Nonetheless, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good. Personally, I’d argue that the fact that a “romantic relationship” is so ill-defined is something that aids in the commercialization of romance (particularly on Valentine’s Day). We don’t have a Friendship Day where we are marketed a short specific list of things that are the “normal” thing to gift your best friend. Somehow maybe we are more understanding about the individuality of friendships. Romance is confusing and a shortlist of gifts established maybe by tradition but definitely supported by huge industries is less confusing. Thus our understanding (or lack thereof) of romance and its own commercialization go hand-in-hand. Then again, that’s just me being the annoying cold, romance-hating friend I am. One could just as easily argue that chocolates and flowers are objectively nice plus no one is forcing anyone to buy those things. It’s not as if romantic partners can’t have a nice day AND purchase some pink and red Dove chocolates. The commercialization of romance is no less confusing than romance itself.

And it is at this point that we’ve now come full circle and I once again have too many questions, no answers, and am left with just my own cynicism. But, hey, such is life. If, during the month of February when humanity’s interesting (and clearly unexplained) penchant to create a strong distinction between romance and friendship is at its most commercialized, I get to be edgy and say “Romance is so capitalist.” I’m pretty content.


Ponti, L., Guarnieri, S., Smorti, A., & Tani, F. (2010). A Measure for the Study of Friendship and Romantic Relationship Quality from Adolescence to Early-Adulthood. The Open Psychology Journal. 3. 10.2174/1874350101003010076. 

Campbell, K., Nelson, J., Parker, M. L., & Johnston, S. (2018). Interpersonal Chemistry in Friendships and Romantic Relationships. Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships, 12(1), 34-50. doi:

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