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Young Love, First Love, True Love?

by Jennifer Robison

Valentine's Day is traditionally fraught with emotion. The Catholic Church recognizes three early Christians named St. Valentine, each of whom was horribly tortured and killed for his beliefs. These days, Americans use the holiday to express their most tender feelings of love, or at least make up for 364 days of romantic neglect.

A look at love-related data from the Gallup Brain uncovers some interesting differences in the views of people in different age groups on the subject of love. In some cases, younger people tend to have more romantic notions about love than older people do (as many might expect), but in other cases, age seems to be less of a factor.

Words of Love

As reflected in the music and literature of any culture, humans have for centuries spent a great deal of time thinking about love. Thus, it's not surprising that a high number of Americans claim to be experiencing it. In 1992, 70% of Americans answered yes to the question, "Right now, would you say you are ‘in love' with someone of the opposite sex -- that is, have strong romantic feelings toward them?"* Interestingly, however, those in younger age categories were considerably more likely than older Americans to say that they were currently in love. Seventy-nine percent of people under the age of 50 said they were in love, as did only 57% of people aged 50 and older.

Cupid's Targets

A poll from three years ago found that about half the public believes in the most romantic of romantic notions. When asked in February 2000, "Do you believe in love at first sight, or not?" 52% said they did. The feeling runs somewhat higher among younger Americans: 57% of people between the ages of 18 and 49 said they believe in love at first sight**. Americans 50 and older were somewhat more doubtful -- only 43% said they believe in instant amour.

It seems that the incidence of love at first sight is rarer than the belief in it. The February 2000 poll went on to ask, "Have you ever fallen in love at first sight, or not?" Only 40% claimed they had. Forty-four percent of those under age 50 said they had experienced love at first sight, compared with just 33% of those 50 or older.

True Love: One Shot Only?

Perhaps the most fatalistic of romantic beliefs is belief in the existence of one true love -- that in the course of a lifetime, people can only find a single individual whom they can truly love. The final "love" question in 2000 found that most Americans, 74%, believe in "one true love." Age doesn't seem to affect this belief; 18- to 29-year-olds are about as likely (76%) to believe in one true love as 30- to 49-year-olds (72%) and people over 50 (75%).

*Based on interviews with 1,002 national adults conducted Feb. 6-9, 1992. For results based on this sample, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 4-6, 2000. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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