Feminist scholars have deemed romantic love an oppressive ideology that reproduces unequal gender relations and serves capitalist interests

Neither do I provide any generalised definition of romantic love

Footnote 6 I do not mean to deny this interpretation. In fact, I am convinced that romantic love is well embedded in the power and market relations of contemporary societies. However, during my research into love, marriage and sexuality in the late Franco era, I had to admit that, in addition to having mature chat online innumerable flaws and patriarchal implications, romantic love could also have democratising meanings in this context, in which the Catholic emotional regime had fundamental political influence. The defence of one or another love ideal had political consequences, as did the attempts made to create legal ways to improve the possibilities for romantic love. In the case at hand, I argue that it had destabilising symbolic effects on the dictatorship. Nevertheless, given the limitations of this paper and my intent to make it as concrete as possible, I do not venture any claims about experience of romantic love, nor do I delve into its indisputable connection with gender inequalities. These are important issues which should be the focus of a different study. I do not use love as a fixed or unequivocal category of analysis. I prefer to look at how its meanings are articulated in a particular context.

This discourse voiced a defence of the freedom to love, following only dictates that came from within the individual and rejecting external coercion from the community, the state or the Church

The love standards analysed in this article make sense in a broader context in which growing emphasis was being placed on the emotional and sexual fulfilment of marriage, especially after the Second World War. This companionate marriage ideal, addressed recently by scholars like Stephanie Coontz or Claire Langhamer, among others, went hand-in-hand with demands to reform divorce laws, as romantic expectations were too slippery and unpredictable a basis for a lifetime commitment. Footnote 7 Romantic love has also been regarded as a central element of the process of modernisation and secularisation. Footnote 8 Its vindication entailed the support of aspects potentially incompatible with an authoritarian dictatorship, such as the praise of freedom, authenticity and self-realisation, all distinctive features of modern subjectivity. In the 1960s, these elements were celebrated as guides for social relations as opposed to submission to social rules. While I do not mean to suggest clear-cut or linear consequences to these ideas, it is worth questioning their contingent meanings. For this particular case, these elements linked to the construction of modern love had potentially disruptive connotations for the Franco regime. Both the Church and the state sought to impose an unequivocal morality and insisted that the rights of the community and the homeland should prevail over individual desires and aspirations. Therefore, I explore religious discourses about heterosexual romantic love and ask what it entailed for part of the Catholic community to change their values and start to demand a different approach to modern secularised emotional sensibilities and politics.

I begin this paper by analysing the Catholic emotional regime in the early years of the Franco regime. This background helps contextualise and explain the changes that took place at the end of the dictatorship. Then, I briefly describe the developments of the 1960s that ultimately transformed love expectations and awakened early calls for divorce in the 1970s. Finally, I assess the arguments of progressive Catholic intellectuals who started to contemplate divorce, questioning National Catholicism in the process. I end this study in 1975, the year of Franco’s death. In so doing, I assert that by the time the transition to democracy began, some of the ideological and cultural pillars that had upheld the regime had already been broken and that the vindication of romantic love and divorce played a role in this process.

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