There are several instances of “romantic love” in The Awakening, including the relationship between the two lovers, the romantic interests of the lovely Spanish girl, Mariequita and the fascinating but platonic crushes that colored Edna’s youth. Still, the genuine affection that develops between Edna Pontellier and Robert Lebrun is a form of romantic love.
Robert and Edna’s romance is founded on friendship, admiration and genuine esteem. For instance, in Chapter 2, their conversation covers a range of topics routine and mundane topics:
“Mrs. Pontellier talked about her father's Mississippi plantation and her girlhood home in the old Kentucky bluegrass country. “
They shared their thoughts on a range of subjects that might appear uninteresting to others.
As their friendship grew, they become more comfortable with one another, as indicated by Robert’s actions in Chapter 5:
“During his oblivious attention he once quietly rested his head against Mrs. Pontellier's arm. As gently she repulsed him. Once again he repeated the offense. She could not but believe it to be thoughtlessness on his part; yet that was no reason she should submit to it.”
Robert rests his head on Mrs. Pontellier because it is comfortable. His goal is not to be forward or flirtatious. Rather, there is an emotional intimacy between them. Roberts’s romantic feelings for Edna increase as this intimacy grows. In fact, on the night that she learns to swim, he understands her so well that he knows that she accomplished more than a skill. Although he cannot articulate it, he knows that she’s gained self-assurance, independence and confidence:
“He could not explain; he could not tell her that he had penetrated her mood and understood.”
Of course, Robert leaves for Mexico very soon afterwards. He hopes to escape his feelings because he realizes that he has fallen in love with Edna. His love developed naturally over time. His feelings morphed from a close friendship into emotional intimacy and understanding and then into love.