Romantic love is a religion obsession for us; it’s almost as revered as war. Couples are supposed to marry for love, art has to have a love interest, etc. Obvious stuff. True Love means your soul mate, the person you love because of his or her inner beauty and personal values and all the wonderful things they are.
Marriage is of course a property arrangement but that’s another story.
The stranger part is “dating”. This is where we try to cram together the ideal of True Love and the grimy math of the sex market. There’s a scale of values there which almost everyone tacitly agrees to, but only boors express bluntly, which is: young and physically attractive women and wealthy and physically attractive men are at the top of the scale. They have buying power. Further down the scale, others have less buying power. At the bottom are poor, ugly, and old people. When someone lower on the youth/beauty/wealth scale partners with someone higher, people are confused. One hears people say things like “Wow, Jim really settled when he started dating Maggie”, meaning that Jim could have acquired a more shapely or younger woman with his tokens. Someone else may respond “Well, not really, I mean with Jim’s looks he should be happy with Maggie”. Or: “Man, I really like Maria but she’s way out of my league”. My favorite bit of language in this system of values is when a man, talking about a woman, will express his opinion of her body, her eyes, her hair, her face, and finally her “personality”. At the far end of this spectrum are beautiful, wealthy, and youthful celebrities who are inaccessible to anyone except other members of their caste.
These values are almost universal, even among people who would give a version of their own values closer to True Love above if asked.
The delicious moment of cognitive dissonance comes when the appropriately matched couple trade their tokens of beauty, youth, and power and marry. At this point their arrangement must be declared to be True Love, and all of their possibly nonexistent real virtues celebrated. The question of whether one of them “settled” instead of getting the best possible value for their tokens should not be raised; they are now prince and princess.
This was annoying when I was 19. At 40, I’m amused to see people still talking and acting this way. At least by now they should understand the part about marriage and property.