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Can Money Buy You Love?

We all make calculations when choosing a partner. Does love always come first?

"Say you don't need no diamond ring, and I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can't buy
I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love." The Beatles

"Everyone should have enough money for plastic surgery." Beverly Johnson

"Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do." Zsa Zsa Gabor

Can money buy us love? There is no simple answer. If love is like religion, then it cannot be bought nor negotiated. If romantic interaction is similar to a commercial transaction, then love can be bought and can be negotiated—and compromised. Love seems to be similar to both, but identical to neither.

Dragon Images/Shutterstock
Source: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Avishi Margalit describes two pictures of politics: as economics and as religion. If politics is viewed as economics, it is entirely subject to compromise and exchange. If politics is viewed as a religion, there are aspects that must be considered sacrosanct and on which we must never negotiate or compromise. Margalit argues that economic life is based on substitution—one good can be replaced by another. Accordingly, there is ample room for negotiation and compromise in economic life.

Is love similar to religion or to economics? It seems that in different aspects, love is similar to both religion and commercial behavior.

In many respects, romantic love resembles a kind of religion. They are similar in that they dictate basic beliefs, demand fundamental moral standards, and bestow high personal value upon their objects. The basic assumptions underlying the Romantic Ideology—it is characterized by its comprehensive and uncompromising nature—can indeed be found in many monotheistic religions.

Not unlike the function of religion, love is considered to give meaning to life, to overcome all obstacles, and to offer a share in eternity. One's beloved is often characterized as "the sweetest angel in heaven or on earth," or as a "divine gift." The beloved is perceived to be a perfect person whose existence cannot be comprehended.

The relationship between God and humanity has been described in the Bible and elsewhere in romantic terms, such as those of betrothal and marriage. When the people of Israel followed idols, they were like an unfaithful lover—their activities are described as betraying God and as committing adultery and prostitution, and God is described as jealous.

Pope Benedict XVI argues that "corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and His people and vice versa." Fidelity to God and marital fidelity are celebrated as the highest human achievements.

In the above descriptions, love is depicted as something sacred that money cannot buy, just as money cannot buy God or change normative behaviors prescribed by one's religion.

However, there are also similarities between romantic and commercial behavior, often expressed in the way that romantic partners are chosen today. Modern technology, especially the Internet, enables us to choose romantic partners in the way they select a commodity. Thus, people can refer to very specific features not necessarily related to love. When someone writes on a dating site that he is seeking a vegetarian, Jewish woman interested in African wildlife, his process is not dissimilar to the way in which he might itemize the attributes he wants in a car.

The role of money in generating or transacting loving relationships is expressed, for example, in the content of personal ads seeking romantic partners. For example, the requirement that prospective partners be financially secure is often mentioned in ads placed by women. Indeed, while both men and women prefer good-looking partners, women consider other qualities, such as status and money, to compensate for looks.

It is interesting to note that many men prefer a spouse who makes less money than they do and whose occupational status is lower than theirs. But this is due to men's concern about their self-esteem rather than love. It might, however, be further indication that money and status influence the generation of love.

Money and status are certainly related to the generation of sexual desire and satisfaction. A survey of hundreds of Italian women indicated that two-thirds found greater sexual satisfaction from "powerful men in socially respected positions." Indeed, in comparison with love, it is easier to buy and sell sexual desire. (Although commercial sex is quite successful, it has its own emotional limitations; even prostitutes offer no money-back guarantees.) The exchangeable nature of sex is also expressed in the ease with which sexual desire can be aroused by using the imagination, whether by people imagining themselves with someone other than the person they are actually with or by imagining the person they are with to be more attractive than he or she actually is.

Money might not be as important to love itself, but love is hardly disconnected from reality. It is grounded in an actual framework of life, and the flourishing of this framework can depend upon having more money. This is one reason why many people would marry someone who possesses many of the qualities they admire, but with whom they are not in love.

In a fortunate framework of life, positive emotions, including love, are more likely to be generated. Extremely negative situations, such as loneliness, can also generate love, but this might be superficial love that depends more on current circumstances than on the deep, stable characteristics of the lovers.

In the Jewish Ethics of the Fathers, there is the following claim: "Whenever love depends upon something [external to love], and then this thing passes, then the love passes away too. But if love does not depend upon something like this, then love will never pass away."

Indeed, we are familiar with statements like, "You don't love me; you just love my body/money/humor/wisdom." Such statements are voiced not only about features perceived as superficial, such as beauty and money, but also more profound features such as kindness, humor, and wisdom. Beauty and money are not regarded as legitimate reasons for love, while kindness and wisdom often are since they express characteristics that are more fundamental to us.

Nevertheless, none of these reasons alone is perceived to be sufficient for romantic love. Such love requires the presence of many aspects belonging to both the praiseworthiness and the attraction of the partner.

Happiness is similar: Money cannot buy long-term happiness, but it certainly can be helpful in creating the circumstances that induce such happiness. Various studies have found a positive correlation between income and long-term happiness. As with love, the effect of money on happiness is not very strong, and there are other factors that are even more important. Social factors, such as marriage, family, friends, and children, are more significant in determining long-term happiness than economic elements such as job, income, and standard of living. Money, however, can improve our situation in a way that gives us more occasions for happiness.

Money cannot buy love, and love cannot buy money, but money increases the chances of love, and love decreases the need for money. When one is in love, money is of less significance, and when one lacks money for basic needs, love is often more at risk.

To sum up: Love is considered to be partially sacred while also having exchangeable elements found in commercial commodities. Money can help to generate love, but it cannot buy love—at most, it can buy sex.

It is, however, easier to fall in love with a rich person, as money can generate circumstances that are more favorable for love, and living with someone who is wealthy can make life easier. Hence, some beautiful, young women may be attracted to rich, old men, and in some cases, genuine love is indeed generated.