Laurie Essig Ph.D.

Love, Inc

To Love Me Is to Pay Me

A new online dating service lets women name their price to go out with a man.

Posted Apr 19, 2013

Despite what the romantics tell us, love has never really been unconnected to money. Maybe money can't buy you love, but it can now buy you the promise of love.  At the dating website, WhatsYourPrice.com men bid on dates with "attractive" women.

 Billed as an online dating auction, the site opens up with the image of two attractive, young white women with their arms around each other. At first, it seems as if this might be a website where those with the highest levels of erotic capital can be bid on by those with higher levels of economic capital. But in fact it is a place for men to bid on first dates with women. In other words, it is romantic- if not sexual- prostitution. Women agree to go out with a man and engage in the promise of romance if the price is right. 

Let me be clear- the women are not selling sex for money. The website says "escorts are not welcome" and goes onto explain that:

WhatsYourPrice.com is intended to be used as an online dating website. Our members expect to find genuine profiles, with genuine opportunities to fall in love and enter into a relationship. 

This plea for genuine love for sale is accompanied by this sign, just in case you didn't get that this is not sex, but love, that is being traded.

In one ad for whatsyourprice.com, a vaguely feminist veneer is put on the entire process, telling viewers that women earn 24% less than men but spend three times as much money getting ready for a date. In other words, men paying to date women is just a way to right the wrongs of patriarchal capitalism. We have come a long way, baby.

But unlike selling cigarettes to women with the "You've come a long way baby" feminist message, WhatsYourPrice.com

is less cynical than it is brutally honest. As they point out on their website, 

WhatsYourPrice.com is taking the science out of dating, because really it’s all about economics. Dating is about supply and demand, quality over quantity.

If we look at dating and marriage markets minus the distortions of romance, we see that actually marriage has always been situated in the economic. Prior to the "companionate marriages" of the modern era, marriages were clearly about economic exchange. However, as the 20th century came fully into focus, we moderns began to imagine love was outside the material world- or at least genuine love was. We believed in things like love at first site and following our hearts. But even as we espoused these romantic truisms, we Americans tended to marry within our class background to a great degree.

In the past few decades, social scientists and politicians, neither of whom are terribly romantic, started pointing out the connection between wealth and marriage. Some spun it as a sign that getting married will make you wealthier. Others saw it as evidence that marriage is a wealth producing institution only for those who already have wealth. But all of this talk of marrying and money has taken the romantic shine off of how many of us see dating and marriage.

Without romance to cover up the materiality of love and dating, we are left with modern love in its most naked form: an online market where visual images that signify high levels of erotic capital are bought and sold in the hopes of finding a genuine relationship.  

In other words, welcome to a world where sexual prostitution is usally considered a sin, but romantic prostitution is good business.