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Is the Search for Romance Ethical?

03/02/2015 15:37 GMT | Updated 04/04/2015 10:59 BST

The question of whether romance is ethical may seem an odd one. Most of us accept romance, by which I mean dating and the pursuit of romantic love, and the hopeful consequence of romantic love as being something of ethical purity. After all, how can the antithesis of hate be regarded as unethical?

However, how much do those seeking romance take part as a means for purely their personal benefit? Is romance a covertly selfish practice which hides in plain sight? If so, does that mean romantic love is the offspring of an immoral practice?

In my own attempt at a romantic night in, I set off through a well-known supermarket, scouring the shelves for Friday night dinner. With the news playing in my ear, perusing the wine section, I listened to a broadcast discussing a new dating site. It dealt primarily with clients looking for 'mutual benefit'. The exchange, or transaction taking place, was simple: money for love. An interesting moral proposal, but not, I am informed by founder Brandon Wade, prostitution, which he defines as "sex for money".

Regardless of his argument, and irritated that romance could be degraded in this way, I dropped my reduced bottle of Prosecco into the shopping basket and hurried towards the checkout.

I questioned this 'mutual benefit', first of all on the business level that had been suggested. I realised it was often beauty which was being sold in return for money. Now anyone with any hint of economic knowledge knows that to invest in a person's beauty isn't the wisest of investments due to unfortunate asset depreciation. But it got me thinking, is romance just another economical trade? If so, where does that leave romantic love morally?

If we take off our rose tinted glasses and think specifically about romantic love, it is simply an abstract: conveying a collection of positive emotions we feel towards a person of varying strength and number from which we establish an overall positive opinion. I admit it's a clinical, 'unromantic' perception, but falling in love makes us feel good otherwise we wouldn't do it, would we? Our collective value of a person is based on that person's ability to make us happy. We fall for someone for their values, personality, character and other qualities because being attached to them, being around them, is good for us socially and psychologically.

Those exchanging love for money then are arguably no different to us all in that they are conducting a business transaction for something they value in order to benefit themselves. So, is that it? Is romance dead?

Kantian Ethics teaches us that using someone for purely our own benefit is morally reprehensible. People who go on dates are unlikely to be concerned with what Kant would say are the other person's 'own legitimate projects': that person's own wishes and personal pursuit of life.

At the beginning of a relationship, we may we act out of selfishness for our own wellbeing, using a person as a means to our own ends. To us, that person is an embodiment for our own possible happiness. We may eventually transcend this thought process: respecting them as rational agents and supporting them in their own pursuit of life. However, an argument still remains that romance, at its core, has a lack of moral concern.

This may be so, if it were not for two fatal flaws. The first relates to romance, which I defined as the stages we go through before falling in love, (dating for example). Both people taking part in a romantic encounter are fully aware of its inherent selfishness in the early stages. We accept selfishness in this form because we understand people are their own rational agents, even if we do not treat them as such yet. Selfishness is therefore an accepted prerequisite for love. We accept, in order for romance to work, it needs to be mutually positive or beneficial; both parties need to have their individual concerns addressed and satisfied by the other person.

The second flaw is slightly more romantic. Many would argue that falling in love is not a choice. If we fall for someone without intending to, there can be very little Kant could slap our hand about. There is no intent; there is only a good will.

Love is a wildly variable and complex concept. Whilst on the surface romantic love is an inherently selfish model masked by years of euphoric idealism, romance being understood as a selfish design, shifts its moral position to one of acceptance, and in fact necessity, in order for love to grow and develop into something far more profound.

Perhaps romance isn't dead after all I thought, popping the cork on the freshly winter chilled Prosecco. Perhaps the idea is just slightly less romantic.