“With respect to love we speak continually about perfection and the perfect person. With respect to love Christianity also speaks continually about perfection and the perfect person. Alas, but we men talk about finding the perfect person in order to love him. Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who limitlessly loves the person he sees.”
– Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love
A significant aspect of romantic love concerns the acquisition of the resources belonging to another individual. For example, the attainment of certain desirable genetic traits is common to both men and women while, in general, men are also deemed more desirable when in possession of material resources. However, the perceived desirable traits of a romantic partner have a distinctive social aspect whereby resources are evaluated with reference to other resources available within the purview of the evaluator, that is within the sphere of their perceived attainment. This relativistic aspect affects the evaluation and decision-making process since the value of resources within a given spatial or temporal context varies as a function of their relative abundance or scarcity, as well as the perceived attainability of alternatives.
The desire to achieve exclusive possession and control over the resources identified with another is a feature of the attractiveness of those resources. The act of ‘falling in love’ with someone does not occur in isolation, but rather within a given social context. The mobility of perceived social contexts has increased in recent decades, fuelled by the virtualization of social interactions and the enlarged pools within which relative romantic resources can be evaluated and compared. Such contexts can be virtual or abstract, but they remain meaningful insofar as the evaluation process is concerned. To ‘fall in love’ with someone (along with their resources) will always occur with reference to other romantic resource options available.
The relativistic aspect of the selection of romantic resources and its unavoidably socialized context, bears some comparison with the process by which identity formation of the individual takes place and the affirmation of that identity in the eyes of others. The views of the collective have a direct bearing upon how an individual identifies and affirms their selected identity. In the realm of evaluating romantic resources, the relative value of certain attributes and resources will change depending on what becomes available over time, and with that the target of the ‘I love you’ declaration will shift accordingly. It should also be noted that the outcome of an individual’s efforts at securing romantic resources is also key to establishing their position within a given social hierarchy.
Questions arise concerning the similarities between identity formation, the selection of a romantic partner, and the extent to which one is wrapped up in the other. For example, the desirability of resources and the possessor of those resources vary according to their perceived desirability in the eyes of the collective within a given social context. Furthermore, questions arise as to the extent to which the selection of a romantic partner is the product of an individual’s desire for those attributes (resources) to be ascribed to themselves: the attractiveness, success, status, wealth, or appeal of a romantic partner being secured by and credited to the evaluator. Circumstances in which one individual depends on the resources of another to form the basis of their identity may not be immediately obvious, however changes in circumstances that adversely impact the availability of those resources will be revealing.
Mirroring society at large, within a Christian church context the same rules apply and processes occur insofar as the way in which available romantic resources are evaluated, romantic partners selected, and social hierarchies consequently formed. Love in this context takes on a different appearance to the form of love that many would understand from a reading of the New Testament. Instead, such agape notions are suspended while the matter of selecting a romantic partner is at hand.
It could be argued that romantic love as it is understood in this era is very often not love at all, but rather something that better resembles an economic transaction and the mutual exchange of resources in the form of genes, wealth, and social capital. This type of love is ephemeral in the sense that once it is perceived that these resources have been depleted and better resources can be obtained elsewhere, a change is made, often in the form of seeking out a new object for that ‘love’.