Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Finding Love or Selling Yourself.

Finding Love or Selling Yourself

I heard an ad on the radio for a personal counselor, who promises to pilot clients through the shoals of the dating scene. She called her website “Are you Market ready?” I was intrigued and puzzled by that and looked up the website. ( I was not looking for a date. Lucy and I got together with the help a personal ad almost thirty years ago.)

Motivated by the owner's belief that “experiencing love and true compatibility is one of the most rewarding aspects of life” the website recommends that people approaching the dating scene consider it like any other market. They need to develop their “brand,” for instance. They should not present themselves as persons who “like candle light dinners and long walks of the beach” because 100,000 others looking for love describe themselves in the same way. The prospective date needs to know who you are from one or two sentences and how you are different from others.

Good advice. But I remain uncomfortable with the analogy between the market place and the effort to find love. In the market we sell commodities, stuff made to be sold and traded. But when one looks for love in the personals columns, or on an Internet dating site, or in a Singles' bar is one looking to sell oneself? Looking for love is different from trying to buy and sell. Finding “love and true compatibility” is different from striking a bargain. When you share your life with someone else and share common projects, a house and garden and, some times, having, and raising, and loving children, you are not engaged in bargaining, your are not looking to buy cheap and sell dear, as you do in a market transaction; you are sharing, working with another in a common project. Your relation to the shoe sales man or the car dealer is not remotely like the relation to your life companion.

Well, so a person who is trying to rustle up business for her personal consulting firm used a bad analogy. Why make a fuss about that?
It would not be worth thinking about any of that, if the confusion between loving and sharing, on one hand, and buying, primarily sexual love, on the other, were not so common. Think of Tiger Woods, Senator Edwards, Eliot Spitzer and the long list of political figures who thought that buying love was the same as loving and being loved. Think of the people who marry for money, who marry because their partner is famous—a big athlete, a movie star. Or think of the people who are willing to have a fling with a famous athlete who is married, who is not even promising love, sharing, or commitment, just to be able to brag to their friends or even to strangers on the Internet about their hot one-night stand with a world famous athlete. (Would any of the women who went public about their sexual encounters with Tiger Woods admit it, if the sex was only so-so?)

The confusion between what you sell and buy—commodities--and what you really value is even more widespread. People spend huge amounts of money on sharp clothes; they go deep into debt to buy a trophy home and to drive cool cars. But you would be a fool to trust the owner of the trophy home, complete with trophy wife just because he owns a house that is bigger than it needs to be. Would you buy a used car from such a man?

In the end what matters is the respect of people you work with, the trust of people with whom you share parts of your life, of the people who know your work. What matters is that they know you to be someone whose judgment deserves being taken seriously. Being known for the decent, generous and thoughtful person you are is, at the end of the day, what is really important. None of those can be bought. You get to be such a person by your own efforts, over a long period of time.

Think of what you want people to talk about at your wake: how you lived in a mansion and drove a Ferrari—and that you were over your ears in debt to maintain that showy life style? Or do you want people to remember many years of friendship, your agreeable nature, how good it was to talk to you, and how trustworthy a friend you were?

Advertisers who tell us daily that the good life can be bought have managed to confuse many of us. [WalMart's website promises “Save Money; Live Better”] They want us to believe that buying stuff will make ours a worthwhile life. They want us to think that if only we drive the right car or wear the right clothes, or use the right toothpaste, love—love over many years, with sharing and commitment-- can be ours. But the test of love comes at two in the morning when the baby wakes you up crying, or when your kid gets sent home from school for acting out, when you or your partner fall seriously ill, when you house burns down. Can you overcome these challenges together, and talk out what needs talking out? If so, that is love, it is sharing, and real connection. It does not matter what you wear while you are doing that. What matters are trust and generosity.

And that is not for sale.