Market Metaphors For Meeting Mates


Aaron Bernard and Mara B. Adelman (1990) ,"Market Metaphors For Meeting Mates", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 78.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Page 78


Aaron Bernard, Northwestern University

Mara B. Adelman, Northwestern University

Metaphors are linguistic systems that shape our understandings and actions even to the recesses of our most intimate lives. No where are these metaphors more apparent than in the voice of singles reflecting upon the process of meeting a mate. This paper presents findings drawn from current or former users of an introduction service for professional singles searching for a lifelong partner. Content analysis of 27 in depth (1-3 hour) interviews with adult singles reveals two dominant types of metaphors. 1) Practical: Courtship as a Market Phenomenon This metaphor stresses social exchange in which each individual attempts to maximize their own utility. Exchange within romantic dyads includes both tangible assets such as financial resources, and intangible assets such as love and respect. The process of attracting a mate is seen in terms of "marketing", while the process of searching for a mate is seen in terms of "shopping" and consumption. Prospective mates are therefore seen as types of products. This contemporary market metaphor is individualistic and sees marriage solely as a means to personal fulfillment. 2) Romantic: Love as a Physical Force This metaphor is similar to the classic literary conception of love as a supernatural force (e.g. magic). The contemporary metaphor however is naturalistic and sees love as "chemistry" or "electricity" between two people.

Most singles recognized the importance of both "chemistry" and exchange within their romantic relationships. Each system of metaphors was applied in a different context in order to highlight a particular aspect of the respondents relations with the opposite sex. Most respondents valued the freedom from familial or community obligations that the individualistic outlook of the market metaphor provided. However, many respondents also questioned either individualism and/or the market metaphor as an appropriate perspective for interpersonal relationships. These respondents feared that it precludes non-contingent giving and promotes adversarial attitudes. While respondents generally mentioned the importance of "chemistry" in relationship formation, several respondents expressed skepticism regarding such romantic notions as "if two people are meant to be together, they will meet without working at it". Apart from this sample, content analysis of popular press reporting on traditional dating and dating services are used to illustrate and provide a wider cultural context for the findings of the study.



Aaron Bernard, Northwestern University
Mara B. Adelman, Northwestern University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17 | 1990

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