We constantly use economic metaphors to describe romantic and sexual relations. Few people today refer to women as “damaged goods” or wonder why a man would “buy the cow when he can get the milk for free,” but we have “friends with benefits” and “invest in relationships.” An ex may be “on” or “off the market.” Online dating makes “shopping around” explicit. Blog after blog strategizes about how to maximize your “return on investment” on OkCupid.
We use this kind of language because the ways that people date — who contacts whom, where they meet and what happens next — have always been tied to the economy. Dating applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.
Moira Weigel, “Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy”, The New York Times (15 May 2016), SR5.