The Selfish Path to Romance


The Book

Too much of what most of us have learned about how to find and sustain love is misguided and ends in heartbreak. Lasting passionate romance is not the result of luck, chemistry, trial and error, or fleeting emotions. Rather, a successful romance can be yours when you are guided by rational principles, identify the causes of your emotions, and proactively and constantly work on nurturing your relationship. This is explored in depth in The Selfish Path to Romance.

Love is not about sacrifice. Real, lasting romance comes to partners who have self-esteem, are clear about asserting their needs and their worth, and develop virtue and moral character in themselves. As novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand wrote: It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love.

Authors Edwin Locke and Ellen Kenner, psychologists and expert presenters of Rand's writings and ideas, were inspired to build on her understanding that love depends on reason, egoism, introspection, and moral character.

The Selfish Path to Romance offers a mindful, rational alternative for those who are serious about finding and sustaining a lifetime romance. Be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged and your mind opened to new and unconventional ideas.

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What Is Romantic Love?

Romantic love is not based on the need for approval, but on the need for visibility.

Ross, a bachelor, met Olivia, the divorced mother of two young boys, at a science museum. She was taking her boys through an exhibit about the Wright brothers, the first men to achieve powered, manned flight. He loved the way she explained what a great achievement it was and how many difficulties and failures the Wrights had to overcome before they succeeded. Ross saw the boys’ eyes glowing with excitement as Olivia talked about the origin of manned flight.

Ross was so impressed that he went up to Olivia and said, “Excuse me, but I overheard you explaining the exhibit to the boys and they seem really excited about it. You’re a wonderful mom to do this for them.” Olivia was completely shocked, and for reasons she could not fathom, almost burst into tears, but managed a “Thank you.” Her husband had deserted the family some years before, and she had felt totally invisible to him. When her husband abandoned her, he left the responsibility of childrearing in her hands. She obtained a full-time job but struggled financially as well as emotionally. Nevertheless, she had sworn to make up for the loss of the boys’ dad by being a conscientious, benevolent mother. Out of the blue, Ross had made her feel visible in a way that was very important to her and in a manner she had never experienced before.

Ross himself felt visible because he saw how his remark had moved her. He wanted to find out more about her, so he asked Olivia if he could show the boys a space exhibit in the museum he knew well. Olivia agreed and they all had a great time. Then Ross asked if he could buy them all some ice cream in the cafeteria. They sat and talked, and he learned that Olivia was a single mom. He complimented her further on how happy and secure the boys seemed to be.

Olivia learned that Ross worked for NASA tracking space probes and that he had worked to get a PhD in aeronautical engineering. He paid his way through college because his parents refused to help; his father thought construction work, which he had done all his life, was good enough for his son. Ross passionately loved his work. Olivia told Ross how much she admired him for his ambition and his struggle to do what he wanted. Now it was Ross’s turn to feel teary-eyed. His father had never appreciated his achievement and thus never made him feel visible for all that he had accomplished and for what he valued in himself.

We seem to have a lot in common,” Ross observed.

What do you mean?” asked Olivia.

“We’ve both had to struggle against tough odds but we were determined to do what we thought was the right thing and to do it without bitterness—to keep joy in our lives.”

“Yes,” said Olivia, “you’re right.”

They both smiled and were aware that a bond was growing between them.

Ross said, “You’re a lovely lady, and I’d love to do more with you and the boys—maybe a tour of NASA, and I would love to take you out alone too.”

Olivia blushed. It had been many years since a man told her she was attractive and she suddenly felt visible as a woman. This was the beginning of a promising romance. In the short time they were together in the museum, both Olivia and Ross felt seen, or visible, in important ways.

Ross took Olivia and the boys on a tour of NASA, which they all loved, and Ross began to date Olivia. They were strongly attracted to one another and each date over many months strengthened their bond. When they made love they felt a joyous ecstasy unlike anything they had ever experienced.

Olivia and Ross fell in love. What exactly does that mean? What is romantic love?

Romantic love is a strong, emotionally intimate relationship between consenting adults that combines an intense valuing of a partner on the deepest level and the enjoyment of sexual pleasure with that partner.

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Core Virtues

from chapter 5 - Making Yourself Lovable / Building Moral Character
Our list of moral virtues is drawn from Ayn Rand™s philosophy of Objectivism: rationality, honesty, integrity, independence, justice, productivity, pride.


is the all-encompassing, primary virtue, because reason (rational thinking) is one’s main tool of survival. You need to think in order to gain the knowledge required to live. You can’t survive on instinct because you don’t have any. Being rational means you are willing to put forth the effort to think, to integrate your knowledge, to commit to looking at facts without evasion, neither expecting effects (money) without causes (working for a living), nor enacting causes (smoking) without considering their effects (serious health risks).

Attempting to have a romantic relationship with an irrational person is a living nightmare. You cannot reason with irrational people; facts and logical arguments have no effect on them. You cannot understand them because they are full of unresolved contradictions. They are unpredictable because they often act on whim. You cannot feel fully understood because they don’t consistently use reason to understand you. All this is anathema to romance. Furthermore, irrationality will undermine all the other virtues because they are all aspects of rationality.

Irrationality, at the deepest level, amounts to the rejection of facts and logic, which means the rejection of reality. You may be thinking: Well, okay, but we can’t be rational all the time, can we? After all, we have emotions! As we will see, emotions are not the enemy of rationality.


is the refusal to fake reality. It is essential in a romantic relationship. Without it you cannot have trust, which means you cannot rely on the character of your partner. How many times have you heard unhappy partners say, “I can’t trust her” or “He broke my trust”? People typically lie for temporary gain in the hope that by denying reality, they can temporarily recreate it based on their wishes. But it can’t be done, and you can’t escape knowing that fact, even if you can deceive your partner temporarily. You are making yourself unlovable, and privately, you will not admire yourself.


means being loyal to your rational convictions in action. A breach of integrity means acting against your own convictions. Having courage, that is, remaining true to your values in the face of threat, is an aspect of integrity. It also means not giving up your values for a momentary emotional high. A wife may profess to love her husband, but she brushes that off for a quick, mindless affair. A man may know he needs to exercise regularly, diet, and stop smoking, but he suppresses that knowledge for “just a moment”—every day, for years.

Breaches of integrity cost us our self-respect, not to mention our romantic happiness. When we let ourselves down again and again, we lose trust in ourselves and others lose trust in us.


is your commitment to think for yourself and to earn your own keep. The proper basis for coming to conclusions in any area of your life (be it romance, career, moral beliefs, even practical decisions) is by not going blindly by what your parents, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or religious and political leaders tell you, but going by your own best, rational judgment. You may get very useful facts from others but you still need to judge others’ claims for yourself. Independence is your refusal to accept any idea without evidence. Dependence is a mirror of what others want, and as a result, one loses control of one’s life and destroys any sense of self.

Independence is not only thinking for yourself but also living by your own effort, which includes living within your means.


means appraising and acting toward other people in accordance with facts; treating them as they deserve. Justice is reason applied to your relationships with others. It is based on what Ayn Rand calls “the trader principle.” A “trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.” The very foundation of love is a trade: you offer your virtue and other attributes in return for those of your partner. Ayn Rand writes, “Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.”

Justice demands showing appropriate appreciation for your partner’s character and actions and making them feel visible. It also means making sincere apologies when you have hurt or wronged them. In healthy romantic relationships, partners must practice the principle of justice or else resentments build and relationships deteriorate.


is the process of creating material values (goods or services). Living requires material values. If nobody worked, how would you get your home, food, clothes, car, or medical care? Material values are not just a matter of surviving at the subsistence level. The goods and services we buy are healthy sources of pleasure—books, appliances, jewelry, art, personal computers, massages, vacations, and much more. (We are NOT advocating using things, including money, as status symbols—this shows a lack of independence and makes you feel chronically insecure, because there is always someone who has more.)

Productivity requires having a long-range focus on a career, developing the skills you need to be employable and earn money. Your career gives you a sense of purpose and the financial ability to trade with others in order to sustain and enrich your life; it gives you a sense of pride in yourself.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re unlovable unless you have a job or career right now. You may be going through a tough personal time, be between jobs, or be unemployed by circumstances beyond your control. Or perhaps you’re caring for children or elderly family members. If you are making a genuine effort to improve your situation, you may be perfectly lovable and moral.

Having a productive purpose gives meaning to your life. What’s the meaning of your own life? It’s the important, personal values and goals that you choose and pursue.


according to Ayn Rand, “is the sum of all virtues.” Many people believe that pride is a vice. We all dislike pompous, boastful people, but these people feel false pride. Their pomposity and boastfulness serve to hide inner doubt. Martyrs can also feel false pride for having given up all self-value for the sake of others; but they end up feeling resentful, cynical, empty, and depressed.

We view real or earned pride as a virtue; it results from the desire to be moral, or more succinctly, a consequence of your “moral ambitiousness.” You earn a sense of pride by deliberately practicing the virtues we’ve discussed and building them into your character.

You can properly take pride in the practical accomplishments resulting from your virtues (a successful business venture, a successful romantic relationship). You can also take pride in having done your best even when things do not turn out as desired (a failed business venture, a failed romantic relationship); practical outcomes are not always fully in your control.

Pride, like all the virtues, is available to everyone, whether rich or poor, highly educated or a high school dropout. The main question to ask yourself is, given your situation and knowledge: Do you work to make yourself virtuous? If you do—you are building moral character and making yourself more fit to live and more lovable.

Does being virtuous mean one never acts out of character? No, but a moral person will recognize and admit their error, take steps to correct it, and make amends, if possible and appropriate. In sum, a rational (reality-oriented) moral code gives you the best chance to live happily and successfully.

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Romance Tips and FAQ

Ayn Rand on Romantic Love

One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one’s own personal selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love.

Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person.

Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person.

To hold the body of... [a lover] in our arms is neither ugly nor shameful, but the one ecstasy granted to the race of men.

Romantic Love

Romantic love is neither mysterious nor ineffable. The causes of romantic love can be and need to be understood through introspection--that is, looking inward at one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Love is not causeless; it is something you have to earn. There are many factors involved in love, including common values and individual, personal preferences. Moral character, however, is the foundation for love and is indispensible.

Egoism is your foundation for romantic happiness. Egoism doesn’t mean a mindless hedonism but a mutual valuing of yourself and your partner. True love is egoism for two.

Finding a Partner

Anyone who wants to establish a long-term relationship is faced with the question: What’s essential in a partner for my happiness? Identify what you do and do not like about your potential partner and why. Introspect to identify the causes of your reactions.

Your looks matter! You are neither a body without a mind nor a mind without a body. How you take care of yourself and present yourself physically says a lot to a prospective romantic partner. It speaks to self-esteem and self-valuing.

Wanting appreciation for your good qualities and actions (wanting visibility) is the opposite of wanting approval to eliminate your self-doubts.

Love is not causeless; it is something you have to earn. There are many factors involved in love, including common values and individual, personal preferences. Moral character, however, is the foundation for love and is indispensible.

Loving with Passion and Reason

Emotions alone are insufficient to make the thousands of decisions and guide all the actions that have to be made over many years in order to sustain a passionate, intimate romantic relationship. Love can be sustained only by an active mental process--the process of thinking.

Your own worth and character can never be enhanced or diminished by your partner’s achievements or failures. Your self-esteem comes from your own choices and actions.

It is precisely because they are in love that partners need to communicate—to strengthen and deepen that love.

Admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness but of moral integrity. This strengthens your self-esteem.

The Importance of Sex

Sex is an intensely selfish pleasure and is based on both a deep emotional connection with your partner and a selfish desire to give your partner equal pleasure. The pleasure of sex is properly viewed as an end in itself, not as the means to any other end.

Emotional intimacy is the most fundamental prerequisite for sexual interest, arousal, and pleasure in a successful long-term relationship. Sex can reinforce romantic love but cannot create closeness from thin air; it is the expression of love, not its cause.

Sex is an important part of romantic partners’ lives together. It is true that active, productive people have to make time for sex, but sex shouldn’t be relegated to the category of a spare time activity. Sex is too important a pleasure and too crucial for promoting intimacy to be put on the back burner.

If you show indifference to your partner’s sexual pleasure, you are showing indifference to your partner.

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