A difficult subject to be certain, but let's start with the topic of seduction vs. attraction:
I see people discussing the ethics and sanity of putting on a show or using tricks to hook a partner. I find it amusing that everyone agrees that there is such a thing as unethical seduction, but at the same time, they draw the line at radically different places and don't take this thought to its logical conclusion.
So Spanish Fly and love spells (if you believe in that sort of thing) are unethical and one step away from rape? But what about mini-skirts? What about perfumes or using your naturally high amounts of pheromones to overpower your date? What is rape after all but an overpowering of human weaknesses in order to have sex or seduce their bodies against their will?
With rape, one person overpowers the other's muscles or uses their fears to manipulate them into sex. The rapist may or may not succeed. When a person purposely wears tight clothing to accentuate their healthy, sexy body and attract members of the opposite sex, they are attempting to overpower them by using chemical weaknesses and deprive them of a purely rational decision to have sex. They too may or may not succeed.
You may argue that with simple training and willpower, the victim of cleavage-attack may resist this offensive and make his own decision. But with enough knowledge of self-defense tactics, the rape victim may do the same. Is the latter much more difficult and are many rape attacks impossible to defend against? Probably, but this doesn't refute the fact that both methods basically have the same goal and both aim to overpower another person, only with different techniques and degrees of effectiveness.
And why stop there? What about a man who uses charm, manipulative seduction or subtle domination tactics to get the woman in bed? What about the woman who dresses conservatively but attempts to seduce the man with smiles and mystery, overpowering his weak curiosity or sense of adventure? What about the repulsive, manipulative game of playing hard to get?
And what makes an attraction based on a date personality-mask or on intellectual impression any better? Most people put on a special attire, a special mood and a special face when they go on dates in order to attract. In this case you are manipulating your date's expectations and attempting to overpower their weakness for a well-dressed, charming and interesting partner when in reality you are a sloppy and moody person. How is this different from rape except in its effectiveness? This isn't only an attempt to push a person into a situation they don't want, it's even dishonest, which is worse than rape.
Forget ethics; shouldn't it make you feel weak and conterfeit when you resort to tricks to attract someone? Of course it should. And that's why people react in different ways to this problem and draw the line at different things according to their sensitivity and level of desperation.
You may feel that there are such things as good and ethical seduction methods as well as bad ones. But can you pinpoint the difference between them? Isn't seduction an overpowering of a weakness against better judgement no matter how charming and sexy the technique?
One reason I am discussing seduction under the topic of love is because it's necessary to remind ourselves of the obvious fact that there are many reasons for attraction, many of them having nothing to do with magical romance, altruistic bonds or spiritual goals.
So what is love?
I can go the materialistic way and define love as pure body chemistry. My instincts and eyes tell me she is healthy and good for breeding and that her DNA is compatible with mine, her pheromones are encouraging me to continue the species and she feels the same way about me... so voila, we marry based on a strong biological attraction that overpowers everything else. This scenario may be cynical or cold and may not appeal to romantics, but it's quite common and probably represents a basic and perhaps the strongest drive in many relationships. The same obviously applies to a relationship based on lust.
Some people just accept love as magical, mystical and impenetrable and would scoff at my attempts to analyze it. I.e. love is. I find this silly, not romantic.
Others deny that love exists (as defined by the silly romantics) and just settle down to a practical relationship based on fun and good living. Typically, these people would be classified as incapable of love or as lacking experience in such matters.
Most try to describe love based on its properties and behaviour: altruism, selflessness, integrity, respect, goodness, patience, kindness, honesty, perseverance, trust, intimacy, etc. Or perhaps love is allowing your partner to choose, or doing what is best for them, or setting them free when necessary, etc. etc. But this is very unsatisfactory and merely skirts around the issue. Theoretically, you can be altruistic, kind, etc. without loving. Also, this would mean that a dog could love as much as a human if it exhibits the same behaviour. Some animal-lovers may treat this as dogma and even state that dogs love more than humans, but I and many others would feel insulted if compared to a dog and feel pity for such pathetic creatures whose empirical limits have been defined by a dog's affections.
Some think love can only be described with poetry and can only be understood by experiencing it. So when love is described using something like: "Love is waking up to find the object of your affection in your dream asleep on your shoulder" - this is merely a trick to evoke known emotions in you and thereby define it indirectly. But it explains nothing.
Same goes for definitions like 'love is the feeling you get when you meet the right person'. These say absolutely nothing, and can be interpreted in any subjective way, and definitely aren't abstract enough to describe anything of consequence to me.
I can try the existential route and say that to exist is to be imperfect. To be perfect is to be pure and one with everything, and therefore means you cease to exist. To love someone specific is therefore to love their imperfections. This may sound like Zen rubbish but it actually has some truth to it which I will get back to later.
There are the philosophical musings of Aristotle and Aquinas who cut through various kinds of love with logic, defining the types of unions, intellectual and psychological bonds, etc. This is interesting but is the opposite extreme of the 'magic' enthusiasts. Where's the magic?
Or how about some humor: "I was nauseous and tingly all over... I was either in love or I had smallpox." - Woody Allen
So what the hell IS love?
Personally, the only definition that makes sense to me is the religious angle: Not that God is love - that's too hippy-esque and would be a swerve in the wrong direction right before we reach the destination - but that we are all part of God and every person has a 'divine spark'. To love a person is to love God, yourself, and the unity that binds you to this person. Love is to actively connect through a link that is already there.
This may seem like a cop-out but think about it. What better explanation is there for this impenetrable bond than to go to our very core? A core cannot be analyzed and grasped through itself, which explains the mystery. Also, a common core logically allows for the psychic link that occurs with true love. Call it a force or a unity under any name you prefer (whether spiritual or not), but this kind of link explains things so perfectly to the point of being too obvious.
Love is to be in touch with another person through this most basic link. In a way, to love someone is to love yourself. Is it any wonder the bible said love your fellow-man like yourself? In my eyes, this is not just a moral guide on how to behave and treat another person, but an existential command regarding the inner levels you must strive to reach in order to feel/reach God and thereby relate to another person at the deepest level. It is interesting to note that in the original Hebrew it says 'love towards your fellow man' not 'love your fellow man'. This is usually interpreted as meaning that you must wish the same goodness towards him and not actually give him priority (i.e. Judaism believes in self-preservation and selective charity as opposed to impractical Christian views of turning the other cheek) but I also see it as emphasizing more active participation.
This crushes the idea that people fall in and out of love. To be in love means to be active, not passive. It means to seek out the link, stay in touch with the core and constantly find God/goodness in your loved one no matter what they do and how you feel. The bible commands you to love, it doesn't tell you to hang out in bars so that eventually you may, perhaps, possibly fall in love. How to do this is out of the scope of this essay but one thing is for certain as far as I'm concerned: If you fall in love then you're not in love. You're only in love if you love.
Now, taking the subject of attraction to its logical conclusion no matter how ridiculous it gets: Imagine that you eliminate all 'unnatural' charms, attractions and masks for your date. You dress very conservatively and barely speak, hoping that your date becomes attracted to you nevertheless. However, even in this Amish date you still may have elements that get in the way of a purely rational judgement like natural chemistry, lust, loneliness, a kind act that clouds your thinking, a pretty face, a charming smile, etc.
If you look at it this way, is it any wonder some people believe in arranged marriages? Imagine that you live in a closed world where everyone in your circle has the same goals and lifestyles. In order to avoid all possible wrong subjective decisions, you place the choice in the hands of someone you trust who is more objective and who can choose your spouse based on upbringing and moral character instead of a charming smile. Then when you marry her, you actively work on loving your spouse and work out any small differences based on common goals. This obviously can't work for anyone outside of such a tight circle but you can't deny the extreme logic of it.
Which brings me to the practical conclusion: Ideally, anyone could learn to love anyone, attraction would follow this love and you would be loved for who you are at the core. But practically, in most circles, this is silly fantasy. We need chemistry and some physical health/beauty to avoid physical repulsion over the years, we need a compatible personality and lifestyle to be able to live with anyone without going insane, and we need constant acts of love to stay connected (acts of love in this context means God-like acts that help us stay in touch with and through our core).
To love someone specific and dedicate yourself to marriage is to add exclusivity/holiness to the mix (which I spoke of in previous posts) as well as to love their imperfections (their unique existence). I often joke that to marry is to find compatible neuroses.
In other words, all the aforementioned definitions have some truth to them because we are imperfect humans and because we lead lifestyles of our own choosing. We can't have our cake and eat it too. You can't fantasize about doing what you want and being loved for who you are. You need to work to attract people. You need to help your spouses weaknesses by satisfying them best you can, not by scoffing at their superficial nature. Beauty may not be the goal of marriage or any kind of criterion for love, but it sure does help a lot. The adage of 'just be yourself' is true but also dangerous. Most people take it as an excuse for laziness.
We need seduction because we're weak and need help and encouragement. A good seduction is one that helps you love and stay together AFTER a rational decision has been made. Nothing else qualifies as ethical.