How do young South Africans give meaning to love? In this paper we draw on findings from an interview study to examine the ways in which young Africans, aged 16 to 17 years in a poor township in KwaZulu-Natal province, express ideals of love and romance. Their claims to love we show are strategic advantages as they negotiate poverty and economic marginalisation. Girls' ideals of love are tied to their aspirations towards middle-class consumerism. Love becomes inseparable from the idealisation of men who provide. Upholding provider masculinity is a strategic means to claim money, fashionable clothes and prestige. Unlike girls, the boys' love investments were focused on farm girls from rural areas in South Africa. Farm girls were constructed as virgins with little investment in commodification. Farm girls are a strategic option through which boys' economic marginalisation experienced in the township girls is reconciled through an exalted masculinity. Love is produced by particular sets of economic and social circumstances through which gender inequalities are reproduced, and should be taken more seriously in working with young people to address gendered social environments and HIV risk.