a young woman in San Francisco, met a man—call him John—on the dating site OKCupid. More notably, he indulged in the kind of profligate displays of affection which signal a definite eagerness to commit.
He sneaked Suzanne’s favorite snacks into her purse as a workday surprise and insisted early on that she keep a key to his apartment. V.—an act roughly equivalent, in today’s gallantry currency, to Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea monster.
The first is that though dating is passed off as a leisure activity, it really is a lot of work, particularly for women.
It requires physical effort—all that primping, exercising, shopping, and grooming—as well as sizable investments of time, money, and emotion.
He might have practiced polyamory, consensual open love.
But John, with his flair for saccharine cuteness and his insistence on treating his conquests like romantic-comedy heroines, didn’t like just to play or cheat, and he certainly didn’t like any of his girlfriends to suspect that they didn’t have his full attention. According to Moira Weigel, the author of “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), most people are not like John in this respect.
It trained women “in how to be if we wanted to be wanted.”Hence “Labor of Love,” an exploration of that training, in which Weigel reaches two main conclusions.In our consumer society, love is perpetually for sale; dating is what it takes to close the deal.Her second conclusion is that the way we consume love changes to reflect the economy of the times.The monogamy of the booming postwar fifties offered “a kind of romantic full employment,” while the free love of the sixties signified not the death of dating but its deregulation on the free market.The luxury- and self-obsessed yuppies of the “greed is good” eighties demanded that the romantic market deliver partners tailored to their niche specifications, developing early versions of the kinds of matchmaking services that have been perfected in today’s digital gig economy, where the personal is professional, and everyone self-brands accordingly.In “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” (Simon & Schuster), the journalist Rebecca Traister describes the attempts of one establishment, the Trowmart Inn, in Greenwich Village, to address this problem.