The process of testing out potential mates, and of being tested by them in turn, can be gruelling, bewildering, humiliating.Using another metaphor, Weigel compares the experience to being cast in a bad piece of experimental theatre: “You and a partner showed up every night with different, conflicting scripts.The pursuit of leisure cost more than most single working-class women (paid a fraction of what men were) could readily afford.Weigel quotes a 1915 report by a New York social worker: “The acceptance on the part of the girl of almost any invitation needs little explanation, when one realizes that she often goes pleasureless unless she accepts ‘free treats.’ ” To have fun, a woman had to let a man pay for her and suffer the resultant damage to her reputation.Weigel had a revelation: she was always turning to a man to tell her what she was after, and the institution of dating was to blame.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.
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.
However much you might enjoy going out to dinner or stumbling home with someone new, you date in the hope that the day will come when you’ll never have to date again.
“If marriage is the long-term contract that many daters still hope to land, dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship,” Weigel writes at the start of her book.
He asked her to help him choose a couch and then spooned with her on all the floor models. As we learn from the podcast “Reply All,” which reported the tale, Suzanne was not the only woman on whom John had chosen to bestow his favor.
Six months into their relationship, she discovered that he was seeing half a dozen other women, one of whom he’d been stringing along for two years.
In our consumer society, love is perpetually for sale; dating is what it takes to close the deal.