Is Dating Worth It? by A. Schwartz (Re “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” book by Weigel)

Is Dating Worth It? by A. Schwartz (Re “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” book by Weigel)

(Link): Is Dating Worth It? by A. Schwartz

  • (Re “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” book by Weigel)


  • ….Weigel, who is in her early thirties, is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature, film, and media at Yale; “Labor of Love,” a perceptive and wide-ranging investigation into the history of dating in America, is her first book, sprouted from the seed of unpleasant personal experience. At twenty-six, she was involved with an older man who was torn between her and an ex he hadn’t lost interest in. Maybe he wouldn’t choose either of them; he told Weigel that he found the whole premise of long-term romance “ideologically suspect.”
  • She realized that she had no idea what she herself wanted from romance. Her Irish Catholic mother and the self-help industry told her that the goal should be marriage, and soon. She asked her sort-of boyfriend for his opinion. He thought that everyone should want to pursue happiness. 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. 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. 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.

  • ….What the Trowmart founder had in mind was “calling,” the respectable mode of courtship that had been practiced during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth by the aspirational middle class.
  • After a girl came out into society, around the age of sixteen, her guardian would invite young men to call on her at home.
  • They would chat; she might play something on the piano. In subsequent “seasons,” girls were permitted to extend invitations themselves.
  • Calling had rules, which were publicized by women’s magazines like Harpers Bazaar andLadies’ Home Journal. A man should call within a fortnight of receiving an invitation. A girl’s mother must chaperone the first visit but eventually leave the couple alone. A young lady should never walk her guest to the front door.
  • …Compared with dating, calling sounds unbearably repressive. Weigel points out that it turned women, primly cloistered in their drawing rooms, into passive objects of male desire. (In “The Glass Menagerie,” Amanda Wingfield, with her fantasy of a “gentleman caller,” suggests the more destructive effects of this philosophy.)
  • And the rules were firm. In 1907, Ladies’ Home Journal instructed women never to go to a restaurant in the company of a man. Think of the opening scene of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” published in 1905 and set a decade earlier, in which Lily Bart, a single woman struggling to keep her place among New York’s élite, agrees to take tea at the apartment of the lawyer Lawrence Selden, a single man. You don’t have to read any further to know that the novel will end in her ruin.
  • ….But calling gave women certain advantages. As the historian Beth L. Bailey argued in a 1988 book on courtship in twentieth-century America, calling, which took place in the female “sphere” of the home, afforded women a degree of control that dating in the public, male sphere didn’t. Plus, it was up to women to pursue men.
  • …. [Shifting forward several decades later, when dating changed] You’d think that adults would have cheered their offsprings’ coupling tendencies. “One boy to laugh with, to joke with, have Coke with,” sings Kim MacAfee, the fifteen-year-old heroine of “Bye Bye Birdie,” expressing the fantasies of her generation: “One boy, not two or three.” Having a Coke with a single beau seems a lot more wholesome than attending a petting party with a bunch of them.
  • But grownups didn’t cheer. Advice columns lamented the “ridiculous custom” of teen-age couples “pairing off to the exclusion of everyone else on the dance floor.”

  • The Baltimore Afro-American, one of the country’s biggest black-owned papers, told its younger readers that trying out multiple romantic partners was healthier, in the long run, than “settling down” too fast.

  • Young people were encouraged, in fittingly consumerist terms, to “shop around,” so that they wouldn’t find themselves saddled with a lacklustre steady for life. Playing at marriage, they were told, would leave them with all the institution’s ills and none of its benefits.

  • This was objectively true in one respect at least: teen-pregnancy rates soared, both in and out of wedlock. Trying to stay one step ahead, Catholic schools across the country started expelling students found to be in monogamous relationships.

  • ….On the plus side, Weigel argues, the culture of going steady allowed couples a degree of emotional intimacy that earlier dating models lacked. But its restrictive mores also put the onus on girls to regulate both their own sexual urges and those of their boyfriends. The result “was a setup that subjected girls to constant stress, self-blame, and regret.”
  • …The history of dating, then, is also the history of the surveillance of daters. As young people figured out how to conduct their private lives away from the supervision of parents, teachers, and chaperones, they took it upon themselves to do the supervising, creating and enforcing their own codes of behavior. They proved to be remarkably adept at it. No one, it turned out, regulates the sexual and romantic lives of young people as effectively as young people themselves.
  • …That’s one conclusion to draw from “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers” (Knopf), by the Vanity Fair reporter Nancy Jo Sales.
  • Even if you’ve been following teen social-media horror stories—the recent case of an Ohio girl live-streaming her friend’s rape comes to mind—Sales’s book makes for an urgent, dispiriting portrait. Teen-age girls are the largest group of social-media users in the country. “For the first time,” Sales writes, “most American girls are engaged in the same activity most of the time.” Curious to see what effects such constant digital engagement were having on teen-age girls, she interviewed a diverse group of more than two hundred of them.
  • Sales learned that girls are being bombarded on their phones with images, videos, comments, and the like that “are offensive and potentially damaging to their well-being and sense of self-esteem.”

  • She writes about an American Psychological Association report published in 2007, just before the iPhone launched, which found that girls were “treated as ‘objects of sexual desire . . . as things rather than as people with legitimate sexual feelings of their own’—in virtually every form of media, including movies, television, music videos and lyrics, video games and the Internet, advertising, cartoons, clothing, and toys.”

  • The report saw links between such sexualization and mental-health problems, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Sales argues that sexualization has become “a prevailing mode, influencing how girls see themselves, as well as how they present themselves.”

  • Sales begins her book with the story of Sophia, a thirteen-year-old in Montclair, New Jersey, who receives a text one day after school from Zack, a boy in her eighth-grade class: “SEND NOODZ.” (Sales has changed her subjects’ names.) Girls are often solicited for naked pictures, and, as Sophia knows, it isn’t uncommon for the photos to be compiled and shared on virtual “slut pages.”
  • Still, it hasn’t happened to her before: “ ‘I was like, Whoa, he finds me attractive?’ ” Sophia hasn’t yet had her first kiss; she wonders if it might be with Zack. Actually, Zack confesses, he just needs the photo so that he can trade it to a high-school senior in exchange for booze.
  • ….Weigel would point out that girls like Sophia are expending an enormous amount of labor to compete in the online sexual marketplace run by their peers. And boys are hardly the only ones who dictate the terms. “It’s like you spend half your time managing your reputation,” another one of Sales’s subjects says, referring to the effort it takes to keep up the requisite stream of flattering commentary on other girls’ Instagram selfies.
  • Sierra, a fifteen-year-old from Jamestown, Virginia, who is frequently cyberbullied, monitors her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and accounts as she speaks with Sales, deleting negative comments the moment they appear.
  • It’s “a lot of work,” serving as her own censor, Sierra admits. Another girl tells Sales that social media is “destroying our lives.” Sales asks why she doesn’t quit. “Because then we would have no life,” she is told.

Use this link to read the rest:

(Link): Is Dating Worth It? by A. Schwartz

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