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Dating is therefore a powerful force of social control—but what do we actually mean by “dating”?
Weigel begins her survey at the turn of the twentieth century, when single women were increasingly leaving the towns and farms where they’d been brought up and flocking to industrializing cities to work in factories, laundries, and department stores, their ranks swelled by the arrival of immigrants. Working women bunked in tenements with relatives or streamed into boarding houses with rules against male visitors.
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.
All of them had received the couch-spooning treatment.
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.
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 one sense, this is a story about the exploitative possibilities of online matchmaking: the opportunities to flagrantly misrepresent oneself, the ease of trawling for specific targets.
(John, who was white, pursued only Asian women, leaving his girlfriends with the icky sense that they’d been fetishized as well as deceived.) Still, romantic scammers aren’t an invention of modern courtship and its digital devices.
Every so often, one of his paramours would catch on and alert the others.