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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 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.
They’re a staple of Jane Austen novels: John Willoughby, who caddishly breaks Marianne’s heart in “Sense and Sensibility”; George Wickham, who reels in both Lizzy and Lydia Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice”; Frank Churchill, in “Emma,” who flirts with Miss Woodhouse while being secretly engaged to her frenemy, Jane Fairfax. As a twenty-first-century guy living in one of the most culturally liberal of American cities, he had options available to him that men in Regency England did not.
He could have chosen to be a player, sleeping around with abandon, or the kind of cheater who supplements monogamy with a series of flings.
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.Daters were “Charity Girls”—“Charity Cunts,” in a dictionary of sexual terms published in 1916—so called because they gave themselves away for free. If women went out, they were seen as akin to whores, who at least got cash for their trouble—a distinction that was lost on the police, who regularly arrested female daters for prostitution.On the other hand, if women stayed in they couldn’t bump into eligible bachelors.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.