“Does anyone date anymore?” Today, the authorities tell us that courtship is in crisis. But when Moira Weigel dives into the history of sex and romance in modern America, she discovers that authorities have always said this. Ever since young men and women started to go out together, older generations have scolded them: That’s not the way to find true love. The first women who made dates with strangers were often arrested for prostitution; long before “hookup culture,” there were “petting parties”; before parents worried about cell phone apps, they fretted about joyrides and “parking.” Dating is always dying. But this does not mean that love is dead. It simply changes with the economy. Dating is, and always has been, tied to work.
Lines like “I’ll pick you up at six” made sense at a time when people had jobs that started and ended at fixed hours. But in an age of contract work and flextime, many of us have become sexual freelancers, more likely to text a partner “u still up?” Weaving together over one hundred years of history with scenes from the contemporary landscape, Labor of Love offers a fresh feminist perspective on how we came to date the ways we do. This isn't a guide to “getting the guy.” There are no ridiculous “rules” to follow. Instead, Weigel helps us understand how looking for love shapes who we are—and hopefully leads us closer to the happy ending that dating promises.
Debut author Weigel, a doctoral candidate at Yale, examines the cultural and practical history of dating through a contemporary and scholarly lens. Proving that everything old is new again, she leads readers through the history of courtship rituals from the early 1900s until the present day, noting that some things such as looking to be supported financially in one way or another never completely change, regardless of the decade. She also takes on the topic of myriad dating apps and how they can affect the ways people perceive one another. Perhaps most comfortingly for those still navigating the shoals of the dating world, Weigel definitively casts aside the long litany of supposed "rules" in dating, challenging questionable self-help dating tomes such as the once-ubiquitous The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, Lori Gottlieb's Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, and Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. "This form of self-help precludes the possibility that a connection between two or more people might be capable of changing the conditions in which they live, and the genre exists to help perpetuate those conditions," she advises, noting that every relationship and courtship differs. Weigel adds a personal layer to narrative by sharing her own tribulations in dating, noting that her own experience and advice is born of much trial and error. This smart, refreshing take on the history of dating is best suited to those looking to partake in the ritual.