book review: Labor of Love

labor of love

Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux| May 2016| 304 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 978-0-374-18253-3

RATING: ****/5*

Why do we date? How do we date? Who do we date? Where do we find dates? Dating can be exhausting. People can make dating a part-time job. You need to “put yourself out there” and make an “effort” to meet people. College provided a built-in social life. But if you weren’t ready to settle down then one found it increasingly more difficult to meet and pair off. Work and social life blur as technology makes it easier to feel connected to other people even in a virtual manner. In the past, dating meant marriage and a family. Today women want sex as much as men although women who remain single still garner negative judgment while men who remain single take on the cool bachelor persona.

Author Moira Weigel explores our quest for intimacy and understanding in this fascinating and illuminating read. Covering an immense time span from calling cards to going steady to hookup culture, Weigel answers these questions with thorough research and a keenly academic focus and tone. She writes: “Today, the average millennial spends no more than three years at any job, and more than 30 percent of the workforce is freelance. Hooking up gives you the steely heart you need to live with these odds. Like a degree in media studies, it prepares you for anything and nothing in particular.” She culls information from varied resources. She explores how feminism, civil rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and technological advances affected dating.

She writes of 1960s free love: “the sexual revolution did not take things too far. It did not take things far enough. It did not change gender roles and romantic relationships as dramatically as they would need to be changed in order to make everyone as free as the idealists promised. It tore down walls, but it did not build a new world.” In a story in the 1980s about video dating an author in Chicago Tribune stated the stark reality for women; it works “as long as you’re either (a) A gorgeous woman, under 35, with a glamorous career, or (b) An average-looking man, under 65, with an ordinary job.”

Attitudes haven’t changed since then. It’s just as difficult for women over 40 to find dates never mind finding the ideal match or a longtime companion. Online dating might seem easier but nothing compares to communicating with someone in-person, face-to-face. Texting and emailing can be misconstrued innumerable ways. Weigel explains present day dating: “The custom of dating developed under a particular order. It came from an era when life was supposed to divide cleanly into work and leisure. Even the word “date” comes from the idea that there is a point in time when you will meet up with a love interest. So too, does “going out” assume that there is a world of entertainment, separate from the world of home and work, for you to go out into.” Dating seems rather outdated in the Netflix and chill era. Smart writing and impeccable detail makes Weigel’s history of dating a provocative worthwhile read.

Author Moira Weigel writes about gender, media and culture. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation and The New Republic. She’s a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Yale. Moira Weigel will be at Harvard Book Store on Monday, June 23, 2016 at 7pm.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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