Season 1, Episode 8: Dating
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Labels of Love logo designed by Jen Sung.
Show notes photography by Jonathan Ichikawa.
- "Labels of Love Jingle Music" by Carrie Jenkins. All rights reserved.
- "Chill Out" by Dan Yan-Kee. Creative Commons Licence.
- "Pine Apple Rag" by Scott Joplin. Public domain.
- "I'll Say She Does" by Al Jolson. Public domain.
Labels of Love is a research creation outcome of the Metaphysics of Love Project, supported by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional financial support for the project comes from the Canada Research Chairs program and the University of British Columbia.
I am grateful for help, guidance, feedback, and support from: Drusilla, Ray Hsu, Jonathan Ichikawa, Mezzo, and Moira Weigel.
[Speaking in this episode you can hear: Moira Weigel, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Carrie Jenkins.]
Moira: Like, there's never been a moment when advice experts and newspaper columnists were like, "Romance: the kids are doing it great; they’re perfect at it!"
Jonathan: You're listening to Labels of Love.
Carrie: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, and author of What Love Is and What It Could Be. Today, I'm talking about dating, with Moira Weigel. Moira is a writer and an academic, currently based at Harvard University. She's the author of Labour of Love: The Invention of Dating, and she's the editor, with a few other people, of Logic Magazine, which is a new magazine all about technology. I talked with Moira about what dating is, how long exactly it's been around for, and why, throughout its entire history, it seems to have been regarded as either in some sort of crisis, or else actually dying out.
Moira: It first occurred to me to research dating, to write about the subject of dating, back when I was in grad school in New Haven, about 2012 or 2013. There was this spate of articles and books that were, sort of--I don’t want to say "panic-inducing," that sounds negative ... but panic-inducing. I remember Hannah Rosen, the journalist at The Atlantic, had this big article called "The End of Men;" there was this book about hook-up culture that came out called The End of Sex; there was, like, a big New York Times article that everyone’s mom or aunt or whoever probably mailed to them called "The End of Courtship"--all within the period of a couple months. I was like, "These are very big claims!" I was like, "Gee, I hope that's not true." And what I realized very quickly, when I started to look at the history of this thing we call "dating," is that at every moment in time, from like, the very beginning of when people started doing it, experts have proclaimed that dating was dying, or that dating was in crisis, or that young men and young women weren't going about courtship properly. The word "date" first appears in print, to our knowledge, like in the sense that we use it now, in 1986. There's a couple of reasons that people start doing something they call "dating." Which is to say, like, going out, meeting people on their own, not supervised by their parents, or by their priest or rabbi or whoever.
Moira: More and more people move into cities, during that period.
Moira: But it also, especially, has everything to do with women taking paid work outside the home. You know, quote unquote "nice women" didn't go out in public by themselves in the nineteenth century.
Carrie: Right, right.
Moira: They certainly didn't go out with men they didn't know; they certainly did not let those men buy them something ...
Moira: ... in return for romantic or sexual attention. And indeed the very first people who went out on dates were working-class women, often immigrants or women of colour, and were constantly harassed by the police and even arrested for it. I mean it's fascinating this, like, fixation on prostitution, or the special moral horror that it raises in the nineteenth century, is about women demanding money for things that they're expected to do for free. Dating starts out as a very much working-class practice. The turning point really comes around the end of World War One. Basically, after World War One, there's a story that appears in Ladies Home Journal--which is the biggest magazine in ... biggest circulation magazine in the world--about a sorority sister, a nice middle-class white girl in college, going on dates. So much of the anxiety is always about women gaining new kinds of power, and new kinds of autonomy. Women who are entering colleges, you know they're in, sort of, the strongest position ...
Moira: ... to make new kinds of social claims, to break into kinds of work that men had controlled. I feel like a big reason I went on to write a big book about this and go deep into the archives about it, was because I realized that this endless conversation about dating, and how people aren't doing it right, is almost always a conversation about how men aren’t acting like proper men, women aren’t acting like proper women ...
Moira: ... the world isn't going to get reproduced, you know?
Moira: The world isn't going to continue in the right way. And I think you see that when women are first entering college, in the nineteen-aughts, you still have experts like G. Stanley Hall saying women will become barren if they go to college: they'll become, quote, "functionally castrated" if they study too much.
Moira: And I think we see it in 2012 because of all these anxieties about, you know, the quote unquote "mancession," and this idea that the economic recession is hurting men more than women.
Moira: There's this perception that men are losing ground. You know, women no longer feel they have to be with men, therefore men are anxious that they can’t assume that they're entitled to a partner, or a wife. What dating is is when courtship moves into a market sphere. It makes courtship cost money for the first time.
Moira: Which it hadn't: you know, Mr Darcy didn’t have to buy anything to go see ... is it Elizabeth Bennet? What’s her first name?
Moira: You know, on the other hand it involves in these new forms of emotional labour, of, you know, presenting the self in a certain way. And that can range from having to buy the clothes and the makeup that make you look good, to putting in the, you know, the time and free work on your Tinder profile ...
Carrie: Right, right.
Moira: ... that make you appealing.
Moira: So it's like a genius business invention. Over the course of this history of dating, the ways we think about erotic life and romantic life have been so economized, made economic.
Moira: You know we say we're "on the market" or "off the market," or "hard to get," or you know, "friends with benefits" or "damaged goods" or whatever.
Moira: But it's sort of like we're in the precarious freelance-slash-flexeconomy of dating. And it's like, it's good because you have more flexibility ...
Moira: ... it's hard because there are no guarantees.
Moira: Many of us feel this way in our work lives, right: it's like you can’t commit to just one line of work, because there's this sense that everyone's supposed to be sort of multitasking and have one foot out the door. There's this deep problem with dating platforms. They're great tools for all kinds of things, and have been really, like, world-changing in a good way for all kinds of people. So it's not like an easy critique. But it is a fundamental fact that what they're designed to do is not to pair people off. The business model of all of them--this is no secret--is to keep people on the app.
Moira: I think there's this fundamental contradiction: that what these apps train us to do is to process large quantities of people. You know, what’s true of OkCupid is true of the bartender, or a bar, too. Like, a bar is also a platform ...
Moira: ... that wants people to keep coming out. You know, when your mom and your aunt were watching you and Mr Darcy, your mom had an economic interest in you and Mr Darcy getting married. Like, he's going to get five hundred pounds a year or whatever. A bartender has no economic stake in whether or not you get married to the person you’re there with.
Moira: The owner of that platform's interests and your interests are not aligned. I think that if there’s one thing that really came through to me in reading, like, a hundred years' worth of dating advice, and a hundred years' worth of, you know, individual accounts of why dating could be a maddening and negative experience, it really is that starkly differentiated binary gender norms make everyone miserable. I do get a sense that younger people have more flexible ideas and more realistic ideas ...
Moira: ... about gender than even I did, growing up in the nineties. Because courtship, in the end, is so deeply implicated with economics ...
Moira: ... greater equality among actors is one of the best ways to improve everyone's happiness, and everyone's outcomes.
Carrie: Many thanks to today's guest, Moira Weigel. You can find out more about Moira's work at moiraweigel.com, or follow her on Twitter where she is @moiragweigel. That’s M. O. I. R. A. G. W. E. I. G. E. L. This episode has featured music by Dan Yan-Kee, Scott Joplin, and Al Jolson. And as always you can find lots more information and links in the show notes. And if you are enjoying Labels of Love, please take a moment to leave a nice rating and review on iTunes: that will help more people to find the podcast in the future. You can find more information about my work at carriejenkins.net, or you can follow me on Twitter where I'm @carriejenkins. Thank you so much for listening.
Moira: You know, contrary to the best clickbait, sex is not over.
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