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Pity the girl playing the dating game a century ago. The idea of a woman going out with a strange man who would buy her a meal and share a romantic moment was once considered prostitution.
We’ve come a long way. Still, finding a love connection seems more complicated than ever.
Whether your idea of courtship means dinner and a movie, swiping faces on an app or “Netflix and chill,” many people find the process awkward, bewildering and exhausting.
“I joke that dating is like an unpaid internship. It’s the kind of work where you don’t know exactly what it’s for and what it’s leading to,” Moira Weigel, author of the new book, “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating,” told TODAY.
The first published U.S. reference to dating as we know it showed up in 1896, Weigel found. It was a shocking departure from traditional courtship, which took place in the home, under the watchful eyes of parents.
Going out with suitors became mainstream after World War I as more women went to college, and the concept truly exploded in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Weigel, 31, shared her take on modern dating and love with TODAY.
What do you think about the state of dating today?
It’s changing very dramatically, but I don’t think it’s over. I don’t think it’s dead.
Like all of our work and our lives, dating is becoming more flexible — it’s ad hoc and on demand and people are feeling like it has to be efficient. At the most basic level, Americans work a lot more than they did in the 1950s, so it feels more like something that has to be fit in.
Someone just said to me that with these dating apps, the standard for how we treat each other is getting lower — it becomes acceptable to see someone and then just disappear on them. I’m sure there is something to that, but at the same time, these apps give a lot of flexibility. If you’re a divorced person trying to meet new people, and you have a job and kids and are very busy, it’s a godsend to be able to find a lot of people.
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Do people actually enjoy dating or is it a “necessary evil” to find someone?
It’s both. It feels like work and it almost is a form of work. It involves so much money and effort to date. The restaurant and the movie, the drinks, exercising to be in good shape, waxing, doing your nails.
On the flip side, a lot of these pressures that people feel about dating serve commercial interests.
The value of a dating app stems from how much time people spend on it. The app has no interest in getting you off the app.
The same way beauty products are designed to make us feel like we always need new ones, the dating apps are designed to make you feel like you should constantly come back to them — if you just shop a little longer, you’ll find someone better.
It can be so stressful as a single person, especially as a woman. You get so many messages — you have to do this, you have to be this way — and they’re not about your happiness.
The ingenious thing about that industry is that it found a way to take the desire for human connection and love, which we all feel, and make it an engine for a market.
What do you think about dating advice books like “The Rules”?
I am against “The Rules.” It’s literally a list of dozens of things that you’re not allowed to do. The summary of “The Rules” is whatever you feel like doing, don’t do that; do the opposite.
That book is constantly saying: You feel this way, but try not to show it. If you want to sleep with him, don’t do that. If you want to call him after you sleep with him, don’t do that.
What’s ironic is that it’s taking all the reasons we date — wanting to feel a human connection, wanting to feel close to someone — and saying don’t do it.
I think it’s terrible for women because it basically teaches you to ignore your own feelings, to the point where people really lose touch with what they even want, because you’re so tied up playing these games.
It’s also really bad for men. How crazy to reinforce this idea that men have to initiate every single step? It puts so much pressure on them. There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t initiate things with a man.
That’s not to say you should immediately sleep with everyone, tell them everything and call them all the time.
What’s your dating advice?
Make sure that the things you’re doing are for you and bring you joy, and not about playing a game.
For women especially, there’s this cult of self-hatred. It’s very profitable to make women hate themselves and then get them to buy things to fix that. It sounds so corny, but don’t hate yourself — love yourself.
People wonder: Is something a relationship or not? “This is either going to be monogamous, marriage, we’ll have babies and stay together until we die, or it’s nothing and we can treat each other like garbage.”
I would really encourage people to try to allow themselves to inhabit the ambiguous zone in between. A relationship is not a waste.
Look around your friend group. Friends of friends. Look at your friends from college or high school.
People feel so much pressure, because of the economy, to get their life in order immediately, especially women. There is this sense of either it’s everything or it’s nothing.
Be present; be attuned to your desires. Be kind to one another.
Be open to being surprised. Love is a process, not a product.