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He might have practiced polyamory, consensual open love.

But John, with his flair for saccharine cuteness and his insistence on treating his conquests like romantic-comedy heroines, didn’t like just to play or cheat, and he certainly didn’t like any of his girlfriends to suspect that they didn’t have his full attention. According to Moira Weigel, the author of “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), most people are not like John in this respect.

The first is that though dating is passed off as a leisure activity, it really is a lot of work, particularly for women.

It requires physical effort—all that primping, exercising, shopping, and grooming—as well as sizable investments of time, money, and emotion.

However much you might enjoy going out to dinner or stumbling home with someone new, you date in the hope that the day will come when you’ll never have to date again.

“If marriage is the long-term contract that many daters still hope to land, dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship,” Weigel writes at the start of her book.

On the other hand, if women stayed in they couldn’t bump into eligible bachelors.

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.

Dating is therefore a powerful force of social control—but what do we actually mean by “dating”?

Weigel begins her survey at the turn of the twentieth century, when single women were increasingly leaving the towns and farms where they’d been brought up and flocking to industrializing cities to work in factories, laundries, and department stores, their ranks swelled by the arrival of immigrants. Working women bunked in tenements with relatives or streamed into boarding houses with rules against male visitors.

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