Dating undermines authenticity, the author claims.
In her debut book, Weigel examines the history and current practices of dating in hopes of making sense of her own feelings of discomfort and oppression. After years of dating, she felt that she “was trying to make a life according to rules I did not understand and that the process had blinded me to my desires.” Dating made her feel as if she were “impersonating all the women I thought I should be.” She had lost her sense of self. Her investigation led her to self-help books, movies, TV shows, popular songs, histories of courtship and marriage, and interviews with daters, experts, and scholars, all of which provide evidence for her breezy, digressive overview focusing mostly on the experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual women. Weigel finds that the word “date” first appeared in print in 1896, used by a working-class man to refer to his courtship. At the turn of the century, middle-class men called on women in their homes, following strict rules of etiquette, but working-class couples went out to restaurants, dance halls, and amusement parks. In both cases, though, women were supposed to be the passive recipients of men’s desires. Shopgirls learned how to style themselves by observing their well-heeled clients; “Charity Girls” aspired to be treated to gifts and meals. Both types worked hard to market themselves as dating prospects, efforts that Weigel sees continuing into the present, with diets, makeup, clothing, gym memberships, personal trainers, and fine-tuned profiles on dating websites. “In order to appeal to prospective lovers,” the author writes, “you must not only know where to look,” but also “brand yourself so that you will be searchable by the right people.” Weigel’s angst and disillusionment ended with finding love that enriched, rather than eroded, her sense of identity.
An earnest plea to think about love mindfully.