Moira Weigel’s book Labor of Love explores how capitalism created dating and continues to shape its practice. My Nation advice column “Asking for a Friend” is similarly preoccupied with the political economy of our personal lives. So we had to get together for a chat about love, sex, and capital.
Liza Featherstone: So yesterday my Spotify Weekly turned up this amazing rap song from the ’80s called “Funky Dividends.” Do you know this song?
Moira Weigel: I do not.
LF: It’s about how, once upon a time, you would take your girl for a walk in the park and charm her that way, and now, in the greedy, money-grubbing ’80s, you have to buy her stuff, and it’s all about how much money you’re making and it’s all about capitalism.
MW: And it’s called “Funky Dividends”? Amazing.
LF: It is. So I was walking down the street and listening to it, thinking: “This is Moira’s book!” This idea that dating used to be something more pure, romantic, and from the heart, and now it’s all marketized, right? So what are we missing when we get caught up in such nostalgic narratives?
MW: I really wanted to write about this precisely because I was fascinated by that trope of “Things used to be so great and now they’re terrible,” whether about gender, love, sex, or romance. I was first thinking about these things in 2013, and within a space of six months there was a book called The End of Men, another called The End of Sex, and a big New York Times article called “The End of Courtship.” Part of what initially interested me in this topic was: What cultural work are these narratives about the crisis or degradation of romance doing? And one of the first things that I discovered when I read Beth Bailey’s book From the Front Porch to the Back Seat, which is from the ’80s—it’s a history of dating—I learned that around the time of what I call the “invention of dating,” around 1900, the first working-class women who went out and made dates would be arrested as prostitutes. So anyway, the invention of dating is also the invention of the death of dating.
This crisis has everything to do with two things. One is the physical mobility of women, working-class women, who have to leave the home to work, moving around more freely in public space. They’re seriously disadvantaged by their wages and such, yet they still have more freedom than they’ve had before. Dating is this form of courtship that has market dynamics. I think there is a very literal and direct reason for that, which is that money changes hands. It’s the first form of courtship where it’s not someone coming to your home with a priest or a rabbi or your mom. It’s two people going out, and usually someone buys something for another person, and so there is, for the first time, this explicit… since this is The Nation, I can put it in a wonky, Marxist way?