A popular perception of love, courtship and dating regardsits existence as an elemental feature of the human world since time immemorial.The book under discussion traces the roots of dating and its evolution in American society from the early decades of the twentieth-century up to the present. #Author
Sensual ,Emotional and Material Substance of Love
By Dhiraj K. Nite
‘What is love?’ has received commentaries in several scholarly works. It is an intimate feeling and relationship between couples is what the popular opinion makes it look like. Weigel interrogates the naturalness that characterises this popular belief and proposes a social constructivist viewpoint. She maintains that love is ‘opening and merging of your own life with the lives of others. It is a process of change which involves acts of care you extend to whomever you choose for however long your relationships lasts (pp. 262-6).’ Hence, it is a ‘labour of love’ at one and the same time. Her viewpoint rejects Sigmund Freud’s (1915) idea that love is a derivate of sexual longing, that is, the function of libido (innate sexual force). It remains aloof from Erich Fromm’s (1956) conceptualisation that love derives from the need to return to the mother from whom we have been shorn off by birth, and Margaret Mahler’s (1975) belief that love represents a rapprochement with the mother from whom we have recently learned to separate. Her notion of ‘labour of love’ extrapolates to the understanding of love offered by a psychologist, Donald Nathanson, in 1992. Love is an expression of the combination of innate ‘attachment affect’ on one side and ‘inter-affectivity’ (interpersonal experience and involvement) on the other, maintains Nathanson. Weigel’s work lays down a history of inter-affectivity, with her approach of dialectical materialism.
The crucial components of love between couples are care/emotional involvement as well as physical intimacy. This book suggests that finding love by dating developed from the turn of the twentieth-century and the early decades of the twentieth-century (p. 5). Soon, dating became the most precious form of ‘labour of love’ – an ‘unpaid internship’. It slowly replaced the family and community controlled courtship, called chaperoned courtship. The old ‘calling’ ritual of courtship made men into agents in pursuit, while women the object of desire. Dating undid the clear lines between the world of men and women and took courtship out of the private spheres. It transformed control over the process from the older generation to the younger ones, from groups to the individual. It was a product of urban society, It was a product of urban society, the women performing wage-labour, and a sexual revolt by the educated youth.
The increase in the number of persons passing out of high schools from the 1910s and colleges from the 1930s dramatically altered the ritual of dating. It now began at early age. The moralist school authority merely regulated and oversaw the code of dating culture. The right to freedom of choice was asserted within the economy of consumerism on one side and the civil right movements on the other in the 1960s-70s. These developments and assertion of freedom obliterated the shyness associated with physical intimacy with someone before marriage. Teenage sex soared from the 1950s.
The shift from calling ritual of courtship to public dating was never smooth. The moralist regarded it as obscene, licentious and depraved. The police sought to subdue the young women and men, who explored dating and were declared adrift; the moral policing against daters currently seen in India just reminds us what the rebellious youth in dating encountered a century ago in the USA. Dating developed as emotional labour and became eroticised as well as commodified from the 1920s. Bars, pubs, restaurants and dance halls were the early social media and platforms brought into prominence by the phenomenon of dating. The book, however, falls short of a full-bodied exploration of what accounted for a welcome change in the perception the moralists of public dating.
Dating parted away with courtship towards the latter part of the twentieth-century. The sexual revolution fully succeeded against the prostitution-anxious moralist by the 1960s. Now it was presumed to be a right to love without outside interference. This generation described that no desire could be unnatural. They viewed it as legitimate to have no rules in this regard. However, many of them – barring the hippies – also created aculture of steadies, a kind of serial, monogamous intimacy. The popular perception of the growth in promiscuity is unfounded. Steadies were guided by their concerns for social security against the backdrop of economic instability in the 1930s, subsequent turbulence and the shortage of men caused by the World War II, fears of miscegenation and the threat of apocalyptic nuclear war in the 1950s-60s. Steadies are also credited with having invented the breakup. Most steadies would let relationships run their course. Then they would break up. The dating script gave way to partying and hanging out in large mixed age settings. The emotional aspect of intimacy drastically waned: Previously, a series of daters could lead to physical intimacy and emotional commitment. Now the order was reversed, and sexual activity came first and feeling was emotionally emptied. The reader is left to speculate the reasons responsible for this critical, though intangible, change.
The dating ritual, at last, gave way to the hook-up culture of the late twentieth-century. Love and physical intimacy parted away. Dating, if at all, and intimacy have now been treated as forms of recreation. The new technology of birth control, such as condom and pill has made possible to treat sex as harmless fun. Methods of contraception such as the revolutionary ‘pill’ when it appeared in the 1960s, made it possible to disentangle the effects of unprotected sexual intercourse from its weighty consequences, viz. an unplanned pregnancy.This coincided with the women’s effort at the right to work outside, the inability of men to financially commit to a regular family in the midst of stagnant or falling real wages paid to the non-executive class from the 1970s onwards. In an unequal and financially unstable society, free love began to look a lot like freedom from love, argues Weigel (153). The new digital dating industry has developed to cater to the busy ‘yuppies’ (young urban professionals) looking for emotionless sex; these yuppies also reveal a condition of sociopathy and psychopathy unable to have the feelings, observes Weigel moralistically. There are sex workers to make feelings ‘economically productive/exchangeable’. However,computer erotica (cyber-sex and cyber dater) has become a popular and safer alternative to real, interpersonal involvement in a world where the HIV is deadlier than computer viruses. The shortage of time and therefore inability to invest in the relationship has surfaced as an issue. Precarity and overwork are taking atoll on dating and emotion in the era of informatisation, informalisation and casualization. Here one is reminded of the work of McGregor (2011).
Women have been faced with a demandingly difficult scenario. They also had to date with an eye on the biological clock, thus having to synchronise their efforts at planning a career, marriage, family and home life. With the help of Harmon stimulation drugs, some of them are dating on ‘borrowed time’ as well. The women working in and as the executive class are keeping an eye on the technology, such as egg freezing encouraged by corporations; this is positioned as a benefit for their female employees, intended to overcome gender inequality in corporate work places. However, most women confronted with the inadequacy of maternity and parental leave and child care supports, find every other alternative stressful and uncertain.This condition of life is not a matter of individual behavioural adjustment. Love,with labour as its attendant prerequisite on one side, and the sources of the anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and casual sex on the other, reflect the power of social forces that shape every other aspect of our lives, argues Weigel emphatically (261).Here, Weigel’s argument is grounded in dialectical historical materialism. It eschews from drawing any intersectionality with the Foucault’s (1976/2008) paradigm of the politics of pleasure and body, which is rooted in the nexus of power and knowledge. Did the ‘labour of love’ have any effect on the political economy, given the former’s dialectical link with the latter? In what sense have the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the politics for 99 percent (the commoners) and not just one percent (the super rich), as these being seen since 2011, also been connected with the stressful condition of ‘labour of love’? Such a question still awaits a new researcher.
There are some glaring oversights in the overall narrative of this book. Out of the two components of love – care / emotional ties and intimacy – the feature of the former remains in the shape of some interspersed observations, waiting for an analytical scheme. The discussion on what effect the socio-cultural identities of persons have on ‘labour of love’ is confined to the passing observations on the fear of miscegenation shared by the white Americans and the difficulty of family building faced by the poor black Americans. The shades of inter-racial dating (Indian readers may see it with relation to inter caste and inter religious relationships) would add significant complication to this neat narrative of dating and class. Similarly, the scope of ‘labour of love’ is limited primarily to the phase in life cycle before marriage. The subsequent phase of life cycle rests on another order of ‘labour of love’. A reader is left to satisfy this curiosity through other research works, which will surely benefit from Weigel’s approach and its current lucid exposition.
A Book Review:
Moira Weigel, Labour of Love: The Invention of Dating.New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publisher, 2016. ISBN: 9780374713133.
Foucault, Michel.The History of Sexuality, Vol. I. (Translated by Robert Hurley),Australia: Penguin Group, 2008/1976.
Freud, Sigmund. Instincts and Their Vicissitudes.In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 12, pp. 159-204, New York: Norton, 1915.
Froom, Erich. The Art of Living: An enquiry into the nature of love, New York: Harper & Row, 1956.
Mahlaer, Margaret, Fred Pine and Annie Bergman.The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, New York: Basic Books, 1975.
McGregor, Sheila.‘Sexuality, Alienation and Capitalism’,International Socialism, Issue No. 130, 11 April 2011.
Nathanson, Donald L. Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self, 1994/1992.
Dr. Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy, Delhi. You can contact him through firstname.lastname@example.org