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How capitalism has changed the way we date

Nicole Sinclair
Markets Correspondent

These days, dating revolves more around Tinder and texting and less around scheduling dinner plans over the phone. But it turns out the nature of dating has always been evolving — and it’s always been tied to the economy.

Moira Weigel, the author of the just-released "Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating," joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the evolution of dating and how it’s tied to the economy.

In her book, Weigel explored how the way we date has transformed over the past century, reflecting the changing economy of the times. From the invention of “going steady” in the post-World War II era of the 1950s to the free love of the 1960s, Weigel explained that the dramatic changes in dating occurring in today’s digital gig economy aren’t anything new.

For example, in the 1950s era, the development of “going steady” was startling to many.

“This thing we now think of as the most innocent, Eisenhower-era, Norman Rockwell kind of dating was actually thought to be quite shocking. One of the funny things about the history of dating is that in every single era, the experts and parents are saying ‘Oh my god. They’re doing it all wrong. What are the kids doing?’” she said.

Dating as a practice actually only began, Weigel explained, when women began to work outside the home.

“It has everything to do with women entering the workforce,” she said. “The ways we think about value and what we value in a person or how we’d be valued, those change too in more abstract ways over time.

Capitalism has permeated dating culture throughout each era, Weigel said. And language surrounding dating has consistently been tied to the economy. Terms such as “reaching out,” “following up,” “investing in relationships,” all apply the logic of capitalism to dating.

And online dating makes “shopping around” quite literal with blogs that emphasize “return on investment” for your Match.com profile.

Many people lament the “death of dating” in this new era of online romance, but Weigel disagrees with that notion.

“I want to push back against this narrative which I think tends to be conservative and destructive. This idea that romance is over. I don’t think it is. It’s always changed,” she said.

Weigel added: “I think we tend to romanticize and forget what was difficult about dating in the past. The ‘50s were great if you were straight, white suburban. For a lot of other people, it wasn’t so great. If you were in love with someone not of your race, that was not great. If you were LGBT, that was terrible.”

These days, though, she said, “I think there’s still a world of possibilities that have opened up. I want to push back against the death of dating.”

Meanwhile, the “gig” economy — where people often have more control over their hours — has allowed for more flexibility in the dating world, Weigel said.

“Lines like ‘I’ll pick you up at 6’ made sense at a time when people had jobs that started and ended at fixed hours. But in an age of contract work and flextime, many of us have become sexual freelancers more likely to text a partner, ‘You still up?’” she wrote.

Oh, and dating can be hard work, too.

“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,” Weigel wrote in her book. At least until you fall in love, she wrote, dating often feels like an “unpaid internship.”