Today, we refer to a man inviting a woman to dinner as “traditional.” At first it was scandalous: A woman who arranged to meet a man at a bar or restaurant could find herself interrogated by a vice commission. In the 1920s and ‘30s, as more and more middle-class women started going to college, parents and faculty panicked over the “rating and dating” culture, which led kids to participate in “petting parties” and take “joy rides” with members of the opposite sex.
By the 1950s, a new kind of dating took over: “going steady.” Popular advice columnist Dorothy Dix warned in 1939 that going steady was an “insane folly.” But by the post-war era of full employment, this form of courtship made perfect sense. The booming economy, which was targeting the newly flush “teen” demographic, dictated that in order for everyone to partake in new consumer pleasures — for everyone to go out for a burger and root beer float on the weekends — young people had to pair off. Today, the economy is transforming courtship yet again. But the changes aren’t only practical. The economy shapes our feelings and values as well as our behaviors.
The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be “flexible” and “adaptable.” Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.
But for all the hand-wringing, this kind of dating isn’t any more transactional than it was back when suitors paid women family-supervised visits or parents sought out a yenta to introduce their children at a synagogue mixer. Courtship has always been dictated by changes in the market. The good news is that dating is not the same thing as love. And as anyone who has ever been in love can attest, the laws of supply and demand do not control our feelings.
Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy – Moira Weigel, The New York Times