A FRIEND of mine complains about how many of the men she meets on Tinder use corporate language to chat her up. First, they “reach out.” Then, after spending the night together, they “follow up.”
This kind of flirting is banal, but it makes sense. We constantly use economic metaphors to describe romantic and sexual relations. Few people today refer to women as “damaged goods” or wonder why a man would “buy the cow when he can get the milk for free,” but we have “friends with benefits” and “invest in relationships.” An ex may be “on” or “off the market.” Online dating makes “shopping around” explicit. Blog after blog strategizes about how to maximize your “return on investment” on OkCupid.
We use this kind of language because the ways that people date — who contacts whom, where they meet and what happens next — have always been tied to the economy. Dating applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.
When parents worry about how their 20-something kids are (or aren’t) pairing off, or the authors of trend pieces lament “the death of courtship,” they seem to forget that the pursuit of sex and romance didn’t remain unchanged from the moment when the first Homo sapiens sidled across the savanna toward his soul mate until Steve Jobs rolled out the iPhone.