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All of them had received the couch-spooning treatment.

John was a champion girlfriend accumulator, the ringmaster of a romantic circus that only he could see.

Her Irish Catholic mother and the self-help industry told her that the goal should be marriage, and soon. He thought that everyone should want to pursue happiness.

In “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” (Simon & Schuster), the journalist Rebecca Traister describes the attempts of one establishment, the Trowmart Inn, in Greenwich Village, to address this problem.

Unlike most boarding houses for working women, the Trowmart didn’t impose a curfew, and actively encouraged male visitors. had they a proper place in which to entertain their admirers, would develop into happy, excellent wives and still happier mothers.”What the Trowmart founder had in mind was “calling,” the respectable mode of courtship that had been practiced during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth by the aspirational middle class.

The process of testing out potential mates, and of being tested by them in turn, can be gruelling, bewildering, humiliating.

Using another metaphor, Weigel compares the experience to being cast in a bad piece of experimental theatre: “You and a partner showed up every night with different, conflicting scripts.

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