Once again we can count on the New York Times Ron Lieber to present the assumptions of the American ideology of consumerism as facts in an effort to convince readers that the way to happiness is to participate in the great American potlatch and spend lots of money, hopefully beyond your current means.
Several months back I wrote about Lieber using an article on how parents answer tough question from their children about the family finances to promote the core American value of consumerism—that the essence of all of life and all happiness is to buy things.
Now in Saturday’s Times, Lieber offers advice to those frugal men who want to attract the typical American girl, whom of course Lieber implies as only being impressed by ostentatious displays of wealth. Frugal, according to Merriam Webster, is “economical in the use or expenditure of resources: not wasteful or lavish.” Sounds like something that most people would look for in a spouse. But not according to Lieber and the expert he quotes.
Lieber starts the article by citing a recent ING study in which 1,000 people were asked what came to mind when certain words were used to describe a blind date. Only 3.7% found “frugal” to be “sexy,” while 15% found a person described only with the word frugal to be “boring,” 27 % found frugal to be “stingy.” Now much further down in the article, Lieber reports that 49% of survey respondents thought it was “smart” to be “frugal,” which to this blogger (who when single tended to go after women who liked smart men) pretty much invalidates the need for the article. But Lieber buries this survey result deep in the article so he can persist in his veiled attack on those of us who aren’t spendthrifts.
Most of the rest of the article consists of the banter of experts and daters on why women (and gay men) don’t like to date frugal men. In the very last few paragraphs, however, Lieber gives some advice for those who want to tell potential dates and mates that they are frugal in online ads.
The structure of this article is built on two absurdities: 1) The absurdity at the end which proposes that one would even mention being frugal in an online ad. Why would it come up in a paragraph introduction? Frugality or the lack of it could certainly emerge on a first date or even on a get-acquainted phone call or email exchange, but it seems odd and out-of-place to mention it in an online ad. The advice is stupid because it’s telling you how to do correctly something that you shouldn’t even be doing.
2) The absurdity that a frugal person should be concerned because only 3.7% of the population thought one of the many traits he or she had was “sexy.” First of all, it’s just one of many traits. But even if it were all that mattered, so what! At any given time, we assume that you’re in the market for one person only. Why would you want to date someone who you know is incompatible because they do not like your frugality? Remember, the frugal members of the sex you are seeking also only have 3.7% of the population from which to select a date, mate or special friend. Seek him or her, and forget about the others. That’s what people do when they decide to only date professionals, members of their own faith, people who live within a 20-mile radius, bikers, those who abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages or those who like dogs.
Of course, Lieber’s idea is not to present a reasoned argument, but instead to indoctrinate all of us—frugal or otherwise—that the norm is what sociologist Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” some 110 years ago. All Lieber really wants to do is tell us that it is the frugal person who is the odd duck in the dating game and must seek to mediate the impact of his or her financial discipline by either changing or using euphemisms to describe it. It’s just not true.