Did you know that dating is a relatively recent phenomenon in the course of human history? Historically, most marriages in societies around the world have been arranged by families for political, economic, and social reasons. In the United States and many other Western countries, this changed as women gained equality. Instead of an arranged marriage, couples would typically engage in a courtship, which involved “gentleman callers” and chaperones – similar to modern dating, but far more structured and formal. Now let’s fast-forward to the mid-twentieth century. Although the dating that occurred in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s resembled modern romance, there are some interesting differences as you explore dating: then and now.
Dating: Then and Now
The “Meet Cute”
A “meet cute” is a scene in which a future romantic couple meets for the very first time, so let’s look at the ways in which couples have met before dating: then and now. Some methods of meeting have stood the test of time. For example, couples have met at school for decades, and people are still being “fixed up” with romantic partners by their friends. In the past, however, single people were more likely to meet in person, perhaps at a dance, at church, at work, or while out and about. These days, many couples meet online through dating websites and apps like Tinder. In fact, in 2009, more than 20 percent of straight couples said that they had met each other online (source).
Once a couple meets, how do they keep in touch? In the 1950 and 60s, the man would typically call the woman on the telephone (sometimes talking to one of the woman’s parents or roommates first) to talk and schedule dates. These days, it’s all about texting, especially when it comes to younger daters. Once two people have begun dating, their methods of communication are also quite different. In addition to talking on the phone, men and women would often write letters in the past, especially if they were apart from one another for an extended period. These days, very few couples correspond via “snail mail.” Instead, they’re more likely to text, communicate via social media, or (when far apart) schedule a time to video chat using Skype or FaceTime.
Dates themselves have changed too. In the past, a date was more likely to be called a date; there wasn’t any confusion. These days, couples are more likely to avoid the term “date,” instead preferring the noncommittal phrase “just hanging out.” In addition, dates have become more casual over time. In the 1940s and 1950s, dates typically occurred in public places like restaurants, movie theaters, diners, ice cream parlors, drive-ins, dances, sporting events, amusements parks, and bowling alleys, and “double dates” were quite common. These days, although many of those prospective date locations are still popular, couples are also more likely to choose a casual get-together. They might grab coffee, meet for a drink at a bar, grab a burrito at Chipotle, or perhaps even hang out and watch TV at home.
In the past, men typically did the asking when it came to a first date, and they also organized transportation and paid for the date. These days, most of those rules have gone out the window. Men and women both initiate dates, and they typically arrive at the date location on their own. Although some men still insist on paying for dates (and some women still expect it), many other couples split the check evenly or take turns paying. Finally, in the past, a woman would typically introduce her date to her parents before they left for the evening. These days, “meeting the parents” often indicates that the relationship is quite serious, so couples might date for months before meeting each other’s families.
For many people, the goal of dating is to find someone to marry, so we thought we’d sum up this look at dating: then and now by looking at the approximate median age of men and women marrying for the first time. In the 1950s, the median age for women marrying for the first time was about 21 while the median age for men was about 23. In 2010, these numbers had risen to 26 for women and 28 for men – and they’ve continued to rise since then (source).
Although dating has changed a lot since the mid-century, many things are still the same. It seems that people will always find mates through their friends and enjoy getting to know a potential partner over dinner and a movie. How do you think dating has changed since the 1940s, 50s, and 60s?
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