The dating rituals we have today are quite different than those of our ancestors. It may surprise you to learn that courtship, or dating, is a fairly new phenomenon. In fact, before about 1200 courting didn’t exist at all!
In ancient times, many women found themselves married to their husbands because they were captured by them. With a scarcity of women, men often raided other villages and scooped up the first women they saw. As time went on, arranged marriages became the norm. These marriages were seemingly viewed as ‘business relationships’ and were based on a desire or need for money, property or political alliances. The parents handled everything and love was not a prerequisite of these marriages. A teen or young adult really had no say about their future spouse and many only met their intended on their wedding day.
It was during the middle and closing end of the Middle Ages that love began to emerge as a necessary ingredient for marriage. Wanting more than just a business arrangement, suitors began to woo, or court, women with poetry and serenades. Shakespeare helped to popularize many thoughts and feelings about love in the 1600s. This was about the same time as the King James Version of the Bible was translated with its risqué, romantic Song of Solomon.
Romantic love finally became viewed as the primary requirement for marriage during the Victorian Era. Courting became almost an art form among the upper classes. Gentleman had to wait to be formally introduced to a lady before he could speak to her. After the introductions, if a gentleman wished to visit with a lady, he would present his card to her. If the lady was interested, she would present him with her card. Most of the courting took place in the girl’s home under the protective eyes of her parents. If the courting became serious, the couple might be allowed to advance to the front porch. Most marriage requests were made in writing.
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With the strides in courting being made in some locations, in Canada and Colonial America dating wasn’t a requirement for marriage. There was no time for wooing. Marriage was more about finding a woman who could share in the workload and bear children. For instance, male settlers to Canada were often alone. When they needed wives, the French crown would send women by the shipload. Men would meet their brides at port and become engaged, if not married, right then.
Similar practices were going on in the United States. The lack of women in the New World prompted many men to take out advertisements for partners and many young women made the journey to America as mail-order brides. Advertisements for wives generally read that if a woman had clothes, pots and pans, cooking utensils, and if she could cook, sew and take care of children that she would have the services of a man until death parted them.
Jump forward to the 20th century and romance and dating came into the foreground again. By the 1950s courtship in the United States was semi-formal. Couples would go through a routine that generally entailed going steady, getting pinned – where the male would give the female his school pin as a symbol of commitment – and then the couple would officially get engaged. All of this took place under the watchful eyes of parents.
The 1960s would forever change dating. With the advent of the birth control pill and feminist freedom, the old dating rules no longer applied. In 1965 television shows such as The Dating Game were a big hit for singles. It was the first time that women were in charge of picking out men instead of vice-versa. By the 1970s, dating customs of the 50s were deemed archaic by many singles. Nightclubs and bars became popular places to find love. Women felt liberated enough to begin pursuing men and parents were being introduced to love interests, instead of vice-versa.
The new technology of the 1990s brought about a great change in how couples met and began dating. The Internet brought about new ways for males and females to meet. Men and women could now post their personal information and pictures on dating sites for others to read and couples could date online and get to know each other through e-mails and instant messaging.
Who knows what the next big change will be in dating? The 21st century is already seeing a new form of dating arise – speed dating. Speed dating is when upwards of 20 single men and 20 single women meet at a designated location. They spend around ten minutes with each single and then move on to the next single. Speed dating is an efficient and fast way for people with busy lives to find a love interest. While it certainly isn’t one of the most romantic forms of dating that history has seen, it certainly beats being kidnapped or meeting your spouse on your wedding day.