A Historical Look at Dating

February 5, 2017

There is one single word in the dictionary that is capable of eliciting a bi polar reaction in a family — dating. For parents the mere mention of the word alone at dinner time is cause for anxiety. Financial, safety and the occasional melodramatic reasons come to mind when a teenager comes up and asks permission to date. For the teenager however, dating marks the exciting beginning of social exploration and interaction.

Clearly dating is a thoroughly western concept. Although other cultures may practice dating in some form, the concept of dating as the modern world knows it, evolved primarily among the British and the Americans where the mention of the word by itself conjures images, thoughts, practices and even etiquette that is reserved for it alone.

The origins of dating in all probability evolved from the conservative English practice of calling. The word may not be familiar for all but for those who are more into movie adaptations of the classics rather than the printed classics themselves, it may be helpful to imagine Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and you’ll get an idea of what calling is and how it is related to dating. When a gentleman calls on a lady in the 1700s and 1800s, it is understood immediately that the lady is a prospect for a marriage proposal in the future. When a gentleman is accepted into the parlor, the lady is expected to provide some form of entertainment but always with the presence of a chaperone. The gentleman may call as often as he is accepted, but under no circumstances is the lady allowed to express interest or affection. Occasionally, the gentleman and the lady may see each other socially outside the home environment during family excursions.

Today, dating is so far removed from the concept of calling that it seems nearly unrecognizable from its ancestor. Modern dating most likely evolved in the mid to late 1900s in America when the social and cultural norms were evolving. Liberalism and female empowerment were gradually taking root in society’s consciousness, allowing greater freedom for girls and boys, men and women to encounter each other in the social arena. This is even without the intention of marriage.

Traditional dating involved having a male invite a female for a date. The female may or may not decline but if the invitation is accepted, the male is expected to pick up the girl, foot the bill and escort the girl right back to her parents’ doorstep. Today, dating has evolved even more, with females being allowed to make the invitation first, pick up the male and share with the expenses of the date.

Along with the evolution of modern dating is the emergence of new dating trends. Now, more than ever, dating may involve mild to extreme forms of sexual acts. Other than the financial considerations this is primarily the concern of parents when their children grow old enough to go on dates.

Undeniably, dating has become so thoroughly evolved that those from an older generation may look at it with much consternation. It is expected however, that the evolution has not ended. How much more it can change however is immaterial. Dating is much a part of modern society that it is impossible to imagine how life would be without it.

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