A History of Dating…

From Antiquity to the modern day, dating has established itself as a ritual which we have long considered as the precursor to assessing the suitability of a potential life partner. Over time, our contemporary concept of dating has evolved so drastically that many of the habitual practises once associated with the idea appear rather outdated and most definitely peculiar.

From an evolutionary perspective, the notion of ‘dating’, i.e. courtship or wooing is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. Anthropological studies suggest that in the past - and also in some cultures today - this concept was neglected or disregarded completely; the focus was on sexual reproduction to produce a genetically viable offspring, therefore strengthening the family lineage.  From a historical standpoint, dating was existent only to the extent to which a couple-to-be was first introduced before, or at, their wedding ceremony…If you were one of the fortunate ones.

In past Western society, romance and love had a somewhat turbulent relationship with the institute of matrimony.  According to ancient manuscripts from as far back as pre-Renaissance, the heart’s desire was outweighed by legacy, survival, power, politics and resources. Couples over the epochs, both fictional and non-fictional were not always attracted to those whom they were betrothed to, which might have lead to secret, romantically frenzied encounters by twilight. This however, does not constitute as ‘dating’…

According to research, the first decade of the twentieth century saw the beginning of our modern interpretation of ‘dating’. During this time, it was very common for older male relatives and families with daughters, to use their networks or involve Matchmakers to find potential suitors.  Dates were then arranged with permission of the parents and in the presence of an all-divulging chaperone. The goal being to get married and the result - inevitably to procreate. The couple was seldom left unaccompanied, rendering any desire of intimacy or carnal exchange virtually obsolete.  Since the lower socio-economic bracket were unable to dedicate the assets and resources to impressing suitors in their less-than-stately dwellings, it became ceremonious to leave the protection of the home to go out to spend time together, thus, it become known to go on a ‘date’.

During this era and often in many cultures around the world today, this arrangement would most likely consequence in marriage. Over the progression of the century, the youth of the age began to grow resentful of the strict, orthodox manner of ‘dating’ imposed by their forbearers. Deciding to take a more proactive approach and selecting by themselves, rebellion was rife in the Roaring Twenties. Evidently, all that was banned - was good; forbidding sexual encounters and intoxication, prohibition resulted in the first explosion of freedom for the modern West to enjoy liberation from the shackles of chaperoned dating to acting as wildly as they wanted, shielded under the backdrop of underground speakeasies.

Fast forward a few decades and through several oscillating schools of thought of what defined dating…From the 1950s and its traditional and triumphant ‘nuclear family’ ideals to the 1960s and the fluid concept of free-love, polygamous ‘relationships’ and drug-fuelled expression - the concept was really truly radicalised in the 1970s.

This time saw several inventions empowering both sexes: changing dating forever. With the introduction of birth control - oral contraceptive pills, the legalisation of abortion and active Women’s rights movements - sexual liberation for women was at an all-time high, obviously benefiting their male counterparts at the same time. Stimulating the awakening of dating without caution and exploring without concern, the shift in liaisons became evident: validating what some Sociologists deem the end of ‘dating’ as we once knew it and taking us into the taboo realm of ‘hook-ups’. The idea of ‘going-Dutch’ or halves on a date also became prevalent at this time, women wanted equality demonstrated.  No longer a trial period as a harbinger for marriage, casual dating (…and casual sex) became ‘normalised’. 

Not to say that people no longer wanted marriage, but attitudes and relationship roles were changing.  In our modern times, marriage has become less permanent and whilst wanting a long term commitment, men and women also value their independence, their own goals and ambitions and are willing to remain single until they find the right one.  Some, whilst searching, are open to fulfilling their physical and emotional desires in the short term.

We often hear nostalgic idioms recalling the lost art of dating or the clichéd chivalry is dead aphorism.  The modern single, will date and explore a larger number of potential partners than we did historically and the technological innovations of today make ‘connecting’ easier than ever before.  For some, this has resulted in a hot mess of trial and error, quantity over quality, some frustration and a few funny stories to tell our friends.          

It seems now, we are coming full circle.  With so many people finding it difficult to find the right one, we are seeking alternatives methods, which has given rise, once again, to Matchmaking.  Dating has evolved, because we have - we want more… We want it all.  So, no longer are we passively waiting for love to drop by, we are being proactive and going after what we want.