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The Evolution of Dating

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As a millennial, dating can be such a pain. It’s a constant battle with us, jerks, and heartbreak. We had to deal with extreme cases of nerves. We also worry about embarrassing ourselves. But the odd thing is that we keep doing it anyway. Why is that? Well, there’s nothing like the thrill of meeting an interesting person. We love developing intimacy with them. The late nights, the hours of talking…they’re always fun and exciting.

The dating stories of our parents and grandparents are different from ours. This is how it evolved over the years.

Origin of the Word “Dating”

Moira Weigel wrote the book, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, in 2016. She said that the word “dating” was first associated with romance in 1896. The newspaper, The Chicago Record, had a column called “Stories of the Streets and Town.” One of them was a young man named Artie. He was riddled with sadness because his girlfriend was two-timing him. He lamented, “I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates?” The word “dates” was referred to as the days in the calendar that were filled with quality time between two romantically involved people.

Keeping Company

The system of courtship in the early half of the 20th century was quite restrained and formal. The man would visit the house of the woman he was interested in. They would sit in the parlor, have some tea and treats, and engage in small talk. They often had a few feet between them. Family members of the woman would also be there to supervise. This whole affair was called “keeping company.”

Things changed with the Industrial Revolution. Young people started leaving their hometowns to work in factories. The urban population grew. Adding to this was the presence of women in the paid workforce. Earning money for themselves felt liberating. They wanted to spend that money on leisure activities. So they began engaging in romantic activities in restaurants, movie theaters, and amusement parks. They were able to date in public spaces, away from the prying eyes of their family members.

Going Steady

couple huggingPicture this: two high school teenagers went to the homecoming dance together. They slow-danced, held hands, and kissed. Sparks flew. On the next day, the boy bashfully asked the girl if she would like to go steady with him. What did that mean?

Going steady for high school students often involved the boy giving the girl his class ring. If he were a jock, he would also give her his letterman jacket. These things were marks of commitment. The couple was promising exclusivity and faithfulness with one another. Thus, “going steady” was, in a way, a precursor to marriage.

Free Love

In the 1960s to 1970s, the sexual revolution was rising. It was prompted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of the birth control pill. Women were free to express their sexuality without worrying about unwanted pregnancy. Gone were the days of monogamy as the norm.

It’s not just the pill that opened doors to what we call free love. More forms of contraception grew popular as well. An example is vasectomy. Since 1970, men became more open and accepting of the simple surgical procedure.

The older generations tend to think that millennials today are too liberal. It’s because they are more open to casual intimacy with friends or strangers. But a study in the Journal of Sex Research found that young people in the 1960s to 1980s engaged with more partners than young people of today.

Online Dating

The advent of the Internet opened a door to a new way of dating: virtually. More people became much more comfortable meeting new people online. Although there’s no physical connection at first, there’s still a certain level of intimacy developing between them.

The popularity of smartphones evolved online dating furthermore. Dating apps originated in the gay community with Grindr. It developed a generation of singletons swiping left and right on apps such as Tinder and Bumble. In 2018, the wedding announcements in the New York Times had 1,000 couples. Ninety-three of them state that they met via dating apps.

The implementation of social distancing amid the pandemic put a strain on our dating practices. We’re afraid to contract the disease. So we avoided meeting new people. But if we do meet new people, we favor virtual hangouts instead of meeting in public places. Casual intimacy with friends and strangers became a high-risk activity. There are some suggestions on how to be healthy and intimate with other people at the same time. But no one could argue that it’s better to be with someone you know and trust very well. Does this mean that stable romantic relationships and monogamy are having a comeback? It’s possible.

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