Generations ago, the concept of dating brought with it notions of romance. Being in a place that instilled higher moral values. It was a time that is looked upon fondly, with many movies representing the times as innocent with simplistic desirability.

In the modern age, it has never been easier to play the field. With access to hundreds and thousands of singles in the palm of your hand using dating apps. 

From the early 20th century to the modern age, finding and sustaining romantic, as well as physical relationships has now become an evolving aspect of culture- like our jobs, houses, food and music tastes. 

Each era came with its own set of unspoken rules- here are some of them. 

Before the Twentieth Century  

Dating only really became a thing in the early twentieth century. Prior to this, ‘courting’ and ‘getting to know somebody for the sake of marriage’ was much more private and unemotional. Women of marriageable age would meet her potential suitors chosen by her parents. She would have the ultimate say over who she would see again. 

The suitors were judged heavily on factors such as their financial and social status. When a suitable match was found, the young couple would socialize only at public and family events. The concept of two young lovers ‘going on a date’ was unheard of! Let alone practicing any physical activities together–the shame! 

The turn of the century saw couples begin to ‘step out’ together unsupervised. Still however, with the ultimate goal of marriage. 

Starkly contrasting to today’s world where marriage may not even be spoken about for several years of dating. 

The Gentleman Caller – Early 20th Century

It was all change during the early 20th century. Young people were allowed out on their own more. Meaning an increase in meeting potential love matches at social events such as dances or sports events. 

If a young man became interested in a woman, he would have to follow the appropriate protocol. Ask her family’s permission to take her on a date. Following this, he would have to be invited back before being able to see her again. 

The 1920s saw a change once again. While men would still call for women, he would be able to take her out. It would now be seen as proper for a young man to pay for the woman on a date. A contrast to previous decades where the woman had ultimate say on the viability of a continuing relationship. 

Courting vs Dating 

Not simply a modern way of saying a couple is ‘courting’, the notion of dating brought with it an element of freedom. Courtship was restrained by rules and protocols. Whereas dating was a newer, more modern practice which brought less of these with them. 

Dating became less structured. Though ‘courting’ was considered a part of a well-functioning society, dating became something that was more for fun, and less pointed toward the goal of marriage. 

This was because young people had more scope to meet others as school, college and places of work for both men and women means that they were exposed to a massive pool of potential partners. 

It was here that the practice of modern dating began to take shape, and the notion of courtship was left behind. 

A Match Made In Love 

When dating was introduced, so was the focus on falling in love. Gone were the days of having to marry into a suitable family to strengthen the gene pool, and improve on social status. 

Love wasn’t the focus of potential marriages before, and for some lucky couples, may have only have happened after the wedding. Now, with dating being about having fun with a potential lover, came the increased desire for romantic relationships before deciding to commit to marriage. 

With the idea of falling in love falling into place, the desire to marry to climb the social ladder or to secure a place in society fell by the wayside. We entered a season of romance and falling in love and the pursuit to find a long-term partner. 

Time to ‘Go Steady’?

Enter the 1950s concept of ‘going steady’- the term meaning that a couple had left behind their dating days and were now in an exclusive relationship.  As well as being secure in a relationship, this new phase was also about standing out in the crowd from their peers. 

Couples would be public in their decisions to ‘go steady’ in a relationship when the man gave his woman an item of his clothing to wear (so, guys, when your girl steals your hoodie, it’s fine, you’re just ‘going steady’ now).

The 1950s also saw the birth of the teenager, which was an entirely new concept- adding to the dating world’s notion of being about having fun over family expectations. 

This also meant that the concept of sex when dating was shifted. Something that was not previously discussed- as sex was previously seen as a ritualist union with God. 

Relationships became more about pleasure-seeking and therefore sexual expression became more common. ‘Necking’ and ‘Petting’ became commonplace, giving names to previously private activities- a far cry away from the period of purity we previously thought of.

This was a time of sexual revolution and led to a dramatic increase in the population.

‘Free Love’

The popularization of Rock N Roll and protesting the Vietnam war, the 1960s also saw a dramatic rise in youth culture. Not only were young people protesting the activities if the US government. But they also resisted old social conventions, too. 

We thought the 50s had a sexual revolution. That was nothing compared to the 60s notion of ‘free love’. Sexual activity in the name of freedom and revolution. 

Where sex was previously a hushed topic and even seen as the enemy destroying the reputation of a young woman. This stopped being the case with the hippy generation. 

The 1960s removed the restrictions of the past. Young women began to use birth control to prevent pregnancy, as sex was no longer about ‘union with God’ or procreation, but was now solely about pleasure. 

Sex before marriage was no longer a taboo and young people benefitted greatly from the freedom of being able to make love without being married or having any other long term commitments. 

Rad Times

Depending on how you feel about Valentine’s Day, romance and commercialization have been partners for a long time. So, when the consumer-centric ‘80s came along. The influence couldn’t help but be felt in the dating world.

With more prosperous times came the zenith of shopping malls and other all-in-one work and play experiences. So, it comes as very little shock that for many people, particularly younger people, these bastions of consumer culture also became go-to spots for dating.

Businesses were not left unaware of this fact. More and more options for dating, including movie theaters and more substantial food offerings than the food court became staples in malls.

There are few places where a person could buy pants, a corn dog, see a movie and receive a massage. All under one roof. But those few places were almost certainly malls.

Technological improvements further improved the dating experience. Arcades became a staple of the 1980s and early ‘90s. Photo booths encouraged people to crowd into a small kiosk to get a low-quality strip of photos. The purpose, to represent their highest quality memories.

Even today, entertainment options continue to prop up malls despite decades of decline in the popularity of shopping anywhere but online.

Dating rules went out of the window. Young people knew what they wanted and when. Here began ‘hook up’ culture. 

Dating At Your Fingertips 

With the days of being limited to one suitable partner, as arranged by our parents well and truly behind us. A major development in the dating world was the introduction of technology. 

Starting with chat lines introduced by flyers and leaflets in phone booths, to lonely hearts ads in newspapers. It is clear that many of us are looking for a connection with people. Either physical or emotional. 

Though a hugely popular way of meeting people in the modern age, the science behind online dating and matchmaking services was being worked out way before the world was even online. 

In 1965, a group of Harvard students created something known as ‘Operation Match’ which was designed to make meeting like-minded people a whole lot easier. 

When the internet became commonplace in people’s homes, so did the amount of online dating websites that acted on a similar matchmaking premise. Though meeting lovers online has only recently lost its taboo status. 

Even with the widespread popularity of the internet, online dating did not begin to truly lose its stigma until the rise of smartphones. As internet consumption moved from desktop to mobile-online steadily becoming a constant of every day, minute-to-minute life.

Now that we have an entire generation who have lived their entire lives with social media as part of it. How we connect as a culture has changed profoundly. Even if we only project parts of ourselves online. We feel more comfortable putting our whole hearts out there. 

Whether you’re seeking a casual connection or a lifetime of love, there’s an app for that!


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