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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

Historic Lessons of Dating

Most people have always understood the concept of dating from the time that they were at least young teenagers, often earlier. Each person’s understanding of the meaning of dating, usually is a combination of culture, social standing, religious beliefs and other environmental, spiritual and psychological factors.

The end of World War II, brought the U.S. nation to a period of great prosperity. As a result, school attendance until high school graduation, became the norm, rather than the exception. This created a situation where an unusually high number of people at a marriageable age, were kept out of the job market. Therefore, those who would have married earlier were now setting their sights on higher education, and career interests, putting marriage and family on hold.


Many of the people of dating age, had disposable income and time. Add to that, the media’s courtship of youthful romantic rhetoric, including music, art, film and books on the same topic, and out of this new cultural phenomenon, came the birth of what we now know as, contemporary dating.

When the dance of courtship began, it really was all fairly innocent. Parental authority was still at the forefront. Religious values were governing most of the mores that existed. “Dating” was considered a way for younger people to coexist with their peers, and entertain themselves in social settings, often, including groups at a time, to have fun and while developing their personalities, before “settling down” into adult life.

Originally, dating offered young women a chance to receive attention from many “suitors” – usually different ones every weekend, if things turned out well for her. Since many young people’s circle of acquaintances came from their church or school, under the jurisdiction of social and parental curfew requirements, there was little problem with getting into trouble.

If things progressed enough between a young couple enough so that a strong affinity developed, then the possibility of marriage may have seemed an option worth considering. At this point, it was customary for the couple to "go steady,” which while short of engagement, did mean that they agreed to be exclusive with each other.

Of course, it was always understood, that human nature being what it is, whenever young persons spend a considerable a amount of time in the exclusive company of each other, sex, engagement and marriage will probably follow in due course.

By the time the sixties and the seventies arrived, parental authority was becoming less prevalent, as drugs became more commonplace. The Sexual Revolution was becoming more popular in society.

Meanwhile, upward-mobility helped to transform society into more of a transitory state. At almost the same time, the post-Vatican II upheaval spurred on by the era of “free love” – helped to push away the social moorings that had once been associated with religious and other social authorities.

While some traditional dating rituals continued, it was still different than it had been, and changing every day. There were less social restraints imposed than before, which seemed to be disappearing at a feverish pace. People were embracing the newfound freedoms associated with the new dating scheme, as the old rules disappeared.

As college campuses began to fill to the rafters, while students adopted a militant stance to avoid the Vietnam War, curfews, sign-ins, and other protective measures, all in the name of freedom, were facing abolishment.

Conservative types complained that there were fewer “decent” movies to attend. More people seemed to rely upon cars for transportation, which liberated them from curfews associated with mass transit that ended at a certain time, as well as obtaining rides in carpools and from those in authority, who, before, could impose restrictions such as curfews easily. This also resulted in more one-on-one, rather than group dating. Along with the new drug culture, came parties where young adults partook in Marijuana, LSD and other recreational drugs, which contributed to the new looseness associated with dating behavior, while accelerating intimacy.

The eighties was the first decade of young people reared on feminism and Planned Parenthood-style sex education. While the era did a lot to help society evolve out of some of the social shackles and stigma of the fifties, it also could have served to destroy what remained of chivalry, to a certain degree.

In general, going out wasn’t cheap anymore, and females were expected to pay their share – either monetarily, or in other ways. It seemed to become necessary that females “reimburse” males who spent money on them, one way or another. During the nineties, women often advanced to become the sexual aggressors, no longer waiting for men to approach them in public, or being coy about their desires.

The innocence of dating pre-1960, was apparent by the level of births to unmarried women. Vital statistics demonstrate that in 1960, there were only 91,000 births to unmarried women under age 20 in the entire United States (and 502,046 to married women under age 20). By 1991, there were 386,451 births to unmarried women under 20, and 163,140 to married women the same age. Of course, those statistics do not include pregnancies in general, that may have been involuntarily or voluntarily terminated.

The most sobering effect of the loss of innocence within our culture concerning dating, is the three to six million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in adolescents aged 15-19 each year in the U.S. According to statistics, there are 22 common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); many of which are never diagnosed. Most of those STDs are incurable, and some are a predisposition to cancer, and infertility.

So, how does the history of dating affect the culture of dating, as it exists today? There really is no going back, and most people would probably not want to go back in time, to more “innocent” times, largely because it would involve losing some of the freedoms that most of us enjoy, in terms of having more control over our social lives.

While certain religious groups discuss abstinence before marriage regularly, it is highly doubtful that it will be adopted with any popularity any time soon. It is only common sense, that those who spend hours and hours of unsupervised, unstructured time alone, will advance to the natural passions of the flesh.

While abstinence could benefit certain groups, such as teens who find themselves in predicaments such as contracting STDs and unwanted pregnancies, older single people would probably find it impractical to adopt it. The fact remains, that in society today, sex before marriage has become such a part of our culture, that it now seems “strange” when couples admit that they waited. Some popular male-advice based publications, even go so far as to set deadlines by which men should “receive” sex, or abandon involvement with whomever they don’t get it from by that time.

As dating rituals evolve, one can only guess how they will manifest in our society, and how it will affect intimate relationships as a whole. One thing is for sure: dating will continue to be a part of our society, as every relationship, no matter how it turns out, begins with a date.

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Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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