Evolution of Dating in America

Love and Dating in American Style

A young man in 1901 who was infatuated with a woman would wait for an invitation to see her. They would probably meet in the parlor under the supervision of a parent.

By 1921, a young guy could ask the woman out on a date and pay for an evening of dining and dancing instead of having to play gentleman caller. By 1951, a young couple could be “going steady.” In 1971, they might be residing together. Today, they might only “hook up” for the evening.

The customs, thrills, and heartbreaks associated with American courtship have changed significantly during the past century. The way that men and women—or men and men, or women and women—have sought one other out and captured each other’s fancy is an interesting way to evaluate social history, according to Virginia Drachman, the Arthur and Lenore Stern Professor of American History at the School of the Arts.

This semester, Drachman is teaching a research course titled “Courtship in America.” She notes that historians have produced a small but growing body of research on courtship and dating.

Drachman continues, “I watched my two children go into their 20s.” Her research focuses on American women. My 90-year-old mother used to comment, “That’s not how we used to do things back in the ’30s.” I would respond, “That’s not how we did things in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, either.” Therefore, I believed that historicizing dating would be fantastic—to take something that the youngsters are familiar with and give it a fresh perspective.

Modern Style of Dating

But as the century went on, calling gave way to a more contemporary approach to dating, and the balance of power changed. Young men would invite women into the public sphere, or their world, according to Drachman. At this time, American women were exercising their right to vote, working, and going to college, going beyond their usual public boundaries. They won’t be subject to legal restrictions.

It served as a representation of progress for women who were no longer subject to parental criticism in many respects. It did not, however, come without a cost. Women had to wait to be invited and rely on their dates’ initiative. And dating changed into an exchange system, according to Drachman.

The young man invited the woman out, paid for dinner and the movie, and anticipated receiving some form of trade or personal favor in return.

She asserts that when women were clamoring for greater equality during the “era of the new woman,” “they could begin to explore their sexuality.” Girls are unable to explore their sexuality in the same way that males do, though, because of the sexual double standard.

Nothing is entirely one-sided, of course. Drachman continues, “Women’s history is continuously one step forward, half a step back. Women “gained something in the public domain and lost something in the domestic sphere.”

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