American dating culture has a long, storied history that is closely related to the history of marriage in America. The first American dating traditions were brought to the continent from the countries of the immigrants origins who came ashore here. Because of this, America's dating culture has become a a conglomeration of cultures, customs, traditions, and evolving expectations with the only predictable element remaining 'change.'
American Dating Before 1900
When the Puritans set up camp in North America, they also established rigorous religious moral expectations. These expectations encompassed all aspects of life, including courtship and marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman was not seen as an emotional connection, but a business deal, where a man brought wealth and security to his wife, and a woman brought a dowry and the ability to bear children. Negotiations between parents took place that took into consideration monetary wealth and social status, with little input from the marriageable parties.
In the 1700s, a couple's union was still staunchly guarded by parents, but beginning in the 1800s, young men and women began to have more autonomy in their choices for a mate. Love became a larger concern in a pairing, with letters and courtship shared between lovers considering marriage with each other.
American Dating Before 1960
In the 1920s, with dancing growing as a social activity, youth able to spend time together without their parents, and the growth in popularity and availability of the automobile, American courtship began to see a drastic change. Lovers had the opportunity to spend time alone with other singles their own age, and could go on dates with multiple people until they found someone to see exclusively.
Exclusive couples often shared letter jackets and rings with the expectation that the relationship would lead to marriage. As couples began to date younger, starting in junior high and high school, the age of marriage dropped to the late teens and early twenties, with many couples marrying before a husband, or a husband and wife, began university studies. After WWII, there was a flood of marriages as service men returned from overseas and quickly found sweethearts, new or old, and proposed.
American Dating & Feminism
The wave of feminism in the 1960s began to change the face of American dating culture drastically. Prior to the feminist movement, women and men who did not get married could be viewed as pitiable, or possibly flawed, prompting men and women to date and marry quickly.
As women began to skirt traditional roles of housewifery in favor of college, employment, and independent living, dating became prolonged and marriage delayed. Sexual freedom also gained prominence, with traditional dating traded for shorter, casual encounters.
Modern American Dating
Modern American dating is a product of the precedents set by the past. With many different religious traditions, personal ethics, and other guiding principles shaping the way different subsets of American date, there is not one way to sum up modern dating culture. Sexual promiscuity has remained prominent, as well as problem for many girls, specifically teenagers, who find themselves pregnant and in a difficult position to support themselves and their child.
Conservative religious groups have risen partly as a backlash to these trends, stressing abstinence and prolonged courtship strictly intended for marriage. The majority of American couples have abandoned the full dating of rigors, favoring instead to date members of their group of friends, engaging in short dates over coffee or drinks, as opposed to previous traditions of long, evening dinner dates.
Dating in the Digital Age
The digital age of dating has ushered in dating websites, matchmaking tools, and personality assessments to help couples find each other in an era that often lends itself to feelings of disconnect and isolation. While many people, especially women, will act ashamed of having met a date on the Internet through an online dating service, the rapid growth of dating websites demonstrates that they are in high demand, whether or not people are willing to talk about it in public. Digital dating allows singles to read profiles, view pictures, and compare personality traits before deciding if they'd like to talk with someone or meet them. Whether or not these sights will lead to an increase in successful dates, and subsequently marriages, remains to be studied.