In America, dating and romance are a big deal. Television and movies show dating to be a process fraught with thrills, chills and disaster, with a bit of physical affection thrown in for good measure. For some, dating is a more structured event, with chaperones, parental involvement and little sexual contact.
To understand Americans and dating, it's necessary to look at how the relationship scene has evolved over time, as well as where it is now. To date successfully in the U.S., one must know limits, customs and just who picks up the check after that first date.
Early dating in the U.S. bore little resemblance to that of the modern era. Young singles met through family connections or social events, and contact was monitored at all times by an older, trusted chaperone. After a few supervised meetings, it was assumed that the young man would make an offer of marriage to the lady.
From the 1920's to the 1940's, dating became a lot more casual. People went out alone for dinner, a movie or dancing. The advent of the automobile allowed people to have private time, which led to the relaxing of sexual mores. After the advent of feminism and oral birth control in the 1960's, more of the power in dating fell towards women, who could now pay their own way on a date and could better dictate their own sexual activity comfort level. A Miami University student paper states, "In the 1970's and 1980's, dating changed. There was a greater opportunity for informal opposite sex interaction...and there was no longer a set progression of stages from first meeting to marriage."
In the U.S., there are several types of dates. The most common is the traditional outing of two people that may attend an event or share a meal. Another type of date is the group date. During this, several people will gather and enjoy common entertainment. Usually some in the group are coupled off, although there may be some singles mixed in. There is also the blind date, where neither party has ever seen or met the other before the meeting occurs. Blind dates have a reputation for being stressful, since they're usually set up through a third party.
In some sections of the U.S., dating is more conservative than in others. The Midwest, for example, has a reputation for being more marriage-oriented than the big coastal cities like San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles. A big city single might have several people that they're dating at once, with some of them as nothing more than sexual partners. In a smaller, more conservative town, an eligible person may only forge a relationship with one option at a time, choosing to focus his attention on one party.
In more diverse areas, there is also a lot of intercultural dating. It can be common to see African-Americans or Asians dating Caucasians, or a Christian going out with a Jew. While there are sometimes cultural problems to deal with in these pairings, they're gaining more acceptance in the country.
During a Date in America
A common American date consists of dinner and a drink, or a movie. It's customary that the asker pays for the date, although more traditional ladies prefer that the man take care of all expenses. The University of Arizona ESL website says, "Asking someone on a date, or accepting a date, does not obligate you to become romantically involved. If, for some reason, you do not wish to date the person a second time, simply do not ask them out again, or if they ask you out a second time, you may refuse politely."
Sex will usually happen for most couples in the course of dating, with the great majority waiting a while before indulging. A nice dinner doesn't guarantee sex, nor does flirtatious behavior. When the time is right, sex happens. "This does not mean, however, that sex guarantees emotional commitment. There are people in the United States...who view sex as a goal in itself and who attach no emotional significance to it," cautions the University article.
No matter how confusing dating may seem, most singles in the U.S. find their mate through dating and will marry. Online dating, speed dating and social networking make it easier than ever to connect, and long-distance relationships happen frequently. The American dating scene is less formal than in other countries, but it still results in loving unions, families and happy people on occasion.