In the 1950s, long before the days of cell phones and social networking, dating was a simple affair that revolved around jukeboxes, soda fountains and well-defined social norms. Dating rituals dictated the proper ways for men to court women, with marriage being the desired outcome for couples that were "going steady." Men and women of the era adhered to these rituals--or else were considered the societal fringe.
In a Feb. 9, 2009, "Miami Quarterly Online" article, "Dating Through the Ages," Miami University American Studies Associate Professor Helen Sheumaker notes that in the 1950s, the economy dictated men and women's dating roles. Because men were the ones who traditionally held steady jobs, they paid the bills on dates and also planned elaborate dates to compete for women's affections. However, the expense of these dates eventually led to the popularity of group dating, which was less costly and also eased the sexual pressure associated with one-to-one dates.
Couples declared their intentions to be exclusive by "going steady," whereby a young woman would wear a love anklet and her boyfriend's fraternity or club pin--known as "pinning." After a few years of going steady, the couple would become engaged, and the engagement could last for a year or more. Couples used the engagement period to save up enough money for marriage.
Although going steady meant that men were not to date other women, societal expectations of the time dictated that men could freely sow their "wild oats," while women were to remain virgins until married. Furthermore, society condemned women who broke this unwritten rule, while condoning men's behavior if they chose to pursue other women. At the same time, couples of the 1950s trended toward early marriage, so the courtship process was more hurried than it had been during the Depression and World War II era, when delayed marriage was more common.
Young women in the 1950s typically let guys ask them out rather than initiate dates themselves. When asked, they gave an immediate answer, and they did not break dates without a good reason. When a date arrived, the woman was ready to go so as not to keep her date waiting, and she introduced him to her parents. If they ate at a restaurant, she told her date what she wanted so he could order for her. The man practiced common courtesies, such as asking her parents about curfew, helping her with her coat, opening doors, and walking between her and the curb.