Define Dating

Boy meets girl. What often happens after boy and girl meet is known as dating. In many societies, young people, and increasingly, not so young people, engage in dating to find romantic partners and eventually become committed couples. In the 21st century, technology has added new wrinkles and possibilities to the process. Changes in social mores have also resulted in dramatic changes in dating for both young people and mature adults.

Traditional Courting

During the 19th century, dating as it is known today did not exist. Instead, young men and women were matched by courting. The courting process took place in the parlors and on the front porches of the young man and woman involved, with parents and other chaperones just out of sight. The expressed purpose of the rather formal process was to determine the suitability of a marriage of the couple. Although family often took into account the feelings of the young people, marriage was seen as a means of promoting the interests of the entire extended family, not just those of the couple involved.

Traditional Dating

Traditional dating, which came later and persisted through the 1950s, removed the unwavering purpose of guiding a young couple toward marriage. According to Beth Bailey in her book, "From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America," by the 1930s and 1940s, the date came into existence. Dating increasingly took place in public spaces such as movie theaters--away from the watchful eyes of parents. This was also the period when young people began to date multiple romantic partners, and when the phenomenon of "parking" came into being. Nonetheless, most young people did eventually marry, many times tying the knot with their adolescent "steadies."

The Sexual Revolution

The development of the birth control pill in the 1960s and the sexual revolution changed the face of dating. With the threat of unwanted pregnancy greatly reduced, both men and women began exploring romantic and sexual relationships in earnest with multiple partners. In many instances, couples involved did not even consider marriage. Especially before the advent of HIV and AIDS, sex was often viewed as a recreational activity unto itself, divorced from romance altogether, let alone marriage and children.

Innovations in Dating

During the last part of the 20th century, the stigma attached to advertising for love began to wane. This easing of society's mores corresponded with the rise of the Internet and electronic mail, which made it possible to communicate with potential partners anywhere in the world. Real-time "chats," along with video transmission, social networking sites such as Facebook and virtual environments like Second Life further transformed the dating environment.

Even with AIDS, many people continue to engage in casual sexual encounters, known as "hooking up," with or without romantic feelings between the partners. Young people especially have replaced traditional dating with "hanging out" with groups of friends, which may or may not include coupled pairs.

Adult Dating

During the latter half of the 20th century, divorce rates began to rise dramatically. Presently, roughly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. This means that more adults find themselves single--and many newly single adults have joined the dating scene in earnest. While many adults begin dating with the intention of eventual remarriage, this is not always the case. Online dating is also popular with older adults According to a study released in 2007 by Mediamark Research Inc., 2.462 million U.S. adults report they participated in online dating in the last 30 days.

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About the Author

Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.

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