August 12, 2016

Dating's changed

Dating's changed, but outcry about dating hasn't. Credit: Sue Clark / Flickr Creative Commons

Most people have a similar understanding of the norms of a “traditional,” heterosexual date: the man asks the woman out, they get dinner and the man pays the bill. But when did that tradition start? According to Moira Weigel, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale and the author of Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, dating has evolved drastically over the years.

And it turns out, dating as we know it isn’t that old. Weigel says that the concept emerged around 1896, when the term was first used. Before that there was still courtship, which, at least for the upper classes, typically took the form of something out of a Jane Austen novel.

Women and their mothers were what Weigel calls the “hosts” of the courtship, and it was socially unacceptable for a man to ask a woman out unless she showed that she was open to his attention. Courtship also typically happened in private spaces and was supervised by parents or other authority figures.

In the late 1800s, these courtship rules were completely upended by shifts in the economy. According to Weigel, economics and courtship are closely linked, so as America became more and more urbanized, and more and more women entered the workforce, it became more and more difficult to keep courtship “in the home.” And so, dating as we know it, with men and women interacting in public spaces, was born.

But where did the “man asking the woman out and paying the dinner bill” idea come from? Well, even though more women had jobs, men were still earning a lot more money than women. And that income difference between the two helped make men the new hosts of courtship, with women sometimes dependent on male suitors even to eat, Weigel explained.

“What we now think of as the most traditional kind of date possible, looked like prostitution,” she said, noting that women were arrested for accepting dates.

For years this form of dating was mostly practiced by the lower class, but around the 1910s the upper and middle classes adopted this style as well.

Now many are observing another huge shift in the way that we court and proclaiming that dating is dead. But Weigel argues that this change is natural and to be expected.

“The hysteria about changing norms regarding [dating] is a perennial feature, starting from those first vice squad arrests,” she said. “Is the ritual of going out to dinner ending? Maybe.”

But however dating evolves, according to Weigel, it'll be closely linked to how we work and how we spend our money.

dating, history, Culture, moira weigel, relationships, love

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