Dating rituals in the 1700s

Suppose I tell you now, what I, in my turn, expect, and how you may best please me and make me happy.

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The wedding was the culmination of years of planning, preparation, and effort. Benjamin and Annabelle raised their daughter to be a good housewife and respected member of society; to fulfill her destiny, Hannah did her best to find the most eligible young man to marry. This process was called courting. Courting allowed young men and women to meet and socialize largely unchaperoned, at a variety of entertainments. They were part of a small group of well-off, unmarried, young people living in the small city of Williamsburg. Young white women approached courtship and marriage differently.

After completing their domestic training, they enjoyed late adolescence as a special phase of life. Since were not yet responsible for running a household or raising children, women had more freedom during these years than they would ever have again. Courting gave women power; it was their decision whether to accept or reject a suitor.

How dating has changed over the last years

Some wielded it ruthlessly. While women might begin courting as early as fifteen or sixteen years of age, most—like Hannah Powell—deferred marriage until their early twenties. Others married quickly for fear that waiting too long might eliminate the availability or choice of husbands. The choice of a husband was very important since, once made, only death could undo a marriage.

Marriage for women was a complete life change. It meant leaving childhood behind, taking on adult responsibilities, and forming a new family. With the rise of the affectionate family, arranged marriages became a thing of the past.

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This did not happen often. Young people rarely courted far from their social class, and respected parental opinions most of the time. Couples made many preparations for their wedding day. Many exchanged gifts of affection.

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Settling the question of where a couple would live and what they would take with them affected others, especially if slaves were part of the dowry. Like the courtship, the wedding preparations followed rules that were designed to involve the community, both for the public record and communal memory.

After they became betrothed, the couple met with the minister to discuss the ceremony and their religious obligations to one another. Three weeks before the wedding, the banns the declaration of the intention to marry at were posted at the churches in both home parishes. The man secured a certificate from his minister to show that the banns had been announced. A marriage license could be obtained from the county clerk instead of posting banns, but this was rarely done.

The first decade of the 20th century was marked by the figure of the gentleman caller. If a young man was interested in a young woman, he would follow the proper protocol of calling upon her , which meant that he would come to the family's home and hopefully be welcomed into their parlor.

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How dating has changed over the last 100 years

If he was invited back for subsequent visits, he would be free to come and call upon the young woman during hours specified by her parents. As the years rolled on into the s, however, this system quickly became outdated and unfavorable. Courtship in Twentieth Century America , "Dating had almost completely replaced the old system of calling by the mids — and, in so doing, had transformed American courtship.

This changed the relationship dynamic between a young man and a young woman, as now it was the man's duty to pay for the date, whereas before it was the woman who decided the terms of the visit. The fundamental difference between courtship and dating is that of freedom.

While traditional courtship had its own set of rules and rituals, dating, as it evolved, became less structured. Courtship was seen as a fundamental part of a well-functioning society. When people started dating, relationships became less restricted and more personal. So what instigated this cultural shift? In Jodi O'Brien's book, Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, Volume I , she writes, "Different institutions were becoming more prominent in the lives of young men and women, such as school, college, and workplaces, which exposed them to a large pool of potential dating partners.

As a result, the purpose of dating was primarily to have fun, not to find a marriage partner. However, couples would form after several dates if they were interested in having more exclusive relationships. With the introduction of dating also came the focus on falling in love, rather than finding a society-approved match.


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In previous years, love was not seen as being of central importance to a marriage, and if it was to come it would emerge after the wedding had already occurred. But with the introduction of dating came an increased desire for romance and love before deciding to commit to marriage. This concept, explained in depth in The Oxford Companion to United States History , goes, "By the early nineteenth century, couples began to consider romantic love prerequisite for marriage and based their unions on companionship.

The era's fiction frequently drew on love themes, while articles, essays, and public orations stressed mutual respect, reciprocity, and romance as ingredients of good marriages. Young courting couples chose their own partners, and their letters focused on romance rather than on the practical matters that had dominated the correspondence of earlier generations. In the s, "going steady" was the term for being in an exclusive relationship.

This status was about the relationship, sure, but it was also about standing out amongst your peers. According to the University of California, Santa Barbara , "Across university campuses, couples publicized their decision to 'go steady' when the man gave the woman an article of his clothing to wear, such as a jacket, sweater, or ring.


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The way in which two people experienced sexuality when dating also shifted. In the earlier part of the 20th century, sex and sexuality were not openly discussed. As author Jodi O'Brien put it, "Sex was desexualized" and reserved for marriage, when the couple had entered into a spiritual union with God. As dating gradually became more about personal pleasure throughout the decades, the expression of sexuality became much more commonplace. According to the Oxford Companion to United States History , "The terms 'necking' and 'petting' — the former referring to kisses and caresses above the neck, the latter to the same below it — entered public discussion, giving names to previously unspoken private activities.

As we trace the timeline of dating rituals, we can get a better sense of how Americans throughout time understood love and, by extension, the world. With the advent of new technologies cell phones, social media, Tinder, etc. It is important to note that historically many of these mainstream rituals were strictly confined to heterosexual dating.

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Romance in early 18 th century America was all social capital, decorum, and familial oversight. Dating did not yet exist in the modern sense; society instead favored a courtship model which almost entirely consisted of one long, parentally-controlled audition for marriage. Marriage during this time was less a public declaration of mutual affection and more an essential means of legally exchanging property between families.

Courtship was the ritual that would allow the families to evaluate potential matches and determine if the arrangement would be advantageous. Reputation was also an essential form of social currency that required intimate guarding. A marriage built solely on the forces of emotion and mutual affection was scorned and perceived as irresponsible.

Rather, love was regarded as the product of a constructed arrangement, eventually achieved by couples with aligned resources and values. This tradition of parental oversight was legitimized by the law, which held that guardians were permitted and expected to organize the transition of their child into a legal marriage.

By the early 19 th century, romance had rapidly become the desired method of courtship.

Dating becomes a thing

Art and philosophy began to reflect a new world view in which love was prescribed as the ideal foundation for a marriage, even taking precedent over c onsiderations of property. This new romantic character of courtship plainly took form in the forsaking of traditional highly formalized love letters in favor of letters with a more endearing and poetic tone. But despite this move towards emotionally based relationships, the compatibility of matches was still strongly emphasized. During the courtship process, it was typical for the intended couples to divulge their perceived character flaws to ensure that a long-term commitment would be logical and feasible.

Additionally, the many legal and social barriers surrounding divorce increased the pressure to ensure that a match was suitable.

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