Dating in our culture is a mysterious thing. The actual definition of a ‘date’ is different for certain people, in certain places and at a certain point in time. Even so, trying to define what dating really is very difficult. But in a general understanding of the term, dating is two people spending time together and going out and doing things, without any real sense of commitment towards each other. That is, they are both generally free to go on dates with other people as well. Focusing on heterosexual dating, there are many patterns or rituals that go into the whole concept of dating. These are hard to tag, because dating rituals are often distinct to particular settings. However, dating rituals have visibly changed throughout the twentieth century, and it is largely due to an advancing society. The advancement of women’s rights, the sexual revolution, and a more liberal and accepting society all help contribute to this change.
A classic view of a date is one that might have occurred in the some time in the past. It is not to say that they don’t ever happen like this anymore, but it rare in the situations I have seen. Here is my perception of a classic date. A date is most often is initiated by the man and it would be considered improper for a woman to ask a man on a date. The popular form of communication used to acquire a date is the telephone, where the man will usually ask the woman out to dinner and a movie, for example. The man will usually be the one that provides transportation, and will go pick the woman up at her home. The man will possibly have some sort of gift for the woman, such as flowers. They will both depart from there and go to dinner, where the man will pay. The man will often open doors for the woman, or help her in her chair. Afterwards, they may go to some sort of show or movie, which the man will again usually pay for. Then at the conclusion of the date, the man will take the woman home and walk her to her door. This is the ‘classic date’ scenario of the last forty years, and some of the rituals from yesteryear still are upheld today. The man is most definitely the provider of the date, and the woman the receiver.
Today however, the popular notion of dating seems to have changed. Through things such as the sexual revolution of the women’s movement, and a generally more liberal society, dating has become quite different as I see it. A date can be initiated through mutual friends, or meeting someone at a party. Others times you will know the person from work or school or the building that you live in. People who date now are usually friends first and tend to know each other fairly well, at least on a superficial level. Dates are not made by awkward phone calls, and dates are rarely official. By this I mean that a guy would not usually call up a girl and ask her if she would like to go on a date. He would ask if she would want to hang out or meet up somewhere. Simply hanging out with a girl and a group of friends, or going to a party with a girl could be considered a date. The whole situation is more laid back and relaxed by making dating less of a formal thing. Sex has become more of an open thing, and men and women both engage in it on dates as more of a physical pleasure, rather than an act of love.
In the classic view of a date, a woman can generally go on as many dates as she wants without thinking about expenses because the man is most often the one who pays for the date. The man however, must be somewhat conservative with his dating practices, unless he is rich. One must wonder why this is so. Men are usually seen as providers in long-term relationships, and since some dates could lead to a long-term relationship, men are therefore expected to begin providing right away. It is fundamentally an expectation of women that men will pay for them on a date. For a man not to do so would not only be seen as bizarre, it would in many cases prevent any future dates from occurring between the two. The expectation of men having to pay for dates still does exist today, but not to the degree that it used to be prior to the 1970’s. Men are customarily expected to pay for a date at first, but if the relationship grows and a couple continues to see each other, the man and the woman might take turns paying for dates.
According to Beth Bailey’s, Economy of Dating, the date is a device to develop and maintain popularity within a social group. The economy of dating is a system where people gain popularity through dates, and get dates through popularity. It is a cycle that fundamentally never ends, and one is never awarded permanent popularity, it must be steadily maintained. According to Bailey, the economy of dating has been around since the 1920’s and was still in practice in the post World War II era. The economy of dating does exist today but only in certain situations, rather than a widespread standard as it may have been in the past. Although extensive dating may be a cause of popularity, being popular is not the purpose of dating in most instances of contemporary society. Being popular is an effect of dating in the present, whereas it used to be a cause of dating. Someone would date to be popular. Even today, it is no surprise that a man who goes on a lot of dates is going to be popular. Guys tend to admire fellow men who can, “get a lot of girls.” However, they could also be seen as players. Girls who go a lot of dates are sometimes seen as being sluts by others girls, and hard to get by other men. Demonstrating a lack of any sort of commitment can be looked down upon. Therefore, going on a lot of dates can actually be poor for your popularity.
The economy of dating has changed because people look for different things out of relationships. Women’s view towards men are more and more commonly the equivalent of what males stereotypically tend to want out of women: sex. The sexual revolution of the sixties changed everything about relationships. Now that pre-marital sex was deemed to be OK by many, relationships were justified being completely based on physical attraction. Also, the promotion of individualism over the past few years has helped lead to a decline in the desire to be popular.
Rating was introduced in Bailey’s article as a way to rate the dating worthiness of a member of the opposite sex on the basis of popularity. The rating aspect still exists today, but it has changed from its past notions. Rating today is more visible in things like approval from friends. If a guy has an unattractive date, or has a history of getting unattractive dates, that will hurt his popularity, but only on a remote level. If your date is smart or stupid is up to your friends or even family to decide. One’s taste in a particular member of the opposite sex can be judged by your peers, and if you make questionable choices of dates in their eyes, it could hurt your social standing. Nevertheless there is no written form of rating dates, and the importance of it now is entirely miniscule compared to what it was in say, the thirties.
Changes in gender roles have made dating rituals different from what they used to be. The traditional role as male being the leader of the family is changing. Along with this, the roles that women play in dating rituals have also changed. It is now acceptable for a woman to ask a man on a date. Although the code of chivalry that has existed throughout history, where the ladies are more or less helpless and the men are there to save and protect them, is still intact but it can be looked down upon by women if it is taken too far. Women are becoming more independent now and the popular realization that women don’t really need men in their lives is becoming more rampant. In dating today, if a man were to go on a date with a woman and he did all of the things listed earlier in the description of a classic date, some women would feel bothered, like they are being babied.
Dating in the United States has changed greatly in the past 80 years. However some things still do remain the same. There is still an expectation that men will pay for a date, at least initially. The economy of dating does still exist today, but under different circumstances. For example, the economy of dating still is very prevalent in one’s younger age, such as junior high. That is a situation where everybody wants to be popular, and dating becomes one way to achieve that. Dating is also still a way to achieved popularity. But there are also other ways of becoming popular, and if one does not date a lot there is still hope for them. A person who does date a lot, compared to someone that dates never, today might be more popular in an almost unrecognized way. They have a high status in the ‘attracting members of the opposite sex’ area. By college age however, popularity is not a reason for dating. Popularity altogether is not a big issue for most people in college, although it is for some. Dating is used to have fun, or to even find a life mate. When people do ‘go steady’ for a long time, they can still lose popularity, but not because they don’t date a lot. It is because they are not available to anyone else being that they are involved in a commitment. An attractive girl always seems to become a little more popular when she becomes single. The rating system exists today, but not like it did in the economy of dating that Bailey discussed. It is more of an approval rating by peers based on the person’s qualities that you are dating, not their popularity. Trying to define dating proved to be difficult because it is a hard term to define, and it means different people to different things. My synopsis of dating in the modern world could be totally altered from someone else’s. I tried to write about what I have seen though, and how dating appears to work in my peer group. I believe that the peer group that I have been involved with is a good control group for popular society. However, it is always going to be difficult to try to make a lot of generalizations on dating rituals.