Dating through the decades

It’s one of those words with which most people are familiar, but have vastly differing opinions of what it means. It summons visions of men women with small tokens of affection and asking their hand in marriage on bended knee.

For social scientists, studies of courtship usually look at the process of “mate selection.” (Social scientists, among whom I number myself from time to time, will never be accused of being romantics.) For the purpose of this article the , prior to the early 20th century, courtship involved one man and one woman spending intentional time together to get to know each other with the expressed purpose of evaluating the other as a potential husband or wife.

At the same time that the public entertainment culture was on the rise in the early 20th century, a proliferation of magazine articles and books began offering advice about courtship, marriage and the relationship between the sexes.

As Ken Myers says in , from the late 1930s on, young people knew, down to the percentage point, what their peers throughout the country thought and did.

They knew what was “normal.” Prior to the 20th century, “normal” was determined within families and local communities, but now a “higher authority,” with wide-spread circulation and readership, began to form a national consciousness. With the onset of the sexual revolution the question arose, “Why would a man court and woo a woman when he could gain a chief benefit of marriage, namely sexual gratification, for free with no commitment?

” (Friendship “with benefits” is a contemporary example.) Closely related to this is the invention of birth control.

Nahmani’s family, his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis and the fact that he had been a nonviolent, first-time offender with no previous criminal history.“These extenuating circumstances underscore the urgency of his request for clemency,” the White House statement said.

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Keeping company in the family parlor was replaced by dining and dancing, movies, and “parking.” A second cultural force that influenced the older courtship system was the rise of “public advice” literature as well as the rise of an “expert” class of advisers — psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, etc.

There is too much that could be said here, so I’ll be brief.

Simply put, with the onset of the widespread use of chemical and other means of birth control, the language of procreation — of having children — was separated from the language of marriage. of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass argues in his chapter on courtship in , under the old system of courtship, marriage and bringing a child into the world were inextricably linked. With the ever decreasing risk of pregnancy, having sex and being married were no longer tied together.

Since most young adults will marry, the process employed in finding a husband and wife is still considered courtship.

However, an extra layer, what we call “dating,” has been added to the process of courting.

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