Tag Archives: dating

Where Did “Dating” Come From?

Love_-_Engagement

“None of us marry perfection; we marry potential.”  – Robert D. Hales

As I ask my classes of college students each semester, it seems that the numbers of students who go on “dates” is declining.  Current research tends to support the growing trend among young people – dating has gone out of style.

Where did “dating” come from in the first place?

Courtship here in America started out with much more close contact than you might realize. Ellen Rothman writes that in the late 1700’s as many as 30% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. Even though unwed pregnancy was rare, people who were engaged often began sexual intercourse before their marriage. The patterns of living enabled people to spend much more time with one another as they were courting.

As the Industrial Revolution began to reshape American society, courtship rituals also had to be adjusted to fit all the new ways of working and living. As people began to live in larger cities, work and home became two separate spheres. Interaction circles grew wider as people came into contact with more and more people and often with people of different habits.

What we now call “dating” became a custom later, after the Victorian era, when sexual norms became more restrictive. Sexual regulation became more important in families. Working class families searched for ways to better oversee their children’s social lives. When it came to courting, all sorts of obstacles prevented parental oversight. There wasn’t any privacy in their homes for young couples to socialize. There weren’t enough regular social occasions around which families could invite courting couples to participate. Who could afford it? Interaction needed to be formalized in some way.

What evolved were arranged dates and times during which a male suitor could take his female acquaintance out of her home and spend time together in another location. Her father, of course, was the one to set the day and start/stop time for this “date.”

Once “dating” became the norm, it soon spread to the other social classes. When the 20th Century arrived, romantic love and adolescent experiences became dynamic components in the development of the distinctive identity we now know as “the teenager.” Youth spent more years in school, worked outside the home and began to consume the new mass culture (television, radio and Elvis). They were developing an independent identity earlier than ever before. Dating was a central role of this new identity.

By the time most of us started, dating had also become a way for men and women to conspicuously consume – to demonstrate their social status by spending money and looking beautiful. There were very specific gender roles. The male was always the initiator and took responsibility for pleasing his date. The female, while not being the damsel in distress, was expected to follow along. Even though her role was more like that of a special guest, she had all the right to provide her opinion about the plans for the evening. As the relationship developed, they would collaborate more on choices and familiar patterns.

I am indebted to Gene H. Starbuck for this lesson

Today, things have changed. Single’s aren’t dating very much.

Most young singles in America do not describe themselves as actively looking for romantic partners. Even those who are seeking relationships are not dating frequently. About half (49%) had been on no more than one date in the previous three months. (Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, Romance in America)

When we talk about the fragmented family, it’s important to not just look at how families fall apart and come to an end but to also examine how people learn to fall in love and decide to create a family in the first place. If dating has come to the end of its usefulness, what new social practice will we use to help people create the most important bonds in their lives?

Motherhood and Role Strain

Happy_family

I got a great blog post sent to me this past week by my dean. It’s all about the role of motherhood these days here in America. The writer traces the ways it has been overcomplicated and presents contradictory expectations to young women and families. It’s a great read that I highly recommend:

We’ve Overcomplicated Motherhood Because We Don’t Like It

I was thinking about this article today when I overheard a celebrity on a talk show recounting the narrative of her recent courtship, marriage and birth of first child. I can’t remember if it went in that order, you know how it is these days. She said something very much off the cuff that stuck with me. She was talking about her wedding and she said something like , “we’re a modern couple so having a wedding wasn’t important to us.” I wondered what she meant by that.

Since 1960 the percentage of Americans 18 and older who are divorced or have never married has doubled (from 20% to 40%). I’m not sure that being modern means that people don’t want to get married, I think what’s happened is that young adults are afraid of failure. Marriage and all that it represents can seem like a daunting challenge, especially with the failures of their own parents’ relationship and some of the way’s it’s been overcomplicated. In a recent Pew study, 55% of American singles reported that they were not in a relationship and were NOT even looking for a partner. Over half the single population has given up on marriage (or even living together).

All of this brings me back to a concept that my sociology students were trying to learn last week. Role Strain describes the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the expectations coming at us from a single social position we occupy, like being a mom, a dad or a spouse. Sometimes this “job” is just too much.

  • The expectations become unrealistic. Television, books, friends, and family can pressure us into believing we’ve got to get everything just right.
  • The lack of a support system often makes being a parent and/or spouse even more difficult. As our families become more fragmented we lose connection with an extended family that can provide experience and resources to help ease normal strains.

We experience role strain because we can’t physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually manage some of these expectations. These strains can come and go with each stage of a role but a feeling of strain can also persist with the everyday expectations and solitary nature of many family situations. The Overcomplicated Motherhood blog post details much about these kinds of unrealistic expectations.

It was interesting to read my young college students’ examples of role strain. Many chose parenting or being a spouse. It was discouraging to see the level of fatal and insurmountable difficulty that they imagine for their possible futures.

Americans have built an instant gratification society. we really don’t like to suffer discomfort. We don’t even like to wait too long in the drive-thru line!

No wonder marriage and family are fading. It costs much and our collective character is too weak to bear the burden.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”   – Donna Ball