Dating, Mating and Relating: Dating and Courtship in Modern Society

This topic submitted by Kristen, Amy, Kristie, Richelle ( ) at 12:55 pm on 4/29/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.


The purpose of our project was to better understand dating patterns in college age students. Dating is an activity that most college age students are engaged in or are at least interested in. We chose a questionnaire with these questions: Please list the top five characteristics that attract others to you; Please list the top five characteristics that you are attracted to in others; Why Do You Date?; Where do you meet people?; and What do you expect on a first date? to discern how our peers were feeling about dating in their own lives.
In our research for the project we examined many disciplines including history, sociology, psychology, biology, and chemistry. We also explored how cultural differences and non-traditional couples transgress main stream ideas about dating. This interdisciplinary research led us to a complex understanding about our topic. Dating is a practice that is influenced by the time period, social conditions and constructs, biology, cultural norms, and institutional structures that surround people.
The audience of this education project is our peers who are involved in college aged dating in the present. We hope to provide some background for them to understand why people date the way they do today. We want to educate our peers about the history of dating, and how the social and biological sciences evaluate the practice in modern times.

History of Dating
In the years 1920's to 1945, dating involved a more informal dating than ever before. For the first time there were no chaperones on dates between males and females. The dates required no formal commitment to each other and there was more freedom. Previously the community and church established the dating rules, but now the peers instituted the rules. Instead of the man coming to the women's house, they went "out" where it required money. It is said that there was a control issue surrounding the change in dating. Previously dating was somewhat in the women's control because the man was coming into her house. However, now couples were going out and the man paid for the date.
The most popular pastimes on dates were dancing and movies. Before the 1920's going dancing was a group activity but now it became couple oriented. Cars also had a huge impact on dating practices. Having a car now enabled couples to have more privacy and intimacy. The practice of "petting" spread over all the dating couples now more than ever and there were even "petting" parties. This new kind of dating allowed each person to get to know each other better before they settled in an exclusive relationship. The focus was now on success and popularity with out involving emotions. Before, this type of dating, formal courting was for the purpose of finding the "ideal" mate.
During the 1930's, "steady" relationships had developed as a stage between casualness of dating and marriage. When a "steady" stage had formed, they dated only each other, which could last for months or maybe just a week. This bond was marked with meaningful rituals, for instance the sharing class rings or letter sweaters/jackets. Romantic love was the only basis for marriage, and you definitely knew when you found "the right one".
Some of the same practices of the twenties and thirties were carried to the years between 1945 and 1960. However, there was a drop in age of the couples marring and there was an increase of marriage in the 40's and early 60's. In the year 1950, the average age for a male marring was 22 and the female 20. This is because dating activities now began at a much lower age, in junior high dating was common. The youth that didn't go to college married soon after graduation, and after 1-2 years of courtship. If women did go to college, they were seen as having only one goal, to "land" a man or getting their "MRS" degree. Parents didn't agree with this new behavior towards dating evolving in the youth because of the increase in pre-marital sexual behavior. The "good" girl however engaged in all form of petting except intercourse, to keep "pure" for their husbands. If women did engage in pre-marital intercourse, she usually intended to marry. Love still was the basis for marriage, which was the most important source of happiness and fulfillment. The single men and women were pitied, because they were thought of lacking happiness in their life.
From the 1960's to the present there have been some drastic changes in the dating. Feminism had a big impact on dating rituals. Women were now empowered more than ever to think of themselves not as just a wife but also a human being. Between the years 1960-1972 the amount of women in colleges greatly increased. The youth culture also began to develop a more liberal attitude towards pre-marital sex. Birth control was now very common for couples to have. The pill went on the market in 1960, and within three years more than 2 million American women were using it. The average first intercourse was now at age 16 for males and age 17 for females. In the year 1980 it was reported that 80% of males and 65% of females have engaged in pre-martial sex. The year 1988 the age of first marriages was now 25.9% male and 23.6 females, which was a huge decrease. Dating and courting was still central features but in the 1970's there wasn't dating as often and the youth began to date at older ages. The average aged female to date in the year 1958 was 13 and in 1978 was 14. In the 1970's and 1980's dating changed and the following ways: there was a greater opportunity for informal opposite sex interaction, dating became less formal, and there was no longer a set progression of stages from first meeting to marriage. In conclusion, the dating system has become more pluralistic over time.

Moving Away from Two Person Intimacy

Sociology is the study of society and dating is an integral activity that happens between people in society. It is important to look at dating from a critical point of view using sociology because it is a discipline that is known for deconstructing every day behavior for its meaning in society. Dating is a practice that is highlighted again and again in the popular media. The ways in which people date is effected by the cultural norms of the time and place. Sociologists look at a particular time and place to understand the ways in which a society works and therefore how the people in that society go about activities like dating.
In modern America, dating has emerged as an activity that is not often regulated by adults as it once had been. There are many explanations for this change including the change in lifestyle that industry and technological advances have brought about. Sociologists point out that the idea of romantic love did not even exist prior to the industrial revolution. Marriage was an institution that allowed a man and woman to enhance their chances of survival and quality of life with one another. Romantic love as we now know it did not exist as a concept. After the industrial revolution when people did not depend on each other as much to survive, the idea of romantic love first appeared. After this time some feminists and sociologists point out that marriage and motherhood was used to subjugate women to men and to keep them out of the work force. " Motherhood is a powerful issue for feminists because women are socialized to value motherhood, yet at the same time motherhood oppresses women " (Ollenburger and Moore pg. 49). The idealization of motherhood effects women even when they are dating. Our surveys were of freshman and sophomores, and not many of them answered that they were dating to find a lifetime partner, but we must realize that if we had questioned a slightly older group our findings may have been different.
Dating at a young age is characterized as fun and is done for companionship rather than as a serious activity for the purpose of finding a lifelong mate. Sociologists claim that in the current generation of college students this lack in interest in serious dating is a reflection of seeing their parents and friends' parents divorce. " Relationships were another source of concern for students. Nearly one-third of all college freshmen grew up with one or no parent÷. Students often told us of unhappy relationships between their own parents. The result is that current undergraduates worry a great deal about divorce " (Levine and Cureton). This has led today's undergraduates to have fears about intimacy. Levine and Cureton also comment that " One of the things undergraduates have been most eager to escape from is intimate relationships " (pg. 109). Group dating is a way in which students have been able to move away from traditional, two-person dating which implies intimacy to them. Doing things in groups saves students from the deep emotional intimacy that may take place during two-person dating.
The media has a direct influence on the dating habits and views about the opposite sex that students have today. " Male controlled media have enhanced an environment in which to define women as sex objects " (Ollenburger and Moore pg. 48). Movies, commercials, and TV serve to create and maintain societal beliefs about the sexes. The dominance of women in these mediums being ascribed roles that perpetuate sexist stereotypes about them serve to send a message about real women to students. This can be seen especially in how men and women discuss (or do not discuss) gender roles. Levine and Cureton noted how female students talked about how they have to balance their professional aspirations with their wants to create heterosexual relationships. They go on to say " Males were neither as eloquent nor as thoughtful in describing gender differences. In fact, there was a marked contrast between male discussion of gender and sexuality. Conversation abounded on sexuality; gender brought scant discussion " (pg. 111). Perhaps the reason males have so little to say about gender and so much to say about sex is partially due to the media's portrayal of women as sex objects.
Men and women today in college are moving away from intimacy into group dating as a result of seeing their parents' generation marriages end in divorce. Men and women have a difficult time talking about gender, with men being more frightened of the topic than women. The idea of dating as an activity for finding a life time partner has practically disappeared at least from underclass students' minds.

Chemistry and Biology of Dating:
There are many biological and chemical factors that help determine our dating habits. Biological makeup as well as chemical action plays a major role in whom one is attracted to and whom one attracts. Chemical factors effect the way the brain interacts with the body and the way others will interact with you. For example, a persons sex drive is important in determining who they will be attracted to. If one has a strong sex drive, they will be more receptive to another person with a high sex drive, or a person who makes sexual advances to them than someone with a weaker sex drive. Sexual interests help to determine when one will be receptive to possible partners and which partners will be attractive. Hormones, pheromones, and aphrodisiacs are chemical substances that effect sexual interests and characteristics. Biological factors that should be explored include genetic makeup (determining physical characteristics) and the natural selection of certain traits.
There isn't much information on how they work or why, but hormones are known to be a leading factor in establishing sex drive. A study of love, attractiveness, and sex drive, done in 1976 by Glenn Wilson and David Nias points out that:
"Sex hormones are the chemicals released by the gonads and other glands which circulate through the blood back to the brain where, in some way that we don't yet fully understand, they influence our biological readiness for reproduction, attractiveness to potential partners, and receptiveness to them. It is widely thought that the hormone called testosterone determines male sexuality while female sexuality is controlled by estrogen, but this is very much an over-simplification. In primates at least, the male's hormone testosterone is largely responsible for the libido or sex drive of females as well as males (66).

They then go on to imply that without testosterone, women would be sexually unassertive. They say that despite the current women's movement, that men have higher sex drives on average than women. The evidence they present for this statement is that it is easier to engage men in orgies, pornography and other promiscuous sexual behavior.
Further, Wilson and Nias point out that male sexuality is linked with aggression, while the male links female sexuality to passivity and domination. They state that it is thought that men make better sadists and women have a natural inclination towards masochism (67). They also blame homosexuality on the fact that the male child's brain did not receive the hormonal instruction to masculinize it.
Although the Wilson and Nias study makes it obvious that there are social constructs working within scientific studies, they do point out the seemingly valid idea that not only does hormone level influence behavior, but behavior also influence hormone level (69). Sex hormones are increased when the brain is confronted by sexually arousing stimuli, and decreased when confronted with fear, stress, and anxiety (69). This is probably because hormone secretion is controlled by the pituitary gland, which has connections to the hypothalamus in the brain.
Another of the chemicals that plays in dating is pheromones. Pheromones are smells that are emitted by a person (or animal) that potentially attract (or repel) a mate. Most of the time, our attraction to the pheromones is not conscious (Wilson, 70). Pheromones effect many other parts of our sexual behavior too. They help to regulate and control female menstrual cycles, which in turn effect ovulation, emotion, performances, and hormone levels in the body.
The final chemical that effects dating behavior is aphrodisiacs. There are many substances that are rumored to be aphrodisiacs, to enhance sexual desire. Some of these substances are caviar, oysters, vitamin E, and chocolate. All of these are unfounded claims. The only connection could be that vitamin E has general health value that may be rejuvenating to the person, but it is still lacking evidence as an aphrodisiac. Substances such as alcohol and marijuana seem to be aphrodisiacs, however, they don't so much increase sexual desires as they remove inhibitions. It increases the chance of sexual behavior taking place, however they actually decrease ability to perform.
A prominent modern problem in dating lies in the use of the substance Rohypnol, also called "roofies" or the "date rape drug." People will slip this odorless, colorless pill into the drink of their victim, usually at a party. It dissolves rapidly and is tasteless. The drug then causes muscle relaxation and lowers inhibitions. It often leads to blackouts for eight to twelve hours and then amnesia. The perpetrator will use this drug to easily rape the victim, and the victim usually has no memory of the actual event (Do you Know?).
Biology plays into the dating scene in that physical, emotional, and personality characteristics are very important both in attracting a mate and being attractive to that person. Genetic makeup and environment determines who a person will be. Darwin's evolutionary concepts can help reveal why certain characteristics are important for humans to find in mates, however social constructs are just as, if not more relevant. Darwin's theories could help explain why, when a female frequently goes out with a partner, their menstrual cycles become shorter and more reliable. Sexual stimulation could lead to an increase in hormone levels, thus a shorter cycle, and ultimately, more
opportunities to become pregnant. Humans also tend to be attracted to young, healthy partners, increasing the chance of survival of the couple and consequently, healthy and abundant reproduction.
In The Descent of Man, Darwin suggests that certain characteristics of human beings are present today because the possessors of them were successful in attracting a mate and reproduction (Wilson, 118). One theory presented by Wilson and Nias can be traced back to primates. It says that the reason many men are attracted to women with large breasts is because they mimic the enlarged buttocks that a female primate displays during heat (126).
The surveys we conducted supported the idea that humans are attracted to healthy mates. We also concluded that personality was the most important factor in attractiveness, followed in order by physical characteristics, emotional attributes, other, intelligence, and strong values. If we accept Darwin's ideas as presented by Wilson and Nias, it can be concluded from these results that personality plays an important role in evolution and survival for humans. Being the most important thing others look for in a mate, personality becomes important in finding a partner, establishing a strong relationship, and hence reproducing and passing on ones genetic makeup.

Psychology of Dating
Freud believed that falling in love was, at its nature, a substitute for personal accomplishment. The psychologist Theodore Reik purposed that there are two stages to a person falling in love. The first stage is where from a need to escape from internal discontent grows the longing and tendency to fall in love with another person. The second stage requires personal courage and security about the self, in order to actually love another person in a committed behavior. Erik Fromm makes a distinguished difference between immature and mature love. In the immature love, the lover exploits the beloved in order to satisfy the lover's needs. In contrast, mature love the lover expresses a genuine concern for the beloved's welfare. He also states that sexual attraction is based on the need for psychological union with the opposite sexual pole, and romantic love depends on the need for psychological union with the opposite sex character type. The different character types are defined by the quality of activities, discipline, and adventure (male); and receptiveness, protection, and motherliness (female). Reik also states that "falling in love" is an attempt through the possession of an admired love object, to obtain personal qualities that one needs. Genuine love had been described as a rare statement of optimal operative that involves active caring for a partner's needs and a desire to experience the other at an intimate level.

What Made Dating Rituals Change?
As the world changes around us, so do our lives. This is true for dating habits also. One can observe drastic changes in dating rituals, at times of technological and social change. A sexologist Leonore Tiefer states in her book, SEX is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays, how large social changes affected how people view marriage and relationships:
"The Purpose of marriage has shifted from economic necessity to companionship, resulting in dramatic changes in obligations and expectations. There has been a shift in how we measure a person's "success's" to include physical vitality and life enjoyment along with material achievements. Divorce and "serial monogamy" have become increasingly acceptable making people anxious about maintaining relationships. Changes in social attitudes and improvements in contraception have allowed women to view sexuality as separate from reproduction and as an avenue from self-expression and pleasure. People are relying on personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy" (Tiefer, pg. 11).

As mentioned in the history of dating, the automobile had a large effect on the way girls and boys interacted romantically. They were no longer subjected to the supervision of parents, and they became more comfortable with sexuality as they were allowed more mobility after World War I. Not all women were staying home, they were able to get out and work along side the men. The invention of television presented models of how to go on dates for adolescent teens. Dresses got shorter, there was more freedom, and the generation of kids beginning to date took advantage as petting got heavier, and relationships were more serious before marriage than they ever have been. In the 1960's the controversial birth control pill became available to women. This allowed couples to have sexual intercourse without fearing a teenage pregnancy. With the introduction of birth control, and the more common use of illegal drugs, casual sex was becoming more common. The summer of love was famous for people having multiple partners and experiencing "free love." This was also a sexual revolution for Gay rights.
Homosexuals around the country were uniting and demanding respect and tolerance for their lifestyles. Women too were experiencing a revolution; they were becoming more independent. Women were no longer conforming to the housewife model, and were looking for other careers. They did not have to depend on husbands and fathers anymore, now they could depend on themselves. As sex came out of the bedroom, it became a capitalist venture. Pornography and sex shops grew and appeared more frequently in cities. Suddenly images of sex became more visible to all people including children. This resulted in an increase of the number of people having premarital sex, and forming serious relationships earlier in life. Just as the country thought the next generation was going to become a bunch of free loving hippies, AIDS struck. AIDS; although it is a terrible epidemic, has forced people to educate others about sex and act responsibly.
Now a new technology is affecting the way people go about forming sexual relations with others, and that is the Internet. The Internet has created a new place and new way for people to meet others and interact. It has become a place for casual sex (i.e. cybersex), and a place to meet lifetime partners. From the Internet you can place classifieds, or order mail order brides. It is also a place of gender, and personality bending fantasy, where people can pretend to be whoever they please. So people should be weary of whom they talk to on the Internet. These are just a few of the changes that affected the way people go about meeting their mate, and how they interact with them. Dating habits are always changing over time, but one can see how the many social aspects in our lives are linked, and if there is a large change in our lives, it is like a domino effect to the rest of our lives.

Nontraditional Couples
This country is a melting pot of cultures and people. We are taught to be open minded and acceptable of other cultures and beliefs. Though at times it may be difficult, that goes for sexual preference and dating rituals. Within America you find many different traditions, and some new habits of courting that affect who one dates, and how one goes about dating. For most people you start dating in the teenage years, you go about it independently, choosing whom you want to date, where you want to date, and what occurs on the date. The popular cultural belief is that most people will choose one person of the opposite sex, and of a similar age. But none of these are always the case. Some teens aren't allowed to date until they are older. In some cultures like the Indian American (of India) your parents will arrange whom you go out with. Some cultures stress that you date within your own race.
Many religions suggest you must date someone with the same religion. Other religions provide detailed rules of what the young couple is allowed to do and where to go. During this time period, there are many rules for many different people, and it becomes difficult for so many different cultures and religions to have a standard of values about dating. In the ninety's there is a large gay rights movement. Campaigning for acceptance and tolerance of the gay community. You hear more about older people dating younger people with decades of difference between their ages. Some people deviate from dating people from heir race or religion. Some people prefer to date more than one person at a time. Today there are many that choose not to date. Society is now acceptable of independent people, who may live and enjoy living their whole life without a significant other. As you can see, and as we plan on presenting to the students that while there is a common way people go about dating it is far from the only way.

Materials and Methods
In order to perform this project there are very little required materials. All students will be directly involved in the project. The first step is to brainstorm for a survey. When drawing up this survey, make sure that you make it inclusive for all dating groups. An example for this survey/data sheet is÷.

Please list the top five characteristics that you think attracts others to you.

Please describe your ideal mate.

Why do you date? (circle all that apply)
fun lifetime partner sex social advantage companion arm ornament I don't date other_______________

Where do you go to meet people? (circle all that apply)
bar exercise facility religious center sporting events dance club party library classes extra curricular activities other_________________

What do you expect from a first date? (circle all that apply)
initiator to pay kiss goodbye hold hand sex meet family share personal stories dress up other________________
This survey should then be distributed randomly among your peers. It is important for each survey to distinguish male from female. After there is at least 100 surveys completed, you are ready to begin to analyze your data. To analyze the results a spreadsheet/table must be drawn up. For example in the sample survey, the questions why, where, and what will be easily imputed into a table. However, the first two questions will need to be broken up into categories: emotional, physical, personality, religious values, intelligence, and other. This will be left up to your own discretion. In the sample survey, the responses for the first two questions did not always have the same number of responses. So, in order to analyze these results, we tallied the results and then took a percentage of the totals. In addition, we summed up the results of each survey and made an overall statement about the whole survey. Those statements were then tallied and made into a percentage.
Question and Response Male (39) Female (61)
Why do you date?
Fun 31 45
Companion 31 45
Lifetime Partner 14 17
Arm Ornament 0 2
Sex 10 11
Social Advantage 7 8
I don't Date 5 9
Other÷ 6 7

Where do you go to meet people?
Bar 14 13
Dance Club 15 21
Exercise Facility 8 7
Party 22 38
Library 4 1
Religious Center 6 12
Classes 22 24
Sporting Events 10 10
Extra Curricular Activities 20 32
Other 12 21

What do you expect from a first date?
Initiator to pay 7 18
Share personal stories 24 43
Kiss Goodbye 10 19
Dress up 7 11
Hold hands 3 11
Sex 1 1
Meet family 0 1
Other 15 18

Top 5 characteristics that attracts others to you÷. Male Overall M Female Overall F
Emotional 12 1 22 1
Physical 34 6 67 11
Personality 70 15 135 35
Religious/Values 2 0 4 0
Intelligence 22 1 22 1
Other 19 16 22 13

Describe Ideal Mate Male Overall M Female Overall F
Emotional 15 1 44 4
Physical 43 8 58 6
Personality 44 13 123 32
Religious/Values 5 0 11 0
Intelligence 14 1 21 0
Other 23 16 26 20


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