From Courtships to Hook-Ups: Dating Over a Century


What exactly is “hooking up”?

Scholars and confused teenagers continue to debate this question and many other topics concerning contemporary relationships.

As the years progress, dating jargon becomes more and more ambiguous. Relationship norms continue to change. Dating may be more complex and confusing than ever.  

Are we better or worse at forming relationships now in a culture of individualism and virtual interactions?

Reviewing history is always the best way to find answers. Looking at dating norms in the aftermath of the Women’s Rights Movement, the Sexual Revolution and the birth of the Internet proves to be interesting, to say the least.

In the early 20th century, before any of these major changes in the United States, dating was called “courting” and often occurred in the presence of an adult supervisor. Young men and women would meet at social events or blindly be paired up and “court” over a long period of time with the intention of marrying each other.

The pressure for dating to result in marriage intensified after World War II created a decade-long pause in relationships after many young men went to war. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, teenagers began creating their own social rules with boys giving girls letterman jackets and pins to signify that they were “going steady” in a serious relationship.

When the ‘60s came along, everything changed. The Women’s Rights Movement made huge advancements for women equality in the workforce. Because so many women were now able to support themselves financially, marriage was no longer a necessity and dating quickly became optional.

The Sexual Revolution also introduced birth control to the masses and coined the term “free love,” which encouraged people to explore their sexuality outside of traditional relationship structures. With the Civil Rights Movement happening simultaneously, dating whomever you wanted no matter their race or sexual orientation became more socially acceptable than ever before.

The 21st century transformed dating with the recent invention of the Internet and the widespread availability of cellphones. Millennials grew up never really knowing life without individualized technology.

Teenagers and young adults have made dating much more transactional with the popularity of online dating websites like e-Harmony and social events like “speed dating.” At a point in history where people can be almost entirely independent from each other, interpersonal relationships are still just as desirable but seemingly harder to secure.

Since the beginning of time, relationships have explored love, like and every emotion in between. While these feelings and emotions still exist, the social dynamics around dating have changed in so many ways.

Ultimately, the paradigm for a happy relationship has changed amongst today’s young people. Dating is no longer an investment in future monetary benefits or social status. Instead, individuals seeking serious relationships desire unconditional love and genuine partnership unlike ever before.

The casual act of “hooking up” may be on the rise, but a new kind of courtship based on respect, equality and genuine love also has a chance to reign supreme in our post-modern world.