This Is What Dating Looked Like More Than 50 Years Ago
In the 1950s, dating was all about getting that "MRS" degree.
Dating today could not be more different than it was half a century ago. Today, the dating world is overrun by apps, websites, and online matchmaking services that make it possible to find your soulmate with the swipe of a finger. But in the 1950s, dating was far more complicated. People had to jump through hoops, dial numbers on landlines, and ask parents for permission before they could so much as take someone out for a milkshake.
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Technology isn’t the only thing that makes today’s dating scene different, either. Compared to modern-day society, young adults in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s were just beginning to embrace free love, and primarily only had one thing on their minds: marriage. We’ve rounded up the facts, figures, and quotes that exemplify just how different dating was 50 years ago. And for dating advice you can use today, here are 40 Online Dating Habits You Need to Break By 40.
Premarital sex was less common.
Nowadays, the majority of the population has sex before they even consider getting married. According to data from a 2002 survey published in Public Health Reports, 75 percent of 20-year-olds had had premarital sex.
But in Woman’s Home Companion in 1949, Dr. David R. Mace, a professor of human relations at Drew University, wrote, “When two people are ready for sexual intercourse at the fully human level they are ready for marriage—and they should marry.”
But any promiscuity that did go down happened in cars.
Much of a young couple’s dating life in the 1950s revolved around the car. That’s because “they provided the right amount of privacy for just that kind of ‘exploration,’ better known as ‘parking,'” explained Windy Sombat in her research about 1950s dating.
If you saw a parked car at night in the ’50s with its headlights on, it was safe to assume that the people inside were occupied.
People got married at a younger age.
Young adults were in a rush to get married in the 1950s. Brett Harvey reported in The Fifties: A Woman’s Oral History that “the median marriage age dropped from 24.3 to 22.6 for men [during the decade], and from 21.5 to 20.4 for women.”
Today, just 20 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center.
Men always asked the woman out first.
As one young man wrote to Seventeen magazine back in 1959: “Once he meets a girl—and becomes interested in her—a boy must indulge in a sly, artful practice called pursuit.”
You had to call whomever you had your eye on… and talk to their parents!
Of course, 50 years ago, dating did not include texting. So if you wanted to go out with someone, cute emojis and faceless communication wasn’t an option.
You had to dial someone’s home phone number and usually talk to their parent before talking to them directly. In the 1950s, “first dates often happened after the guy called the girl on the phone,” relationships writer Amanda Chatel explained on Mic.
And in the 1950s, dating was usually a group activity.
The idea of the perfect first date has changed a lot in 50 years. “The date usually happened in a public place, among other teens; there was lots of talking to get to know each other; and if there was any money spent, they guy paid,” Chatel noted.
After a couple dates, it was time to go steady.
You did not date around in the 1950s. In a 1959 poll, nearly three-quarters of high-school students supported the idea of dating only one person at a time, i.e. “going steady.” To show you were committed, the male significant other would usually give his female counterpart a ring or pin, which was called “getting pinned.”
As Time reported in 1957, “Boys and girls who go steady dance together exclusively (cutting in is frowned upon), sip their sodas, absorb their double features and spin their platters in each other’s company or not at all. Steady-going girls indicate their unavailability in various ways, ranging from the old-fashioned fraternity pins and class rings to certain arrangements of pigtails or bobby pins.”
Getting proposed to was apparently as easy as cooking a chicken.
Decades ago, all you seemingly had to do to seal the deal with your significant other was cook up a magical chicken. At least, that’s what the staff of Glamour believed after not one, not two, but four staffers got their proposals after using what is now called the Engagement Chicken recipe.
The recipe is actually rather basic, but that hasn’t stopped Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, and even allegedly Meghan Markle from testing it out for themselves.
The ’60s and ’70s led young people to embrace their independence.
While young adults through the 1950s were eager to settle down and start a family, that all changed around the 1960s. With anti-war, anti-segregation, and women’s rights sentiments in the air, young people didn’t want to be tied down like their parents were.
“When peace and prosperity returned in the 1950s, aspirations for personal fulfillment and sexual satisfaction returned to center stage,” explained historian Stephanie Coontz in her book Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.
In the 1960s and ’70s, women felt more free to party.
While the 1950s were all about securing that “MRS” degree, the 1960s and 1970s were more about sex. During this time period, dating columns would cover not just what to wear on a date or how to be a good wife, but also how to score any guy you want and the dos and don’ts of necking.
Take this excerpt from the 1969 book How to Get a Teen-age Boy and What to do With Him When You Get Him, for example. It notes that “when you go to a party, you have no responsibilities to anybody but you. Just see that you have a good time.”
People had to get creative about where they met their spouses.
Since they didn’t have dating apps like Tinder and Hinge to assist them, folks in the 1960s and ’70s had to keep their eyes open for a potential mate pretty much all the time.
In fact, in Helen Gurley Brown’s renowned dating book Sex and the Single Girl, which was originally published in 1962, some of the many places she suggests seeking out a man include on a plane, while shopping in the men’s department, while driving in heavy traffic, and—we’re not kidding—at Alcoholics Anonymous. (Just make sure you go to a “wealthy chapter of A.A.,” she writes, because you “might as well start with a solvent problem child, like say someone with liquid assets.”)
Interracial couples were only just becoming accepted in society.
Though university students spent much of their time advocating for equality, a significant stigma still existed against interracial couples in the 1960s and 1970s. In one of their May 1971 issues, Life magazine conducted a poll nationwide and found that while one in three adults between the ages of 21 to 25 knew someone who had dated outside of their race, 51 percent of people overall felt that “any white girl who goes out with a black man is going to ruin her reputation.”
Fewer married couples got divorced.
Though marriage rates were higher in decades past, divorce rates were lower. According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, approximately five percent of the population in 1960 was divorced; comparatively, 14 percent of the population was divorced or separated in 2010. And if you want your marriage to last a long time, take heed of these 15 Surprising Things That Increase Your Risk of Divorce.
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