20 Hilarious Things Boys Were Told About Dating 50 Years Ago
You have to protect your lady from roller coasters!
If you think the rules of dating in 2019 are confusing, you should thank your lucky stars you weren’t single 50 years ago. Though hippies and “free love” had taken over the counterculture during the late 1960s, most of mainstream America was still abiding by old school dating protocol. For most folks, there was a formality to dating that made the process feel like applying for a real estate loan. The same dating rules might not all apply today, but they’re still fun to look back at and laugh about in retrospect. Here are 20 amazingly absurd things that men were told half a century ago about the right and wrong ways to woo the opposite sex.
1. A girl was flirting if she fixed her garter in public.
Apparently, it was difficult—if not impossible—to identify female flirting 50 years ago. Thankfully, a 1952 article published in The Girlfriend and The Boyfriend magazine offered young men some insight. One telltale sign that a woman was trying to get your attention was if she would wear “a tight-fitting sweater and a tight-fitting skirt which boldly [outlined] her figure,” the authors wrote. She might also invite a boy “to light her cigarette” and then would look “deep into his eyes the whole time.”
And here’s a real doozy: “[If] she fixes her garter in public, where anyone is likely to see her (and she hopes that they will),” that means she’s definitely into you.
2. Respecting a girl’s hair color was a must.
As the Rolling Stones reminded people with their popular song at the time, you can’t always get what you want—and that includes choosing the hair color of the woman you’re dating. It may seem obvious now, but it apparently wasn’t in the 1960s.
“Don’t openly prefer blondes when you are with a brunette,” wrote Betty Allen and Mitchell Pirie Briggs, authors of the 1964 dating guide Mind Your Manners.
3. No woman likes a court jester.
All those rumors that women like a man with a sense of humor apparently didn’t apply 50 years ago. “Don’t try to achieve popularity by continually acting the clown,” Allen and Briggs chastised their readers. “Even if your wisecracking is good, don’t keep it up all the time. Others may not appreciate your efforts.” ”
4. It was a boy’s job to make a girl feel protected from mice, spiders, and roller coasters.
Today, any conscientious man has to consider that his prospective girlfriend may be afraid of robbers, murderers, and other sketchy subjects.
But 50 years ago, women evidently didn’t just have these rational fears. Women were afraid, all the time, of everything. Thusly, men were advised to be “attentive and protective,” wrote Allen and Briggs. “Even independent modern girls like to be reassured about mice and spiders, roller coasters, and thunderstorms.”
5. Be warned: A movie date could be incredibly complicated.
Just getting to your seats required strict decorum. “The boy precedes the girl down the aisle, finds two seats, and steps aside so that the girl may be seated first; he then follows and seats himself behind her,” Duvall wrote.
Acceptable affection during the movie included holding the girl’s hand “if she has no objection, or [placing] his arm over the back of her seat.” The couple was only allowed to “whisper their reactions to the picture or comment to each other about the characters or plot.”
When leaving the theater, according to Duvall, “the boy helps the girl into her wraps and waits in the aisle until the girl emerges and precedes him out of the theater. Then, the boy may suggest stopping at a soda fountain, if he wishes, or if it’s early, the girl may invite him to her home for ‘cake and milk’ or whatever she and her family have agreed upon for an evening snack.” Sounds exhausting!
6. Whatever a guy did behind the wheel was the girl’s fault.
Men can’t always be held responsible for their own actions, especially when their hormones are raging. As Duvall reminded young daters in The Art of Dating, “When you step into a car, [a girl is] just as responsible as the driver for what goes on. … If [a girl] lets the boy drive too fast, she shares the guilt if an accident occurs.” You’ve been warned, ladies!
7. Men could never expect women to be as “tough as a boy.”
“No matter how much of a tomboy a girl may be, she can’t be expected to be quite so rugged and tough as a boy,” according Frank Howard Richardson, M.D., who penned this tip in his 1952 dating guide For Boys Only.
“Instead of teasing her and trying to make her feel inferior, a fellow shows himself a much better sport if he gives her a break and a helping hand once in a while,” Richardson suggested. While he never came right out and said “women are the weaker sex,” the implication was there.
8. Boys had to resist their “urges” with sports, chores, or homework.
What’s a poor boy to do when he’s been going steady with his best gal for weeks and there’s been nothing but hand holding? “Channel your energies into constructive outlets,” suggested famed advice columnist Ann Landers in her 1961 book Since You Ask Me. “Go out for football, basketball,or baseball. Play tennis, golf, ping-pong, soccer or handball. Improve your swimming, wash the car, paint the garage, practice the trombone, build a boat, do your homework, mow the lawn, clean the attic.”
9. Manly topics were off-limits on a date.
A half century ago years ago, men had to bear the brunt of any date night conversation. But that doesn’t mean they had to stick to topics that appealed only to a manly brain. On the contrary, they were encouraged not to.
“Do remember that not all girls share your enthusiasm for spark plugs and cylinders,” warned Allen and Briggs. “And don’t expect her hair to stand on end from sheer excitement if you rehash a football game, play by play. At least part of the time, try to talk about things that she is interested in.” They don’t mention specifics, but you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks.
10. Or, you didn’t have to talk at all—you could just play music. A lot of music.
That all said, there was no need to crack jokes or carry on an awkward conversation if you had a large enough vinyl collection. As author Art Unger boldly suggested in his 1961 relationship primer The Cool Book: A Teen-Ager’s Guide to Survival in a Square Society, the way to a woman’s heart 50 years ago was to “play records incessantly.” Yes, incessantly—as in, a constant stream of the latest hits.
And if she tried initiating a conversation anyway, “Tell her right off the bat that you’ve got laryngitis,” Unger advised.
11. Boys had to beware of the old dropped purse trick.
If a man was walking down the street today, and a woman dropped her purse in front of him and he leaned down to help her, she might be worried he’s trying to steal something from her.
But 50 years ago, a dropped purse was viewed as a flirting tactic. According to The Girlfriend and The Boyfriend, “When she drops her purse and stoops to pick up the spilled contents with her dress above the knees, she is teasing.”
12. A boy always went to a girl’s door to pick her up.
Some of the things we don’t think twice about today—like how a man picking up a woman for a date should probably knock on her front door—was not a given for men 50 years ago.
Thankfully, Allen and Briggs were crystal clear about the importance of not being a jerk before the date even began. “Don’t ‘yoo-hoo’ or honk under Janie’s window just to let her know that you are ready to go now,” they wrote.
13. And it was his job to dominate the conversation.
In the 1960s, it was common knowledge that on a date, the woman was meant to be seen while the man was meant to be heard. “Let him talk first,” Housekeeping Monthly advised women in 1955. “Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.”
14. Financial situations aside, he paid.
“Don’t be a chiseler,” Allen and Briggs scolded their male readers. “Pay your own and your girl’s way.”
But what if a woman was more than capable of paying and actually wanted to pick up the check? In 1969, Abigail Van Buren, the advice columnist otherwise known as Dear Abby, offered a simple compromise. “If a woman has ‘as much or more money’ than the man, she will invite him to her place for home-cooked meals and buy him a few gifts,” she wrote. “It all evens out.”
15. Double dating with family was a way to avoid your urges.
“A sensible way to stay out of trouble is to keep active and busy,” Landers suggested in Since You Ask Me. “Don’t just sit around with nothing special to do or, even worse, ride around with no destination.” Why? That’s what leads to “parking,” and inevitably “necking.”
When necking becomes “the major interest and No. 1 indoor sport, you’re playing with fire and you could get badly singed,” Landers warned.
A good way to avoid the pitfalls of kissing was by inviting along some very awkward company. “Double-date with your brother or sister,” suggested Unger. “If there’s anything that’ll keep your smooching down to a minimum, it’s the presence of a member of the family.”
16. A man never talked about or admitted to having emotions.
Dating can be an emotional experience, but the smart fella of the late ‘60s realized the importance of keeping those feelings bottled up. As author Gay Head explained in her 1960 book Hi There, High School: “Don’t wear your feelings on the outside. If they stick out like a porcupine’s needles, they’re going to bump into plenty of trouble.”
17. A man always had to use discretion when calling a girl on the phone.
When a telephone—and a landline, no less—was the only way to stay in contact with somebody, there was always the possibility that dialing a girl’s number meant you’d end up talking to her parents. That’s why discretion was so important.
In their dating bible, Allen and Briggs advised their readers never to call a number “and begin your approach with ‘Hello, baby, guess who this is!’ The sweet husky voice you thought you recognized may belong to her mother.” Yikes!
18. A man had to let his girlfriend talk to other boys without getting jealous.
“Even if you are going steady, don’t fence her off with ‘private property, no trespassing’ signs,” warned Allen and Briggs. And quite frankly, this is really good advice, even for today. Women, as a general rule, don’t like to be covered in signage indicating that they’re the equivalent of heavily guarded real estate.
What’s more, Allen and Briggs noted that you should “give her a chance to at least speak to other boys.” It’s a sweet sentiment, especially since, like it or not, talking to boys is a necessary part of getting through the world. After all, there are male restaurant servers, male colleagues, and, you know, brothers and dads, even!
19. A boy was encouraged to be polite—even if it made him feel like a “sissy.”
Today, most people would argue that being polite doesn’t make you less of a man. But in the 1950s and 1960s this was a top concern for young men looking to court a lady.
“Correct behavior doesn’t label you a sissy,” Allen and Briggs advised. “You can be a star quarterback and still mind your manners.”
20. And if boys had no luck in dating, there was always the military!
The dating scene was tough during the latter half of the 20th century, and not just because of rejection. Some people, like a frustrated 18-year-old boy who wrote to advice columnist Helen Bottel in 1970, couldn’t land a date because his parents wouldn’t allow it.
Bottel’s advice? “Nothing will solve your problem faster than the draft,” she wrote. “The Army may not be the easiest way to cut apron-strings, but it’s the most effective.” And if you want more nostalgia, check out these 30 Things All ’70s Kids Remember.
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