This article is about the form of courtship. The protocols and practices of dating, how do you know you’re dating someone the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.
While the term has several meanings, the most frequent usage refers to two people exploring whether they are romantically or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other. With the use of modern technology, people can date via telephone or computer or meet in person. Dating may also involve two or more people who have already decided that they share romantic or sexual feelings toward each other. Some cultures require people to wait until a certain age to begin dating, which has been a source of controversy. Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries. Humans have been compared to other species in terms of sexual behavior.
According to Sapolsky, humans are somewhat in the middle of this spectrum, in the sense that humans form pair bonds, but there is the possibility of cheating or changing partners. However, one particularity of the human species is that pair bonds are often formed without necessarily having the intention of reproduction. In modern times, emphasis on the institution of marriage, generally described as a male-female bond, has obscured pair bonds formed by same-sex and transsexual couples, and that many heterosexual couples also bond for life without offspring, or that often pairs that do have offspring separate. Thus, the concept of marriage is changing widely in many countries. Accordingly, there was little need for a temporary trial period such as dating before a permanent community-recognized union was formed between a man and a woman. While pair-bonds of varying forms were recognized by most societies as acceptable social arrangements, marriage was reserved for heterosexual pairings and had a transactional nature, where wives were in many cases a form of property being exchanged between father and husband, and who would have to serve the function of reproduction. True love can have no place between husband and wife.
According to one view, clandestine meetings between men and women, generally outside of marriage or before marriage, were the precursors to today’s dating. From about 1700 a worldwide movement perhaps described as the “empowerment of the individual” took hold, leading towards greater emancipation of women and equality of individuals. Men and women became more equal politically, financially, and socially in many nations. In many societies, individuals could decide—on their own—whether they should marry, whom they should marry, and when they should marry. Western countries, it became a self-initiated activity with two young people going out as a couple in public together. Still, dating varies considerably by nation, custom, religious upbringing, technology, and social class, and important exceptions with regards to individual freedoms remain as many countries today still practice arranged marriages, request dowries, and forbid same-sex pairings.