12 Tips from 1940s Dating Advice Still Helpful Today

1940s dating advice

As we continue the history of dating series, we pause on some 1940s dating advice that demonstrate not much has really changed. Etiquette and chivalry never go out of style. And yet, the 1940s decade would’ve been the decade when gentlemanly behavior was least needed.

WWII shipped out the most eligible bachelors. A New York Times article from June of 1945 stated, “With half the war won, men are coming home to America, but not enough of them.” 750,000 women were all alone. This unbalanced ratio put the dating power back into the hands of men, but they still chose to be gentlemen.

Here are 12 Tips from 1940s Dating Advice Still Helpful Today

Walk her to the car

Walk Her to the Car

A 1940s dating advice video shows Jerry restraining Frank from honking his horn when he arrives to pick up Helen. A gentleman walks up to the house to greet her and escorts her to the car.

Wear Dignified Attire

An event like the Junior Prom in the 1940s required the right clothing. Dignified attire for men was simply a suit or tux. Dress codes today are far more relaxed, but at least consider a button down and nice jeans.

Protect Her

While some assume chivalry assumes the woman is weak, this advice proposes a gentleman’s actions stems from the belief she has value.

Mrs. Oliver Harriman’s Book Of Etiquette from 1942 explains, “No one expects you to be a knight on a white horse, but do be protective. Treat the lady as though she were valuable…”

Protect her

Say Nice Things

Complimenting must have been just as difficult for men in the 1940s as it is today. Mrs. Harriman states, “A man should say nice things. If he likes a young woman’s dress, why shouldn’t he tell her so?”

Write Notes

I recently observed my mom instructing my nephew on writing a “thank you” note to a neighbor for making cookies. It’s a lost art of appreciation I rarely do. But, I’ve noticed some of the sales trainers at my company have recently recommended sending a note to a customer after a business luncheon.

According to Mrs. Harriman, a note is still applicable after a good date. “A man, after a particularly enjoyable hour, especially if it has been spent at a girl’s home, should write her a note. For example: ‘I’m still enjoying last evening. Please let me come again.'”

Be Enjoyable

Even in the 1940s, Mrs. Harriman dispels the “who pays for the date” controversy by stating money doesn’t matter. A dollar amount doesn’t define a good date. “If she enjoys your company, she’ll have a good time whether you spend a week’s salary or practically nothing.”

She enjoys your company

Pursue Her

In the 1940s men became more scarce because they were deployed due to WWII. But, that didn’t mean they could take a break from fighting at home. According to Mrs. Harriman, “Men should have to fight for a woman’s affection.”

A common advice theme from this era is that women should hold themselves valuably and men will in turn treat them valuably.

Send Flowers

Most girls appreciate the thoughtfulness displayed in showing up with flowers for a date. However, Mrs. Harriman explains to remember sending flowers on special occasions as well. “Send flowers once in a while. Remember anniversaries, especially birthdays.”

1940s desire

Make Her Feel Desirable

Pick-up artists recommend negging, or a backhanded compliment, to make a woman feel a bit less than desirable. But, Mrs. Harriman must have known this truth before it became an adage: People won’t remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

The secret of being popular with women is to make them feel desirable and attractive.”

Walk Closest to Traffic

Betty Betz also contributed a 1940s dating etiquette book, Your Manners are Showing: The Handbook of Teenage Know-How.

In it, she states men should walk on the outside, closest to the street or traffic, “so that if there’s any mishap, he gets hit first.”

Do you know what “cabbage” means on a date? Betty thinks you should. “There’s a password, ‘cabbage,’ which is used every time a boy doesn’t take the curb side of the sidewalk when he’s walking with one or more girls. Actually, there’s no need for a password, because every young man should automatically take the outside place without even thinking twice.”

Bring Her Home Before Midnight

As I talk about in 10 Ways to Win a Girl’s Heart, on our first date, Kristen established a boundary to have her home by 11pm. Maybe she’d read Betty’s book?

“There’s no excuse for a couple to stay out past midnight except for special parties, so make those good-nights short and sweet. Dawdling on the doorstep doesn’t get you anything but a razzing from the neighbors, and a black mark from the girl’s folks.”

And if her folks don’t like you, family get togethers will never be enjoyable.

Think Long Term

Your actions while dating will establish the foundation for the future of the relationship. As another 1940s dating advice recommends, carefully consider who you spend your time with as well:

“She is attractive, of course, but is that her chief asset? (Try to imagine her ten years from today.)”

A guy can be apt to get caught up in beauty or popularity. Be warned. “Do you want her because she is popular–because other men have wanted her? (Don’t be a copy-cat!)”

Pick a girl you can see yourself with in a long-term relationship and treat her that way, too.

In moments of scarcity and crisis, you’d think people would revert back to primal and animal-like behavior. But, the 1930s and 1940s demonstrate in the end, the good guy always wins. Good manners and etiquette still thrived in the worst of times.

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7 Responses to 12 Tips from 1940s Dating Advice Still Helpful Today

  1. Scott Williams September 13, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

    I’ve really enjoyed the history of dating series, Kris. We humans have always been and will always be relational beings–that’s the way we were designed. So no matter the culture, there are some common denominators between times past and today. Women always want to be noticed and valued. So many of Mrs. Harriman’s tips from 75 years ago still have a relevant equivalent today.

    Growing up in the generation between then and now, I was taught to be a gentleman, and I think a lot of guys miss out on what they get and what they give by being a little more formal and intentional. Thanks for reviving those ideals, and for helping us guys think outside the box.

    Kristen pointed me to your blog when we met at the Risen movie red carpet premiere in Dallas. Tell her thanks for me. 🙂

    • Kris Wolfe September 16, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

      Scott, just saw this. Thank you, and Kristen was super excited when I showed her your message. It was really interesting reading Mrs. Harriman’s book, and as I moved into the ’50s with the latest article, I found out it interesting how war changed dating from the ’40s.

  2. Michelle Kasinec September 14, 2016 at 5:12 am #

    Great article Kris! Love the history on dating series. Valid dating advice for both men and women! Thank you!

    • Kris Wolfe September 16, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

      You are most welcome, Michelle! I’ve been enjoying this, so it’s felt like a fun hobby for me.


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