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A Dating Tradition Worth Bringing Back?

Dating tradition

(a picture of my grandparents, which most likely occurred when dating took over the practice of calling.)

Today, love can be found with online dating sites, dating apps, and by simply clicking “like” on a social media post. Much like online shopping, finding love is at your fingertips.

However, a time existed when a man had to leave his comfort zone and personal confines to seek the woman he’d spend the rest of his life with. The next series of articles will discuss the history of dating.

Pursuing and the Parlour Room

Many homes in the 18th and 19th century had parlour rooms, especially if you were part of the emerging middle class. It was a form of status. Parlour means “to speak,” and these rooms were built as a reception area to greet and entertain guests. It would also serve as a boundary to keep the rest of the home private.

Entertainment centered around the home. To pursue a woman was fully on the man to take the initiative. It wasn’t appropriate for a girl to ask a guy out. The word “dating” didn’t come to use until the late 19th or early 20th century.

“Calling” came before dating. A guy wanting to pursue a girl would “call,” and not by phone. He would have to bravely come to her home because courting didn’t take place in public. As The Times wrote,

Girls of gentleness and refinement do not care to be courted upon the open highway, nor in public parks…

Gentleman caller

The Gentleman Caller: 

A dating tradition worth bringing back?

Beth L. Bailey, author of From Front Porch to Back Seat, doesn’t think so.

Certainly we should seek our usable past, but to find answers to the current problems of American courtship we need to go not backward but forward.

How can we use the “usable past” to move forward in dating as a society? Lately, it seems we’ve digressed.

Clear intentions

The young man who sought to pursue the lady was referred to as a “gentleman caller.” He would show up at the home via horse, carriage, or on foot. He would then present his calling card, much like a business card today. It would be given to the girl and she would decide if she wanted to meet him…or make an excuse.

You could compare “calling” to swiping left or right on Tinder. But, the pursuit required effort. The intentions were much more clear. While a gentleman caller could’ve visited several homes and the girl could’ve perhaps accepted several cards, choices and chances were limited. “Calling” revolved around finding a suitable wife or husband and wasn’t for sheer entertainment.

Less out of pocket money for the guy

If the potential suitor was invited into the parlour room, he had far less economical burden on his shoulders. He’d often be provided with refreshments and the girl might also entertain him, such as playing the piano.

It was only after the mass production of the automobile and the subsequent growth of public entertainment spots that the economical burden shifted to the guy. He was then expected to pay for entertainment. Was this the moment men lost the upper hand? No, even during the parlor room era, women still had the upper hand. They determined who they would meet.

Family Involvement

Because the pursuing happened within the confines of the homes, it entailed more parental oversight. No curfews were needed. Sexual intimacy or any physical contact was out of the question.

In the beginning of the courtship, parents were present. “A girl’s mother must chaperone the first visit but eventually leave the couple alone.” Along with family involvement came strong etiquette rules. It wasn’t appropriate for a girl to walk her pursuer to the door.

This history is fascinating to me. While I don’t have kids yet, it makes me want to consider adding a parlour vs. a living room to our future home. What positive and beneficial activity can we borrow from the past to become not only progressive, but better?

In the next article, The Invention of Dating, we’ll discuss what factors shifted calling to dating.

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8 Responses to A Dating Tradition Worth Bringing Back?

  1. Jim August 25, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    One of our friends restored her Chinese great-grandparents’ western-style house built in the early 1900s. It has a “courting room” off of the living room (the family had five daughters). Looks something like a small conservatory or green house stuck on the side of the house, with mostly glass walls. It has french doors closing it off from the living room, so that the daughters and suitors could speak privately. But the doors are glass, and along with the mostly glass walls, meant the parents and everyone else could see exactly what was going on. So everyone knew there could be no hanky-panky, and there was no fear that somehow the girl would get a “bad” reputation (which was a big deal once upon a time).

    • Kris Wolfe August 29, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

      So interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a parlor room in real life. I don’t know if pictures give it justice.

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