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…
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.
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.
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.