Love and Dating Across the Centuries

A brief history of courtship

Have you ever wondered how dating began?

Here at StoryTerrace, we definitely have — after all, we’ve written countless beautiful stories about love, courting and marriage.

So we decided to look at the history of dating and its progression into modern day. What we found made our hearts all warm and tingly.


In the Beginning

Ancient Societies Weren’t So Lovey-Dovey (3000 BC – AD 500)
Most marriages in ancient times weren’t by choice, but by capture. After the founding of Rome, there was a shortage of women. So, the Roman men abducted women from other nearby cities, with the intent to increase their population.

Arranged marriages were also the norm. Rather than matters of the heart, those couplings were more like business arrangements related to economic stability, property and political alliances.


The Middle Ages Ushers in Chivalry (500 to 1400–1500 CE)
As a response to arranged marriages, civilised courtship and chivalry blossomed in medieval times. With love as their guide, suitors enticed the object of their affection with songs, poetry and dinner — which they learned from lovelorn characters in plays.

It’s also during this time that a well-known phrase was created. When a knight was competing in a jousting match — a popular sport among nobility — he could dedicate the event to a woman he loved by tying something to his shirt sleeve that belonged to her. Usually, a handkerchief.  This is how the saying "He wears his heart on his sleeve" came to be.


The Victorian Era Feels the Love (1937-1901)
Courting became even more formal among the upper classes, with romantic love recognised as an important factor in marriage. At events, men and women first had to be introduced — they couldn’t approach each other without proper introduction. Then, men gave their card to the lady if they were interested in walking her home. At the end of the event, the ladies reviewed their options from all the cards they’d received and chose the man they wanted to escort them home.

Courting was definitely not private. Couples were usually only together while a chaperone — often the young woman’s parents — watched. Back then, marriage proposals were typically delivered in writing. 


Modern Dating

Modern datePhoto Credit: Getty Images

The word “date” came to be rather unintentionally. In 1896, a Chicago Record columnist, George Ade, wrote that the girlfriend of a man named Artie had lost interest in their relationship and began courting other men. When Artie asks his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend about her intentions, he says: “I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates?”

See, before the early 1900s, courting was for the benefit of family and community interest, but by the time a new century began, courting had fully transitioned to a private matter for couples. Finally, in 1913 the American government formally recognised marriage in law, and by 1929, all states had laws regarding marriage licenses.

In the Roaring Twenties, the word "dating" officially entered the American language. But the act of dating was actually frowned upon by police, politicians and civic leaders because they viewed it as enabling women to become more independent of their fathers and husbands.

We’ve come a long way since then!


Free Love
In the 1960s and 1970s, free love became social movement — one major aspect of which meant that people could be sexually active with many casual sex partners and little or no commitment.

But another aspect involved certain laws and specifically working to remove state regulations from decisions about marriage, divorce, birth control, age of consent, abortion, adultery and homosexuality. These changes reverberate throughout modern society today.


Digital Dating
Believe it or not, online dating has been around for nearly 30 years! was the first digital matchmaker to arrive on the scene in 1994, followed by in 1995. Since then, online dating sites and apps have exploded.

The pandemic, of course, only boosted the use of those innovations. With the entire world in lockdown, membership for dating sites and apps increased at unprecedented rates. What used to be thought of taboo or looked down upon is now the new norm in dating.

Digital dating has opened up singles to the entire world. A man in America can now “date” a woman in England, getting to know each other through video chats before deciding to meet in person. A divorced lady in Australia can easily “meet” a South African fellow through texting, voice notes and emails.


How’d You Two Meet?

how did you meetPhoto Credit: PeopleImages

When’s the last time you thought about your own love story? Or maybe your parents’?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to capture those beautiful memories and experiences in a stunning book? You don’t have to be famous or have a Hollywood-style meet-cute to make your story worth telling. We’re sure it’s already amazing and definitely worth sharing — just like Alex and Barbara Lutkus did with their StoryTerrace book.

So the next time someone asks, "How'd you first meet?" you'll have it all ready to go in a terrific book that'll last for generations.


Have you been inspired to write your own love story? We're here for you! Just contact StoryTerrace or sign up for our newsletter to learn more about capturing your story for future generations.


Written by Shoshana Cenker

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Love and Dating Across the Centuries

Have you ever wondered how dating began?


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