Did you know that we just tapped the centennial of dating? Until World War I, the world of male-female relationships was bound by a rigid corset of conventions. It was relatively rare for people to marry for love, and marriage was treated more as an economic transaction in which an impeccable reputation was an important consideration. It was not until the 19th century that matrimonial contracts began to precede a more emotional courtship.


For dating with a chaperone

Initially, dating was for the purpose of marriage and only under such circumstances was it allowed. After the matchmaker mated the couple and the maiden’s parents accepted the husband candidate, a meeting could take place. They generally took place in the woman’s family home, always in the company of people from her immediate family, according to rules of ubiquitous etiquette telling where to look, what to say and how to shake hands.

In the mid-1920s. In the 1970s, modern dating supplanted a form of courtship based on home visits. In Poland, the custom appeared in the early 1930s, with only urban areas involved. In the villages, girls still waited for admirers in their homes, and bachelors visited potential wife candidates on certain days of the week, usually Sunday. The most attractive girls were usually attended by a group of boys competing for favors. The most persistent one, who stayed the longest and “sat through” the others, won. Opportunities to establish a more intimate relationship were games, after which it was necessary to escort the girl home. Then the amateur could count on something more than polite social flirtation.

The development of dating in the city was, of course, fostered by the city’s infrastructure – cinemas, theaters, cafes, restaurants and dansing. Then, too, the unwritten duty of a man to pay for entertainment went from the father of a maiden on the run to the young man hitting the concours. Financial self-reliance was what often determined the issue. Throughout the century of dating, a lot has changed, but a lot more had to happen before it started to look like it does now.

Private time

The golden age of dating, however, did not come until the 1950s, when the world had time to cool down a bit after the experience of World War II. While in the West dating has ceased to shock and has become a matter of course, in Poland the communist system effectively ensured that young people had little time for self-organization. Moreover, any action that was private and however deviated from the systemic vision of the common social good was frowned upon. The only day off was Sunday.

It was not until 1972 that free Saturdays were introduced, which became an opportunity to go out somewhere for two. While “going with someone” was common for 16-, 17-year-olds at the time, the problem was where to go. A visit to a cafe was quite an expense, so they mostly went to the cinema or, much more often, just for a walk. Visiting each other’s homes was already outdated by then, giving the meeting a much more serious character, and putting the visiting boy in the role of an endearing bachelor. The century of dating has brought significant changes in the way we date. Greater intimacy was provided by private parties, where – usually in the absence of their parents – the young could indulge in public displays of affection, tender embraces and kisses. 


The formula of dating as a face-to-face meeting began to change in the 1990s. The Internet was introduced in the 1970s, when people became more and more willing and able to use the benefits of the Internet. It was at this time that the first dating sites were established. At first they were approached with caution, the Internet was still an untamed space and this type of networking was a last resort. Dating online was for a long time reserved for those who completely failed in real life and hid behind a network avatar. Gradually, however, with the development of technology, this type of activity has already become a more popular pastime. The 21st century is the golden age of online dating (aka.  cyberdating ). A date in real life became the culmination of an online friendship that had been going on for some time. Hardly, in the 21st century. A date often becomes just an excuse for a sex encounter, after which both parties part ways home, forget about the date and make an appointment for the next one.

century of dating
Currently, dating apps are breaking records in popularity.

* The text is based on Piotr Szarota’s book “Anatomia randki”, Warsaw Literary Publishing House Muza SA, Warsaw 2011.


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