A History of Dating
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to remind Christians that we worship a single guy who died a virgin.
For the first time in our nation’s history, there are more unmarried than married adults. And people are waiting longer than ever to marry—women in their mid- to late twenties on average and men closer to thirty. The closer you get to a major city, the more singles you will find—most of them dating, relating, and fornicating.
The History of Dating
Most likely, you view your experiences regarding dating as normative. Because you were born in this day and age, dating seems not only normal but also the only way in which to meet someone you could potentially marry.
We must be careful, however, not to take our current experiences and make them the norm. It’s important to view the times in which we live through the lens of both history and Scripture.
The reality is that dating, as we know it today, is a relatively new idea. In fact, prior to the 1900s, “dating” was a slang term that referred to prostitution. A man who was going to pay a woman for sex told his buddies that he was “going on a date.” Interestingly, while dating isn’t overtly a euphemism for prostitution any longer, for many men, the process is similar. In our culture, a man takes a woman on a date, spends lots of money, and by the world’s standards expects the woman to “put out.”
The cultural history of dating is interesting. In the early 1900s “calling” was the primary means of marrying. A young man would call on a young woman by going to the parlor in her parents’ home. Her parents carefully oversaw these meetings, and expectations for everything from dress and food to length of time of the call was regulated and spelled out. This protected women from the kind of sexual assault that is common today by involving the parents on every level of the courtship process. It also limited the opportunity for a woman and a man to be alone and sin sexually.
By the 1930s, however, the social landscape changed dramatically with the rise of the automobile. Cars gave young people freedoms and mobility they never had previously, resulting in increased opportunities for men and women to go out alone and increased temptations for drunkenness and sexual sin.
Socially, the rise of the car resulted in women being interested in men who were rich enough to afford a nice car and take them on nice dates, and men in turn pursued women who were the prettiest and most sexual.
By the 1940s, dating took on aspects of prostitution—as I said earlier, men treated women to nice dates, and in return they expected sexual favors. Naturally, those women who obliged were taken on more dates, and those women who didn’t weren’t asked out again.
Things really changed in the 1960s with the onset of the sexual revolution. This resulted in the greatest change in the social dynamics of singleness in the Western world, with orgies, casual sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, and bisexuality becoming increasingly socially acceptable. Additionally, that decade saw the first widely available pornography magazine, Playboy, resulting in a shift in the way our society viewed the body and sex.
The 1970s cemented the concept of dating and casual sex as normative by removing any physical consequences through the legalization of abortion in 1973 and making no-fault divorce legal in 1974. Add to that the birth control pill and other contraceptive measures, and most of the cultural and practical reasons to restrict sexual activity outside of marriage were obliterated.
The end result of all this is that today we live in a society that is overly sexualized, sees nothing wrong with experimenting, and views regular, unmarried sex as not only normal but also healthy. Those who are younger were born into a world that resulted from a massive sexual and gender experiment. Today, even young teens are involved in “sexting,” junior high girls are expected to send naked photos of themselves to their boyfriends, and the number one consumer of online pornography is twelve- to sixteen-year-old boys, which means they will expect girls not old enough to drive to punish their bodies and do the kind of extreme things that porn stars do.
Culture and Dating
Sex outside of marriage is now the norm, a huge change from just a century ago. Today, over 5 million couples cohabitate. This is up from 1 million in 1978. And this number doesn’t take into account the number of couples who don’t live together but who still stay over at each other’s places enough to be classified as cohabitators.
Here are some shocking statistics taken from my book, Religion Saves:
- An estimated quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 currently live with a partner.
- Half of unmarried women in the same age group have lived with a partner at some time.
- Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation.
- The most likely people to cohabit are those aged 20 to 24.
This is problematic first because it is sin and against God’s design for sex, which is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, but also for a number of practical reasons.
- Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with a higher divorce risk, with estimates ranging from 33 percent to 151 percent increased risk of divorce.
- Annual rates of depression among cohabitators are more than three times higher than married couples,
- Women in cohabitating relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse.
- Two studies found that women in cohabitating relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than married women.
- Couples who cohabitate before marriage report less marital happiness and more conflict when married.
This is in contrast to couples who marry as virgins:
- Men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce.
- Women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce,
- Those who wait to have sex until marriage and remain faithful in marriage report higher levels of life satisfaction compared to adults who engage in premarital or adulterous sex.
- Those who wait to have sex and are faithful to their spouse also report notably higher happiness scores.
The bottom line of all this is that Satan is still a liar. Though our culture wants to make cohabitation and casual sex seem normative and healthy, the statistics tell the truth—it’s destructive. God’s plan of chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage is still the best plan.
I speak as the chief hypocrite. I was not a virgin when I met Grace at the age of seventeen. We were sleeping together until God saved me in college and I got some decent Bible teaching about sex. We stopped sleeping together until we were married between our junior and senior years of college. I wrongly thought we’d pick up where we’d left off, but I was wrong. We had set in motion a pattern of guilt and selfishness that took years to break and hurt the first years of our marriage. For those like me, there is hope. God does forgive, and things can improve. For those unlike me, keep pursuing purity by grace because God’s way is the best way.