Dating can be a precarious undertaking because finding someone you're romantically compatible with isn't always obvious upon first meeting. Like many types of relationships, romance is developed over time through communication and shared events, and even dissipates if not nurtured.
Already my language indicated my modern perspective. The very word dating is a modern interpretation of a prospective romantic involvement of individuals. A few hundred years ago the term used was courtship, which is nuanced toward a "gallant" wooing of a woman by a man. Orwell avoided both terms and described the medium (Classifieds section in newspapers and magazines) in which the American sailors participated. They essentially prospected for the best fitting woman to marry. All of these paradigms--dating, courtship, wife-prospection--entail different approaches and serve specific functions, which themselves change over time as the culture changes due to cultural values and rights. Further, due to the very intimate nature of the category of romance, and the myriad perspectives and drives people hold, there's no formula to definitively obtain romance, which is why it's pursuit has taken so many forms over time.
These three nuances--dating, courtship, and wife-seeking--function independently, though in some respects can mirror each other. It also serves to note that this isn't an exhaustive list of the approaches to romance, just three pertinent ones to this discussion.
Take dating, which is modern day's spin on finding romance. It seems modern civilization has realized that romantic interest is simultaneously attainable but incapable of being formulaically created. That is, someone who "looks good" on paper or described by a friend may actually be less compatible with you than someone who "doesn't." Dating by definition is informal, and approaches romance from two distinct approaches. The first approach is adopted when people "hit it off" within one event, and determine to go on a date at a later time, essentially agreeing to engage in the new event under the "romance" terms. Here, people have some evidence that they're compatible, and go on a date to pursue this, which will result in either a flowering of this relationship or realization that the original event was a unique interaction which produced compatibility-like affects. The second approach is more of a scattergun approach, where people go on dates--basically with strangers--to determine romantic compatibility. This may sound useless, but it's how blind dates function. Even speed-dating functions like this, with people billboarding what they perceive as their most marketable traits in a wily game of musical chairs. This approach may sound odd, but I'll just point out that many dates over time have failed terribly when people tried to change the terms of an established "friend-like" relationship to romantic terms. Either way, it's informal, with both people generally operating as individuals, with nothing really lost if the dating doesn't work out, often experiencing periods where they don't date at all.
Now take courtship. This one is more seductive, and specifically targets an individual. This doesn't entail exploration, yet demonstration of the man's worthiness (ego) of his sole occupation to her company (body). This approach relies on the women as the "fairer sex," where men--as suitors--need to woo the women, essentially persuading them to be his wife and ultimately bear his children. Clearly this has fallen out of favor because the progress of women's rights has brought the acceptance of both women's needs and wants. Yes, women now have the right to pleasure! Courtship was very Christian in that it was mostly undertaken by upper-class, property-owning white men who wanted a virgin to bear his children so he'd be positive that his offspring--who would inherit his land--would unarguably be his. It was often an occupation (rather than dating's gap-orientation) because the man wanted to make sure he was still of his wits when his offspring--preferably male--inherited his estate. Since life expectancy was lower than modern time, reproduction occurred sooner, which meant the occupation of courtship happened early in a man's life.
Lastly--and we'll fast-forward through time a few centuries--is wife-prospecting. It may seem similar to courtship, but it sort of incorporates the screening plan of dating with the targeted-plan of courtship. Just because it's in the middle though doesn't mean it's the "best of both worlds." It's simply a shade of grey with it's own characteristics, which, like anything, needs to be investigated and observed before judged and labelled if we want a fuller understanding. The American sailors in WW2 engaged in a Craigslist-like romantic furor, and despite not being the first to choose this modus, certainly caused a spike in it's occurrence. According to Orwell what was distinct was the overall eligibility of the bachelors. "The thing that is and always has been striking in these advertisements is that nearly all the applicants are remarkably eligible. It is not only that most of them are broad-minded, intelligent, home-loving, musical, loyal, sincere and affectionate, with a keen sense of humor and, in the case of women, a good figure; in the majority of cases they are financially O.K. as well...Why does such a paragon have to advertise?" (p. 649) He goes on to explain that the papers check carefully on their advertisers, and don't simply publish embellishments. Further, he argues that people in big cities are lonelier because although surrounded by others, they don't pursue real relationships. Now, any other time I'd be more than willing to critique city-life, but that's not the point of this discussion. So we'll just deposit that he has insight into city-psychology, and leave the argument for another day. That main point is the eligibility of the advertising bachelors. Yes, there were denizens of sailors looking for wives, but their candor indicates not just how focused they were, but how they knew what they wanted to focus on. Maybe it was the war that calibrated them, I don't know. But the point is, the sailors seeking a wife weren't just wooing wealthy virgins, but putting themselves out there candidly to an audience of potential wives. It was a slight power shift where the fulcrum was no longer directly underneath the man. He was definitely initiating the engagement, but he set honest and earnest terms of what he wanted; a bride. Not a piece of property or a conveyor belt for his offspring.
I'm not delusional, women's rights and overall respect for women have come a long way since WW2. I'm not holding that time up as the paragon for equality, I'm simply pointing out the techniques of dating, and how wonderfully simple and efficient the American sailors made it. It was much simpler than dating, and much more empowering for the woman than the courtship approach. The sailors' option was as close to formulaic as could be because they knew who they were, knew what they wanted, and put it out there. There were no guarantees, they were just earnest and honest. Nowadays, dating is often undertaken for sexual reasons, and sexual endeavors are often misperceived as the seeds of relationships. That makes for dirty affairs; pardon the double entendre.
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