Brief history of internet dating

” (Friendship “with benefits” is a contemporary example.) Closely related to this is the invention of birth control.

There is too much that could be said here, so I’ll be brief.

However, an extra layer, what we call “dating,” has been added to the process of courting.

If you are familiar with computer programming terminology, you can liken dating to a sub-routine that has been added to the system of courtship.

So one important point to understand right up front (and about which many inside and outside the church are confused) is that we have not moved a dating system into our courtship system.

Since most young adults will marry, the process employed in finding a husband and wife is still considered courtship.

Remember how Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks found love via AOL in You’ve Got Mail?

From AOL chat rooms, to Myspace bulletins and Craigslist ads–the list goes on and on for ways in which people have used the Internet as a tool to find love, sex and friendship.

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They knew what was “normal.” Prior to the 20th century, “normal” was determined within families and local communities, but now a “higher authority,” with wide-spread circulation and readership, began to form a national consciousness. With the onset of the sexual revolution the question arose, “Why would a man court and woo a woman when he could gain a chief benefit of marriage, namely sexual gratification, for free with no commitment?

Prior to the 20th century, when we talked about courtship we used language and metaphors of home and family: system of courtship that played itself out in the entertainment culture and public square largely was understood and described by the advice and “expert” class with metaphors taken from modern industrial capitalism.

It’s as if those who wrote and commented on male-female relationship had stopped reading the Song of Solomon and Jane Austen in favor of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.

Over the course of this two-part article, I would like to trace how this change occurred, especially concentrating on the origin of this dating “subroutine.” Let me begin by briefly suggesting four cultural forces that assisted in moving from, as Alan Carlson puts it, the more predictable cultural script that existed for several centuries, to the multi-layered system and (I think most would agree) the more ambiguous courtship system that includes “the date.” The first, and probably most important change we find in courtship practices in the West occurred in the early 20th century when courtship moved from public acts conducted in private spaces (for instance, the family porch or parlor) to private or individual acts conducted in public spaces, located primarily in the entertainment world, as Beth Bailey argues in her book, .

Bailey observes that by the 1930s and ’40s, with the advent of the “date” (which we will look at more fully in the next installment) courtship increasingly took place in public spaces such as movie theaters and dance halls, removed by distance and by anonymity from the sheltering and controlling contexts of the home and local community.

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