“To regularly spend time with someone you have a romantic relationship with”. This is how the Cambridge dictionary describes dating. If someone asks you today what dating means to you, you’ll have no problem putting your thoughts into words. It would closely resemble its dictionary meaning. However, if you roll back a couple of decades and look into the history of dating, you’ll have a difficult time putting it into words. This is simply because dating is a fairly recent construct and dates back to the starting of the 20th century. Let’s take a trip down the history of dating. Explore its meaning and relevance is evolving with the way your search for love is taking a turn!

Rewind the tape

History of Dating: Rewinding the Tape

It does not take a genius to understand that the history of dating is unique to each culture. Therefore, a drastic divide in the understanding and nature of dating exists between the western nations and our country. Surprisingly, even in the western countries, primarily the USA, Canada, etc., dating does not ‘date’ back too long and is a fairly modern idea. It began as an idea of courtship. Here couples who were arranged to be married were given the freedom to meet and greet with one another before actually tying the knot. What started off as supervised encounters in the western nations gradually took the form of unsupervised meetups. This was often without the knowledge of parents or guardians. From being introduced by parents to getting acquainted with someone by friends or just chance encounters, dating for the longest time depended upon physical meetings and in person conversations.

The Indian scenario

However, the Indian history of dating did not take a similar turn. As most of us have experienced, the Indian society thrives on family bonding. Therefore, the idea of meeting someone before tying the knot and without the knowledge of one’s parents did not gain momentum early on. At the same time, living in joint families seldom gave individuals the opportunity to actually date. More often than not Indian households had one fixed line and using it without the knowledge of your parents to talk to a partner was practically impossible. And then, there was always the problem of personal space with ‘Tayajis’ and ‘Chachijis’ in the very next room.

This translates to the fact that dating as the world understands was looked down upon for a long time in our country. Fortunately, supervised courtship did become a thing. Another peculiar fact about the Indian wedding scenario, for a long time (which still continues in some form), was the fact that a life partner was based on the parents’ choice. Invariably, this left little room for the idea of dating to gain value.


Offline Dating

Offline Dating

The whole dating scenario took a turn when individuals, especially women, started becoming financially independent. This empowered them to go out and meet potential partners either through colleagues/ friends or at work or maybe at a pub or restaurant. With time, sneaking out to meet one’s partner became widespread, but still lacked the permission of parents and the motive was almost clearly tying the knot in due course of time. If you ask anyone in their 40s-50s today about their experience of dating, they’ll surely recount the numerous memories of lying to their parents, getting the support of their friends and then socially meeting that ‘person’. Gradually, financial independence also inspired agency in both men and women. This gave them their due say in who they wish to meet and how. However, due to lack of resources to connect regularly, dating was often sporadic.

Dating in Digital era

Enter the Digital Age

With the turn of the century, people started getting accustomed to the idea of dating. However, the history of dating in India took a turn for better only as technology hit the nation. It all began with the introduction of mobile phones which allowed couples to connect at different times during the day. And did not leave conversations simply on the mercy of face to face dates. You no longer had to wait for your ‘Tayji’ to finish her gossip session to have your conversation.

Next in the trajectory came those dial up connections and networking platforms like Orkut. Such platforms opened a Pandora box of choices for both the genders. It became another means to virtually connect new people than just through friends and family. One could talk for hours from the comfort of their home with someone 1000 kms away. Finally, the advent of 2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi completely transformed the picture giving people 24*7 access to connecting with potential partners.

The increased internet and cellular access led to the rise of dating apps. This exponentially increased the availability of options and choices. For quite some time, most of these interactions were virtual and rarely amounted to any human connection. Fortunately, with time, the dating apps have come to realize the importance of physical meetings. Thus, came in the locations based matching. Today, most connections these apps facilitate are based on proximity of location. This enables individuals to actually meet and not just chat.

Cut to Present

What is amusing is that even today, dating as simply socially meeting someone you may seek a romantic relationship with, has not gained popular respect in our society. Some see dating as a means to enter into physical relationships without any intention of tying the knot. The other end of the spectrum sees it only as supervised courtship whose endpoint is a wedding. And, this is where most individuals in their late 20s and 30s find themselves as misfits. On the one hand, they find those platforms where only ‘casual’ meetups are the norm. On the other hand, they encounter those where they have to make conversation with the other person’s parents before the person himself/ herself. And, we believe that the history of dating will only serve its purpose when such individuals are able to seek meaningful companionship which is not forced, supervised or looked down upon!