How many people have you dated in your lifetime? More likely than not, that number is much lower than it would have been if you had grown up in the United States in during World War II or in the post-war era.
The dating world in the 1940s was very different than it is today. While today, most people date one person exclusively until that relationship falls apart, in the ‘40s, a typical teenager went on a date with a different person each weekend. Dating in the ‘40s was driven by popularity, and it was believed that a person's popularity was determined by how “in demand” he/she was for a date
. This, of course, meant that people strived to go on dates with as many different people as possible.
Dates were always scheduled days - or sometimes even weeks! - in advance, and, in order to give off the impression that she was desirable, a girl would never schedule a date for the same day that a boy asked her; instead, she would usually insist that she already had another date that night – even if it was not true – but would tell the boy asking her on a date that she could pencil him in for another weekend. Yes, at that time, it was expected that the boy would always ask the girl for a date.
Dating a lot of different people before deciding upon one with whom to “go steady,” or date exclusively, was highly encouraged by parents. Parents wanted their children to gain the experience of dating many different kinds of people so that their children could get a better idea of the kinds of qualities they desired in a long-term partner. In fact, “going steady” with somebody was something usually done only by the most mature of teenagers and young adults, and deciding to “go steady” with one person was a decision that was not to be taken lightly. By the time a person reached early adulthood, he/she had gone on dates with a wide variety of people and had probably gone steady with a few of them, too.
The following is a social instructional film from the early 1950s whose target audience was the teenage population. This film explores the issue of deciding whether or not two people are ready to “go steady” and talks about the pros and cons of exclusively dating one person. As you watch, see which cultural values from the ‘40s/early ‘50s you can infer, and think about how these values could have played a role in that particular society’s ideologies about dating.
What were the pros and cons of the dating practices of the ‘40s? Would you rather have dated this way when you were growing up, or do you prefer “dating” the way it is now? Why?