FIND A LIVE ONE The earliest colonists — the Puritans who struggled for every mouthful of food and whose yearly death count exceeded that of any George Romero movie — did not have time for the frippery of love and courtship. Courtship involved finding a woman of childbearing-ish age who had survived the previous winter.
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, .In return, the woman would keep the vermin out of the gruel she whipped up and would provide an outlet for sinful Puritan urges.Urges which would, in turn, provide the young couple with more laborers, so that this circle of mosquito-infested, frost-bitten drudgery could continue until they were released to God by sweet death. HAVE YOUR DADS ARRANGE IT After things were more settled in the (not-at-all-new) "New World," the living got a little easier, and marriage became more businesslike. America had gotten crowded; there were more ways to sustain life than farming and acreage. It's one of those words with which most people are familiar, but have vastly differing opinions of what it means. It summons visions of men women with small tokens of affection and asking their hand in marriage on bended knee.For social scientists, studies of courtship usually look at the process of "mate selection." (Social scientists, among whom I number myself from time to time, will never be accused of being romantics.) For the purpose of this article the , prior to the early 20th century, courtship involved one man and one woman spending intentional time together to get to know each other with the expressed purpose of evaluating the other as a potential husband or wife.