The Curious History of Dating | Nichi Hodgson

Summary of: The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder
By: Nichi Hodgson


Imagine a whirlwind trip through time, exploring the history of human dating and relationships from Jane Austen to Tinder. In ‘The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder’, Nichi Hodgson does just that. This book summary delves into a wide spectrum of societal changes and technological advancements that have shaped the way people find love and interact romantically. Discover the evolution of dating norms, from the late 1700s social status-driven marriages to the modern world of online dating, and how important milestones led to the gradual transformation of dating attitudes and practices. The transformation is intriguing, and in this summary, you will encounter aspects of gender dynamics, class, and the impact of wars that played pivotal roles in shaping singles’ experiences.

The Evolution of Dating in the UK

Starting with “courtesy” manuals used by men in the 17th century to charm their way into a lady’s knickers, dating in the UK has come a long way. The era of Jane Austen brought marriages more concerned with social status and money than love, changing attitudes towards courting. Wealthy families had “the Season” to show off their daughters to potential husbands. The rigid and formal dating culture gave way to romance in the 1800s. Queen Victoria’s public displays of affection for her husband sparked the change, and cheap paper and new printing techniques popularized Valentine’s Day cards. However, gender and class norms still influenced dating, and a lady of high rank couldn’t marry a lower-class lover.

New Women: The Emergence of a Liberated Class

The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 marked a significant change as it allowed women to own and inherit property without it automatically becoming their husband’s. The late Victorian period also brought about new romantic freedoms, thanks to the bicycle and steam train. Women could now travel freely alone and meet potential partners from different towns. The Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 removed the death penalty for anal intercourse and eventually led to a more liberal society by the Edwardian Era in the early 1900s. Alongside ragtime music and dances, buccaneer brides from America arrived in London, seeking British husbands. The changing times gave rise to the New Women, a class of women who were more liberated, demanding education and sexual equality. The Suffragettes of the early twentieth century were the embodiment of New Women as they fought for women’s rights to vote and equality.

Gender Dynamics During and After the First World War

Thirty women in Folkestone started distributing white feathers to men not wearing military uniform at the start of World War I. The act represented a snub to men and a symbol of cowardice. The propaganda intended to project women as passive and men as protectors didn’t stand the test of the war. Women took active roles on the home front, manufacturing and agriculture while men were at the warfront. With the end of the war, women earned a new-found independence that reflected in the music, fashion, and dating. The era also saw new words like jazz and flapper emerge and people enjoying luxuries while the poor faced hardships.

Love in the Time of Depression

Despite the Great Depression, the 1930s saw a resurgence in marriage rates, with dating becoming a luxury and cinema dates being the perfect escape. However, gender inequality remained, though it showed signs of slowing, with the publication of How to Live Alone and Like It. Divorce laws also took a step forward in 1937. Magazines such as Woman’s Own and Woman’s Illustrated provided more information on sex and relationships, though only for married couples.

Love and War

War and its impact on marriage and relationships in the 1940s.

Love and war have always gone hand in hand, and the Second World War had a significant effect on relationships and marraige. During the war, relationships grew from weekend affairs and casual flings to marriages. In England and Wales, weddings increased dramatically from 409,000 in 1938 to 534,000 in 1940. Similarly, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, around one hundred Americans married each day, with 30 percent of them being under the age of 21.

The United States government offered financial aid to servicemen’s wives, so many women sought out American soldiers as possible partners. However, marriages at this time were rushed, and there was no guarantee of fidelity. Infidelity increased, leading to high divorce rates after the war; in Britain, divorces rose to over 60,000 in 1947 from 7,995 in 1939.

Long-distance communication, often by letters, became the main mode of communication for couples separated by war. A variety of letters were sent between the United Kingdom and the United States, which included over 3 million airmail letters, 4.5 million pieces of surface mail, and 500,000 airgraphs, miniature photographs sent by airmail.

Despite the increase in weddings, illegitimate births rose from 26,574 in 1940 to 64,743 in 1945, and infidelity remained rampant. The arrival of US GIs in Britain, earning much more than British soldiers and with plenty of luxuries to share, led to lasting change and adjustment in the country. Out of the roughly 1.5 million US GIs who arrived in Britain in 1943, some 20,000 British women registered to marry them.

In conclusion, the impact of war on marriage and relationships during the 1940s was enormous, with long-lasting effects on society.

Dating in the 1950s

Dating evolved amidst cultural imports from America, candidness surrounding sex, and changes in relationship norms such as sex education and contraception.

Life in post-war United Kingdom was hardly smooth-sailing. As rationing persisted deep into the 1950s, income tax rates doubled that of today’s. In such a bleak backdrop, expensive dating wasn’t a top priority. Nevertheless, dating norms continued evolving with cultural imports from America, especially the rise of rock and roll with Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” hit in November 1955. The new energetic hits got youngsters bopping in dance halls and experimenting with the barely concealed sexual force of the lyrics. This was also the era of new sorts of celebrities, prompting newspapers to cash in on celebrity gossip too.

Alongside cultural changes, there was growing candidness surrounding sex. Geoffrey Gorer’s survey in 1955 revealed that 52% of the British population disapproved of young men having any sexual experience before marriage, while 63% expressed the same for women. Working-class and young people were more forgiving of premarital sex, as demonstrated by another study that found one in four men admitting to visiting a prostitute, and one in five women confiding they’d had an affair.

The period also witnessed a significant change in relationships with the advent of sex education and contraception. Once reserved only for married couples, unmarried heterosexual couples now had access to them too – a sure sign that such relationships were becoming more acceptable. By 1955, the National Health Service was providing diaphragms and condoms in clinics across the country.

These changes weren’t the end of the story. American teenagers were discovering that dating could be enjoyable for its own sake. This new sense of liberty was about to cross the pond.

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