Young people had always danced as a means of socializing with one another. However, prior to the 1950s, it was considered appropriate for a girl to dance with a variety of partners, even if she came to a dance with a particular young man. By the mid-1950s, views changed, and it was considered insulting to cut-in on someone elses date (Sombat). In addition, rock and roll, which featured more suggestive lyrics than prior forms of music, seemed to encourage casual sexual contact between men and women. Rock music has only grown more suggestive with time, as have rock stars, helping create a popular culture that thrives on marketing sexuality.
Part of these changing attitudes was reflected in the sexual behavior of teenagers in the 1950s. Modern people have an image of the 1950s as a chaste and innocent time. However, sexual relations changed dramatically in the 1950s, even before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. First, it became more acceptable to engage in mild public displays of affection, such as kissing, hugging or hand holding (Sombat). However, it was the increased privacy that dating couples enjoyed in the 1950s that really led to an increase in sexual behavior among teens. Much of this privacy could be attributed to automobiles, which provided teenagers with a zone of mobile privacy. While the outward image may have been one of chastity, the reality is that dating teenagers in the 1950s were expected to participate in some degree of sexual activity. ” in fact, the ideas of necking and petting were prolific and understood by everyone who participated in dating” (Sombat). While intercourse may have remained somewhat taboo for young couples, making out was not. During the 1950s, adults were not only aware that teenagers were engaging in sexual behaviors, but also that cars provided them with the opportunity to do so. Therefore, they tried to manipulate times and locations in a way to make sex impossible (Sombat).
Modern dating rituals may be rooted in the rituals established in the 1950s, but it would be impossible to confuse the two. Instead, drastic changes have occurred in the half-century since the 1950s. For example, in the 1950s, dating was preparation for marriage, with even young dating couples considered to be playing marriage. However, that does not mean that young couples were expected to marry. On the contrary, in 1953 a sociologist wrote that “each boy and girl ideally should date 25 to 50 eligible marriage partners before making his or her final decision” (Burzumato). Therefore, an emphasis on role-playing for marriage did not mean that teenagers were expected to find marriage partners immediately.
Currently, while dating can still be preparation for marriage, with people marrying at younger ages and sexual activity outside of marriage being the norm, dating has become more recreational (Hagedorn). This more casual approach towards dating has been encouraged by and encourages a more casual approach to sex. In fact, may young adults, especially those of college age, no longer engage in dating but in the practice of hooking up with another person solely for companionship and sexual activity (Hagedorn). That does not negate the fact that many people still engage in short-term monogamous relationships that have the same connotations as going steady. Interestingly enough, these relationships may have helped usher in the current culture of divorce:
Every time a steady couple “breaks up,” something like a mini divorce occurs, complete with a divorce settlement and custody dispute — a dividing up of the assets, property and other persons involved. Each party must return (or negotiate custody of) jackets, T-shirts, jewelry, CDs, etc. bought for each other or together. And what about friends? Who would get “custody” of mutual friends? I have known college couples, and even high school couples, to buy a pet together — goldfish, hamsters, etc., which leads to a dispute over the care-giving of a living creature (Burzumato).
When looking at dating practices as part of the culture at large, it is easy to identify the 1950s as a time of great change in the American social landscape. Though frequently portrayed as a conservative era that idealized the image of the nuclear family, the 1950s were actually a radical time for popular culture. American teens, previously confined to their homes and allowed to meet members of the opposite sex only in controlled environments, were permitted to date without adult supervision. Moreover, teenagers and their parents realized that some sexual behavior was to be expected in this new dating environment. The 1950s was followed by a major cultural revolution in the 1960s, which saw the beginning of skyrocketing divorce rates. However, it is important to realize that many of those divorcing in the 1960s and 1970s were dating in the 1950s. Finally, this change in dating behavior coexisted with the rise of rock and roll, a form of musical expression that has consistently emphasized sexuality. All of these cultural changes combined to change the face of American society into the America of the 2010s.
Burzumato, Skip. “A Brief History of Courtship and Dating in America, Part 2.” Boundless
Webzine. N.p. 8 Mar. 2007. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.
Hagedorn, Elizabeth. “Dating through the Decades.” Miami Quarterly Online. N.p. 9 Feb.
2009. Web. 26 Oct..