Life Before Swipes: Old-School Dating Rules

Call me old-school, but I love when a man treats me like a lady! Sure, it’s important to challenge gender roles every once in a while, but it still begs the question: is chivalry dead? I’m here to tell you that yes. Yes, it is. Well, if these dating rules have anything to do with it, that is. But it might not necessarily be a bad thing. Of course, it’s nice when a man pays for your meal or holds the door open for you, but back in the day, this meant you had to cook his food and stroke his ego.

A young couple sitting on the grass while looking off into the distance/Teenage boy and girl ride bikes on the beach as part of their date.
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From letting him choose which perfume you wear to lying about your overweight parents (I’ll explain), here are some of the most common dating traditions from the 20th Century. And let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s basically a feminist’s worst nightmare. Say what you want about millennials, but meeting someone on Tinder doesn’t sound too bad right about now.

Check out these courtship and dating rules people had to follow in the 1950s.

A Man Should Always Ask a Woman Out on a Date

Back in the day, it was absolutely unheard of for a woman to ask a gentleman out on a date. It may be shocking since nowadays, sometimes women propose! However, gender roles were a big deal in the 1950s.

A couple having a drink while on a date during the 1950s.
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Back then, a young male writer for Seventeen Magazine shared a piece of advice: “Growing up has taught me one thing: there is an infinite number of ways by which a boy can meet a girl. I’ve also found that once he meets a girl – and becomes interested in her – a boy must indulge in a sly, artful practice called pursuit.”

A Man Should Use Flattery to ‘Woo’ a Woman

Believe it or not, the idea of “pickup” lines only became popular in the 1950s. Since courtship was centered around a man’s pursuit, an opening line was essential to get things started. However, everything depended on how the women responded.

College-Aged man and woman flirting with each other on campus.
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The actual line was meant to be over the top, and the woman was expected to respond modestly and act flattered if she was interested. If the man wanted to go out with a woman, he needed to work hard and actually speak to her in person.

Young Adults May Date Only One Person at a Time

The concept of “going steady” also became popular in the 1950s. Teenagers were encouraged to find someone as early as possible so that they could get married by their late teens or early 20s. Tying the knot early was the norm back then.

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In a sense, going “steady” gave these youngsters a chance to “Play House” and strengthen their bond in the process. It helped high schoolers mature as they tried to understand the commitment and responsibility that comes with a marital partnership.

Ask Out Your Date by Wednesday

Asking someone out the day of was unacceptable and considered to be in very poor taste. It was basically a huge red flag. If a man wanted to ask a woman to go to the movies on Friday night, he needed to inquire by Wednesday – at the very latest.

Teenage boy wearing a varsity sweater walking alongside a girl after school.
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If a man did have the nerve to ask a girl out past Wednesday, she would almost always say no. If he did ask at an appropriate time, the lady was required to give a prompt response, and if she chose to reject him, she had to do so with extreme politeness.

A Lady Must Never Be Late

This one is just polite. Both parties were required to be on time for their date. If someone is late, the other person will likely think they had been stood up. Imagine going out and not being able to text your date your ETA?

 A woman in a pleated shawl touches up her eyebrows with make-up.
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When the gentleman arrived at her door, the lady was supposed to be completely ready. Trying to finish up their makeup at the last minute was considered rude and inconsiderate. Men were also expected to leave with plenty of time to drive to their date’s house. Getting lost was no excuse for being late. If men were able to do this before phones and GPS, there should be no excuse for lateness now, right?

Pick Her Up at Her House, and Come to the Door

Nowadays, people tend to meet their date at a bar or a public area. To be fair, we’re usually dating strangers, so this is the safe way to do it. However, in the 1950s, meeting your date at the movies or at a restaurant was considered rude.

A 1950’s couple in a convertible smiling back at the camera.
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The man was supposed to drive to his date’s parent’s home and pick her up. This way, the family can approve of the man before the date even started. With strict curfews, a young man was expected to bring the lady home at a reasonable time, and walk her to the door and make sure she got inside safely.

Parental Approval is Extremely Important

Back then, a chaperoned date was ideal and the norm for events like a school dance. However, group dating was popularized and encouraged as a way to keep these hormonal teenagers in check. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t always work.

a young couple sitting playing cards with an older couple.
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Communities began writing formal agreements between a girl’s parents and her date, stating what was and what wasn’t acceptable courtship behavior. Again, the parents needed to approve of these “steadies” because the couples often got engaged and walked down the aisle.

A Gentleman Always Pays for the Date

This has become a pretty controversial topic when it comes to modern dating. Who should pay? The girl or the guy? Should they split it? It always tends to make people feel uncomfortable, but it was very simple back then: the man ALWAYS pays for the date.

A couple at a restaurant looking over their menus.
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In the 1950s, this was non-negotiable. If a young man didn’t have enough money to pay for his date’s meal, he wasn’t meant to ask her out to begin with. Of course, today, if a woman asks to pay, it’s seen as polite and even appreciated, but it was once considered to be extremely emasculating.

A Man Orders for his Date

In the old dating world, a man always gave his date’s order to the waiter. When gender roles were strong and prevalent, a gentleman always took care of his date: picked her up, opened doors for her, paid for her, and in this case, placed her food order.

A waiter is taking an order from the couple sitting before him.
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It was actually considered rude for a woman to give her order to the waitstaff directly. Nowadays, even if you go out with an old-school gentleman, he probably won’t think to order for you. In fact, most girls find it offensive since they can speak for themselves.

Young Couples Must Exchange a Token of Affection

To make their relationship “official,” the couple would exchange a symbolic item. It was usually a ring or a pin. Of course, people now spend years dating and living together before considering being with this one person for the rest of their lives.

A couple arm in arm embracing each other in a hug as the woman shows off her new ring.
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But in the 1950s, commitment issues were less common. This item symbolized the couple’s plans to exchange wedding rings and vows eventually. It worked in the same way as an engagement ring does now. It was a way to show other suitors that the woman was “taken” and, therefore, off the market.

They Must Inform Each Other About all Plans

These days, it comes off as creepy and stalkerish to check on your partner’s whereabouts all day long. People are busy or working and don’t feel like it’s necessary to inform your partner where they are at any given moment. But, this was a dating rule in the 1950s.

A young woman is talking on the phone.
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You were forced to “check-in” on your partner’s comings and goings, and it was perfectly normal. It was assumed that they would spend weekends and evenings together and that they would attend all formal events as a couple. You could forget about having a “girl’s night out.”

No Kissing on the First Date

Many people don’t feel comfortable kissing on the first date, but back in the 1950s, it was considered scandalous and inappropriate. Instead, the couple would end their date with a polite handshake or a gracious hug. Then, the gentleman would walk his date to her door.

A fifties couple swinging and twirling in each other’s arms.
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It should be noted that with the rise of drive-in-movies, cars became a popular place to get to know your date a little better. Since parking was the way to “watch” a drive-in movie, communities would literally set up watchdog police forces to break up the “unseemly” activity.

Girls Should Lie About Their Lineage if They Have Overweight Parents

Throughout the decades, the world has really progressed when it comes to women’s bodies, beauty standards, and confidence. However, it took a long time to get here. In the 1950s, women were encouraged to lie about their lineage if their parents were overweight.

A skinny blond girl eating an apple and leaning against a pillar as a boy walks past fixated on her.
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In a 1958 issue of McCall, they offered a piece of dating advice: “If your mother is fat, tell him you take after your father.” Yes, that’s a direct quote, but wait, it goes on. It said that if your father was also overweight, “tell him you’re adopted.”

The Girdle was Everything

A girdle is a form-fitting garment worn to shape or support the body. These types of clothes have come back in modern times with companies like Spanx and Skims, but in the 1950s, the girdle was everything.

A woman is modeling a very tight dress, made possible with girdles.
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“Never underestimate the importance of your girdle” was mentioned in 1967’s The Seventeen Book of Fashion and Beauty. It was offered with some more advice like, “You can’t expect to charm a royal or ball or end up with Rex Harrison with sloppy speech habits.” Yikes! If you want a man, work on your speech habits!

A Lady Must Let her Man Cut His Own Steak

Apparently, nothing shows how manly you are as much as cutting your own steaks. In a 1965 issue of Good Housekeeping, there was an article entitled “120 Ways to Please a Man” (big surprise), and one of the tips included was to make sure there is always a “good, sharp knife” around.

A smiling man cutting up his own dinner.
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In 2021, gender roles have been challenged and continue to evolve. I wouldn’t even think that cutting a man’s steak would be considered emasculating in any way. Thankfully, I’ve never been on a date where the guy asked me to cut their food.

Spruce Up Your Veggie Game to Please a Man

In the same Good Housekeeping article, they mentioned: “If vegetables are something he can usually take or leave, surprise him with imaginative ones like peas dotted with tiny white onions or golden carrots with a dash of ginger.”

A smiling woman about to serve food out of a dish.
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Umm… I’m confused, are you supposed to be their wife or their mother? Luckily for us girls, we live in a world where we don’t have to make sure we remembered that dash of ginger. In fact, men can actually be the ones to cook dinner for us in this generation.

Skip Rope With Him to See How Rich He is

In this day in age, people tend to skip jumping rope altogether on a date. Unfortunately, most people don’t bring a jump rope to dinner. However, this was a common thing in the 1950s, and although it doesn’t sound too bad, the reason for it is.

A coy schoolgirl is wearing a jumper and carrying a skipping rope.
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In The Cool Book: A Teen-Agers Guide to Survival in a Square Society, Art Unger suggested skipping rope because “you’ll be able to tell whether he can afford to take out on the town by the jangling in his jeans.” Good thing I can support myself, so I won’t be jumping rope on any upcoming dates.

Don’t Forget to Talk to His Plants

In an article called Loving Gesture, in a 1977 episode of Cosmopolitan, it says, “He needs to be made to feel cherished, beloved, and adored to distraction too!” Yes, those were the words they chose to use. One of these loving gestures that the article suggests is “Say nice things to his plants.” (I’m serious.)

A woman is watering flowers on a balcony.
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I’m all for good energy and spreading good words and positivity into the universe. However, the fact that speaking to his plants was actually considered a “loving gesture” seems strange. I can love a guy without communicating with his flowers.

A Lady Should Accept Help From Her Date

In the Book of Everyday Etiquette, dating expert, Margaret Bevans advised women always to accept help in order not to embarrass their dates. Rejection is a huge fear in our modern era, but I can carry my own purse, thank you very much.

A 1950’s couple in formal attire, the man, is helping the woman put on her fur coat.
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“It is embarrassing to your escort if you refuse his services or beat him to the punch,” Bevans wrote. “If he offers on the stairs or crossing the street, accept it even if you don’t need it.” Look, if it’s that important to him, I’ll let my date take off my coat.

Girls Should “Say Shocking Things” to Avoid Awkward Conversations

If you want some more advice from Art Unger, who suggested you jump rope to see how rich the man is, we got it here: “Say shocking things – he’ll be too stunned to realize what a bad conversationalist you are.”

A headshot of a startled woman covering her mouth with her hand.
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First of all, that logic makes absolutely no sense. If someone kept making shocking statements, I would immediately realize what a bad conversationalist they are. Maybe that’s just me. What’s annoying is that Unger is suggesting that I am a bad conversationalist just because I am a girl. Rude.

A Woman Must Create a Relaxing Environment For Her Man

If you think you could balance a job and being a wife and mother, you should be thankful you’re living in 2021. Back in the day, a woman’s ultimate job was to create a relaxing environment for her husband.

Man and woman share a cut of tea in a clean and organized living room.
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A 1960’s home economics textbook stresses that when you’re man comes home, you should “have him lean back in a comfortable chair, or suggest he lie down in the bedroom” and “have a cool, warm drink ready for him.” The book noted that “you may have a dozen things to tell him.” Still, “the moment of his arrival is not the time.”

A Man’s Perfume Preference Mattered More Than the Woman’s

This is another dating rule that definitely doesn’t stand the test of time. McCall’s magazine told women in the late 1950s that they should “ask his advice on what kind [of perfume] you should wear.”

A man looking on as the model Jean Dawnay sprays perfume.
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According to the magazine, men apparently “like to think they’re authorities on perfume. I don’t get it. Men tend to know absolutely nothing about perfume. The last guy I dated used Axe as cologne, so excuse me if I take my girls’ perfume advice.

Girls Must Make Men Their Clothes

In 1967, a woman wrote into Cosmopolitan seeking advice about her unkempt surfer boyfriend. She got a response from Patrick O’Higgins, and… well, here is what he said: “Crochet him a long cardigan – with a Russian collar – and a seagull in flight on the breast pocket.”

A teenage girl using a sewing machine in her home.
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He went on: “Sew him long Bermuda shorts in vibrant stripes that you can recognize three hundred yards away; embroider him a T-shirt with his club’s insignia; cut him an old-fashioned aviator’s cloth helmet to keep his hair out of his eyes. And, when he comes back to you… rub lanolin cream on his knee bumps.”

Ladies Should Only Discuss “The Things He Wants to Talk About”

Here is another piece of dating advice that certainly didn’t age well. In a 1938 article in an issue of Click Photo-Parade Magazine, the publication offered a dating tip for women: “Please and flatter your date by talking about the things he wants to talk about.”

Teenage couple sharing one soda bottle with two straws.
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These are their words, not mine! More of the tips include, “Don’t drink too much, as a man expects you to keep your dignity all evening.” It’s funny because nowadays, “don’t drink too much” is advice we give women when a man doesn’t expect them to keep their dignity all night.

Girls Weren’t Supposed to Ask Too Many Questions

Here is a chauvinist piece of dating advice from Betty Allen and Mitchell Pirie Briggs from their 1964 book, Mind Your Manners: “Go slow on the telephone calls and such remarks as ‘Where have you been all this time?’ That’s a poor way to win him. Be a good companion, and he will come back for more on his own initiative.”

A young couple sitting on the grass white looking off into the distance.
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Thank you very much, Betty and Mitchell. Now when exactly were you planning on telling men to make nice remarks and be good companions? It’s not my job to bottle up my feelings in order to please a man.

Girl’s Should Never Ask the Boy Out as They Will Seem “Too Eager”

In the 50s, women who invited men to a show or concert were seen as way too forward. It was highly uncommon for a lady to ask the guy out. In her 1956 advice book, Campus Cues, Irene Pierson wrote, “The girl should not buy tickets often.”

Teenage couple eating hotdogs outside at refreshment stand table.
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I guess this plays back into one of the most common dating rules in history: playing hard to get. Just like you shouldn’t accept a Friday evening date if he asked after Wednesday (in the 1950s), this rule is intended for women not to seem “too eager.” Thankfully, this version is completely outdated.

Women Must Control Their Urges.

In her 1961 book, Since You Ask Me, Ann Landers asks, “Of course, sex is natural. So is eating. But would you sit down at the dinner table and pull the leg off a turkey or scoop up the mashed potatoes in your hands?” Yes, Miss Landers, I probably would.

A woman is picking out some items at a fruit stall.
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“Would you grab the fresh rolls of a bakery counter and stuff them into your mouth? Of course not, because civilized people are expected to control their natural instincts. This distinguishes men from beasts.”

The Lady’s Role on a Date Was to Focus on the Guy, Not Herself

Do you want a guy to like you for your brain, charm, and personality? Well, in the early ‘60s, none of that stuff mattered. “Stop thinking about the kind of image you’re presenting to him… and focus the lighting on him,” Abigail Wood expressed in a 1963 issue of Seventeen Magazine.

A smiling man is showing good form in bowling as his date watches from behind.
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“He’ll like you for being interested; he’ll feel more confident, and nothing brings out the hidden best in a person more than the feeling that someone genuinely cares to know him better.” Nowadays, we have to be funny, smart, or something to attract a guy. Just acting like you like him doesn’t cut it anymore.

Be Modest, and No Nagging!

In the 1973 “Ten Commandments For Today’s Wives” by Abigail Van Buren (aka Dear Abby), the author shares advice. One of her tips was: “Forget not the virtue of cleanliness and modest attire.” Because, of course, women had to clean and look pretty at all times.

A headshot of a woman wagging her finger disappointingly at the camera.
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This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though. I mean, some of these other commandments include: “Thou shalt not withhold affection from thy husband for every man loveth to be loved,” and “Thou shalt not nag.” Good things it’s 2021 because ill nag if I want to nag.

Compliment Your Man

In the 1959 advice book “She-Manners: The Teen Girl’s Book of Etiquette,” Robert H. Loeb wrote, “Compliment him on his physical prowess, his mental acumen, his good looks, his virility… lay it thick but subtly.” There is nothing I love more than getting dating advice from a man.

A couple having dinner at a restaurant.
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Oh, and he went on: “Stroke his ego. Let him think he’s king much of the time. He will love you for it, and, you know, it will make you feel extremely feminine.” To be honest, I think being treated like a queen would make me feel more feminine than stroking a guy’s ego.

Think of Him, Before You Think of Working

These days, women can start a career instead of being home-makers and relying on their husbands. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the 1950s. A woman couldn’t get a job without considering how it might make her husband feel.

A housemaker wife is leaning into kiss Businessman as she hands him briefcase.
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“Psychological and emotional benefits and hazards must be considered, from the point of view of both husband and wife,” according to Clifford R. Adams, ph.D., as he wrote in an article in the May 1960 issue of Ladies Home Journal. “Will the husband resent his wife’s success? Will he be grateful that she, too, is glad to stay home at night after a day at the office?”

It’s Always Her Fault

In a 1959 issue of Ladies Home Journal, a woman wrote about her husband’s opinion on her “daring way of dressing” and “teasing behavior around men.” This was Adam’s advice: “To persist in mannerisms or actions distressing to your husband is to indulge yourself. It reflects a lack of consideration and suggests disrespect. Ask yourself if self-discipline for his sake might not be more rewarding than self-indulgence.”

A woman gestures with her index finger as she scolds her husband, who stands with his arms folded in front of her.
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Instead, the girls just told her date what she wanted to eat, and he would order for her since he was the one essentially “hosting” the date – picking the restaurant, reserving a table, paying. So, it was thought men should be in charge of the whole dining experience.

You Have to Dress up

Back in the day, a woman’s job on a date was basically just to look pretty. Since women were seen more as objects than people, they weren’t valued for their talents, intelligence, or humor. It was all about being a stay-at-home mother, living to please her man.

A woman in a cocktail dress dancing with a men's empty jacket.
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These days, it takes way more than good looks to win a man over. As the world continues to progress, men understand that girls add real value to the world. Instead of spending so much time doing your make-up and making sure your hair is perfect, you could just hang out and talk about your dreams and accomplishments.

Always Let Your Date Open The Door for You

In the 1950s, it was considered bad manners if a man didn’t open the door for his date. And gentlemen also would have never forgotten to pull out the chair for you. This one is sweet and makes a lady feel special. But how necessary is it?

A young boy is opening the door for a girl.
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According to psychologist Dr. QuaVaundra Perry, “If these things are important to you, however, you should tell your prospective partner. You may just find out that they prefer to show chivalry in other ways you haven’t considered.”

Skip the Serious Topics

We have all been there; first date conversations can be super awkward. But what makes them worse is when you hold back about serious topics. For some reason, the dating rule was that people shouldn’t show too much of themselves at first. This meant no emotion, no personal questions, and certainly nothing about politics or religion.

 Teenage boy and girl ride bikes on the beach as part of their date.
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But times have changed. “We should be able to talk about money, sex and politics in the 21st century,” according to Maryanne Parker of etiquette company Manor of Manners. “A date isn’t a networking event or a business meeting where you can’t discuss uncomfortable subjects. Otherwise, how will you learn about each other’s views, opinions, and interests.”