HISTORY OF IDEAS Dating – Free Ebook

Our present dating habits can feel like a
natural part of existence, but in reality,

they’ve only been around for a very short
time and, we predict, won’t continue for

too much longer in their current form. Dating
has a history, which it pays to try to understand

as we navigate the ritual’s paradoxical
and often confusing priorities. Let’s take

a selective look backwards – as well as
a peak forwards – at the history and future

of dating: 27 March 1489, Medina del Campo,
Spain In a treatise signed between England

and Spain, the two-year-old Tudor prince Arthur
is formally engaged to Catherine of Aragon

– who is at that point three years old.
It’s an extreme example of what is an entirely

normal practice all over the world in the
pre-modern era: relationships are strategic

transactions between families, where the feelings
of the couple themselves are of no importance

whatsoever. The idea that you might love,
let alone be physically attracted to, the

person you end up with would be deemed profoundly
irresponsible, if not plain peculiar. July

1761, Amsterdam, Netherlands The publication
of Julie, a novel by the French Romantic philosopher

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which becomes the fastest
selling book ever written. The novel tells

the story of Julie, a beautiful young woman
from an aristocratic family who is expected

to marry someone of her standing – but,
contrary to all the rules, falls in love with

her middle-class teacher, Saint-Preux. However,
they cannot get married because of the differences

in their social status. Rousseau is on the
side of the unhappy couple – and his novel

is the first major statement of the idea that
relationships should essentially be founded

on the feelings that exist between people,
and have nothing to do with class, lineage

or family concerns. But, as yet, Rousseau
and his novel see no way of upturning the

social order: you still marry who your parents
and society tell you, but now at least, with

Rousseau’s help, you can feel very sorry
that you have to. March 1855, Rome, Italy

In the major Italian novel of the 19th century,
I Viceré, by Federico di Roberto, two characters,

Lucrezia and Benedetto, are in love but can’t
marry because Lucrezia’s mother refuses

to give her permission on the grounds of social
propriety. Crucially, the mother is shown

to be old-fashioned and narrow-minded; couples
formed by ‘reason’ are, the novelist suggests,

a lot less happy than those guided by instinct.
The book works with the growing Romantic assumption

that relationships should be based on sentiment
and that the best chances of finding someone

we can get on well with over a lifetime is
not to find out what their job is or whether

they come from a good family, but whether
we experience an overwhelming physical and

emotional attraction in their presence. Marriage
must be a union consecrated by feeling. 1892,

London, England The most successful comic
play of the year – Charley’s Aunt – turns

on the fact that Charley has invited Kitty
to lunch on a date but, at the last minute,

learns that his aunt won’t be able to join
them. This creates a panic because a dating

couple should have a chaperone, an older woman
whose presence will ensure that nothing very

intimate can be said or done. Charley’s
solution is to get a male friend to put on

a dress and impersonate his relative. The
comedic atmosphere of the play suggests that

the old rules around dating are firmly on
their way out and are accepted as having some

of the fustiness of a maiden aunt. The audience
is meant to agree that dating is for the best

when couples are left on their own to discover
how they feel; there should even be a kiss

at the end if things go swimmingly. 1914, Eastbourne,

England The young George Orwell gets into
trouble at school when he is caught reading

Youth’s Encounter by Compton Mackenzie:
the first novel published in England that

describes unsupervised adolescent dating.
We’re starting to move beyond the odd chaste

kiss: dating starts to be about sex as well.
June 23, 1960, Washington DC, USA The US Food

and Drug Administration approves the first
oral female contraceptive pill. The idea that

a date can happily and uncomplicatedly lead
to sex becomes not only an emotional but now

also a practical possibility. Los Angeles,
1998 Speed dating is invented and the romantic

comedy You’ve Got Mail – the first major
film based around online dating – is released.

Both encourage the idea that it’s important
to search very widely before selecting a possible

partner. By now all the elements of modern
dating are finally in place: firstly, parents

have nothing to do with it; secondly, all
considerations of money and social status

are deemed ‘un-Romantic’ and unimportant;
thirdly, you are meant to be swiftly emotionally

drawn to someone in order for a relationship
to be deemed legitimate and viable in the

long term; fourthly, sex is interpreted as
a central part of getting to know someone

– and lastly, you’re meant to have a lot
of dates (and possibly meet quite a few horrors

on the way) before finally and happily settling
down with that archetypal figure of the modern

dating scene: The One. Brussels, March 2009
The European Union releases a report that

reveals that 50% of married couples in countries
across the union end up divorced after fifteen

years. Though entirely ignored by Europe’s
dating couples, the report quietly raises

the question of whether instinct is really
any better guide to a good conjugal life than

the old parental or societal rules used to
be – as well as hinting at how much more

miserable we can end up being when the sole
justification for relationships is understood

to be the intense emotional and sexual happiness
of the two participants.

Singapore, May, 2075 Artificial Intelligence has finally
arrived, human nature has at last accurately

been understood – and dating as we know
it dies.

Machines now swiftly find for us the optimal choice of
partner for a lifetime together. They know

who is available, what our quirks are, and
who out there can best compliment them. All

the rigmarole of dating in the Romantic era
is done away: we no longer have to wonder

whether we have found the ‘right’ person;
a machine that we trust as much as we now

trust doctors, tells us when we have located
our destiny. We no longer have to rely on

chance or random encounters. We no longer
have to keep asking our friends and hoping

to be introduced. We don’t have to listen
to our parents, we don’t have to take along

a maiden aunt, and nor do we have to listen
to those equally unreliable entities, our

subjective feelings. Couples are not always
deliriously happy, but they at least have

the satisfaction of knowing that they are
with the person they should, all things being

equal, be with.

Way back in 1489, there wasn’t any choice
for Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon;

now there is no choice either, but in 2075,
it is a psychological machine that has determined

the choice for us. Occasionally, people get a little
nostalgic and curious about the old-fashioned,

rather haphazard and sometimes thrilling Romantic
way of dating. Some of them might dress up

and recreate the ritual, like people who nowadays
have fun on weekends trying out what it was

like to row in a long-boat or live in a wigwam…
All of which should give us a humbling sense

of how particular and complicated contemporary
dating truly is. We shouldn’t blame ourselves

if, at the end of yet another barren or ambiguous
date, we feel in need of a little guidance.

If you want to learn more about love try our cards that help answer that essensial question, “who should i be with?”

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