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How to Romance Like: The 1950s

Via: The Dating Culture of the 1950s at skidmore.edu

I am a sucker for old black and white footage, so when I saw a 1950s educational film about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of dating I was hooked on the strange yet familiar world of the artificial middle-class 1950s America. There are however many truths behind these films which show how different dating was seventy years ago and how the romance was perceived as a very different thing entirely. So, what was ‘romance’ like in the 1950s? Let's find out!

A Film from the 1950s: What To Do On A Date (1950) - YouTube

Getting Past Fleeing Eye Contact

Fleeing Eye Contact

Via: Eye Contact: How to Look People in the Eyes at artofmanliness.com

Before you could even go on a date you first had to find a partner to go on a date with. Men and women were not often seen just ‘hanging out together as we call it today. For a woman to go anywhere with a man on her own she would have to be somewhat ‘steady’ with the boy and she would have to ask for permission from her guardians first if she was still in her teens. 

So how did men and women meet? 

The school was a common place for people to meet and start the natural process of asking each other if they would like to meet for a date. Then they would need to decide what kind of date and how they would ask for permission from their parents. 

They might also meet outside of their normal everyday settings such as school or work. Without the age of internet dating, they had to get outside of the house if they hoped to meet that special period, whether at a dancehall or a diner. 

A 1950s guide on: How to Fall in Love | 1950's Guide for Teenagers - YouTube

An early 50s guide on: How to Be Well Groomed (1949) - YouTube

The Social Role of Women

Role of Women

Via: The Real Housewives of the 1950s. Miserable and imprisoned, or content…at Medium

Women had a very different role in 1950s society with different social expectations. Firstly, they were perceived as the bread cookers of the house, the cleaners, the child rearers, and the stay-at-home wife to their busy husband that bought home the money. 

Even as children this social conditioning was trained into them as they were given dolls to learn the skills of the family early on. To not be too loud and be sweet and refined young ladies. Good at cooking and sewing to name a few new skills trained into them at both home and school. 

They were encouraged to keep away from boys as those of the opposite gender could never be simply interested in them just as friends. Or the girl might lose her virginity before marriage and this was a particular social shame and worry for parents!

There was a lot more social pressure on women to find a good husband for she could not work in the same industries as most men. Society forced her into the role of mother and if she did stay single and worked she was often looked down upon by other women who held a husband and household.  In other words, an independent woman was seen as a threat to the good values of traditional society. 

A historical guide: How to be Pretty - 1940's Guide for High School Girls - YouTube

Discussing Popularity in  the 1950s Teenagers Discuss What Makes a Girl Popular - YouTube

The Social Role of Men

Role of Men

Via: Men's 1950s Casual Clothing History at vintagedancer.com

Men on the opposite side of the gender scale were perceived as the strong manly ones that worked hard to provide their families with the goods to survive. They were let loose at a young age to explore this wild side, to be mischievous and rough to develop the needed armor to survive in the adult world. 

They were the ones that worked during the day and came home to relax in front of the fire as they listened to their wife preparing their dinner. Perhaps with a paper in hand to read up on the day's events and try and ignore the humming of the radio that their children keep turning up too loud.

When it came to dating, men were the ones to ask the lady about the date. It was his responsibility to organize the exact details and then if the date goes well follow up with a second. Then if he was content he would then need to call up her parents to organize a face-to-face dinner to ask for permission to ‘go steady’ or future dates. 

There was an unspoken rule of ownership that parents had over their children, particularly women as they were perceived as the ‘weaker’ and more ‘emotional’ of the sexes and so needed to be protected. The man would ask the father for permission and if granted the process of translation would begin and conclude with marriage. 

Asking Permission

Permission

Via: Asking a Woman's Father For Her Hand In Marriage Before Proposal at The Art of Manliness

Although a lot about romance in the 1950s leaves a source taste in the month, there are some rituals that can still be incorporated into modern dating. That is the act of asking the parents for permission, maybe not for a date, but for marriage. 

If you asked for your partner's parents for permission, it allows the parents to feel like you acknowledge their role in your partner’s life. Although nowadays people are freer in their approach to love, marriage and romance, its still a great way to add some tradition to your dating process.

Dancing!

Dancing!

Via: This Is What Dating Looked Like More Than 50 Years Ago at bestlifeonline.com

How that the permission has been granted and you can now get the date underway! In the 50s people often went on group dates before they decided to go on a second date by themselves. One of the great past times was listening to rock ‘n’ roll music at a dancehall. Having a jukebox playing Elvis or Yakety Yak was a real party starter and allowed couples to have some fun whilst getting to know each other.

Milkshake Bar

Milkshake Bar

Via: 1950's date at a diner at reddit.com

Perhaps the most famous 1950s dating ritual was the milkshake bar as couples could dine, drink a milk delight, and stare into each others eyes… Sometimes they might even share the same straw! It was as close they could get when dating before they ‘went steady’ and made their relationship more official. 

Conversation and Romance

Conversation and Romance

Via: This Is What Dating Looked Like More Than 50 Years Ago at bestlifeonline.com

In the early stages of any friendship, whether you are dating or not, the first part is always the hardest bit as you get to know someone’s quirks. With dating you really don’t know if you’ll be the perfect match for someone unless you spend time with them.

Dating was a way for a man to get to know a women as most of the time men hung with men and only hung out with women unless he was romantically involved with her. The same was said for women. 

Conversations and romance were no different from today, except there was a lot more pressure on both parties to not ‘sleep around’ with each other and remin pure until marriage. So partners were seen as a serious thing and marriage too. For a man or women to grow up in a lot of ways it was expected that you would find someone and marry in order to become an adult. 

An educational film from the 1950s: How Much Affection? (1957) - YouTube

Parking and Cars

Parking and Cars

Via: Couple Over Car Bonnet, photo by Norman Parkinson 1957 at NormanPhotography

Even if the 1950s was desperate to hold on the traditional mortal values of the family and the premise of people remaining pure until marriage there was still the presence of a rebellious youth. 

Adults of the 1950s despised certain youth cultures and throught that the rise of rock ‘n’ roll was a danger to the future of their country. Whether you had the greesers that dressed in levis, with their slicked back hair, and leather jackets  or the teenagers that owned their own cars and went ‘parking’ there was a lot that disregarded the old traditions. 

Whereas dating had unspoken rules about purity, many did not listen to them as they went for rides in cars with boys or girls. The ownership of a car allowed for privacy which approved dating activities did not. And those that rode in many people’s cars often attracted the unwanted attention of school gossip…

So what was ‘parking’ exactly? Lets just say it threw purity before marriage out of the water.

An educational 1950s fild about ‘parking’: The High School Gossip | A 1950's Tale - YouTube

‘Going Steady’ and ‘Getting Pinned’

Getting Pinned’

Via: 1940s/1950s Teen Dating Fads & Expressions of Love at The Vintage Inn

The partnership of a man and women was a very serious affair and even if they were not marriaged or engaged yet they still might require something to show that they are official. Often the man would present their women a pin ‘getting pinned’ and if she accepted the gift then their relationship changed to ‘going steady’. Only when they are married however could they go any further then dates. 

Educational films about ‘going steady’ and the ‘concept of love’ in the 1950s:

Queer Romance on the 1950s

Romance on the 1950s

Via: Men in Love, 1850s-1950s: 'Loving' Book of Vintage Photos at Rolling Stone

There was a lack of positive LGBT material during my research of romance in the 1950s, possibly because much of the society outwardly alienated the queer community. Some films I did find were… horrific to say the least. But I am happy to tell you that gay love was alive and well! 

There were gay bars, gay magazines, and other positive moments which allowed the queer community to encounter others. It was hard without the internet, but they found a way through word of mouth or dressing in subtle ways to draw ‘their people’ together.

The way they dated in the 1950s would not have been too different from straight couples, except they would have had to hide it from the general public. They couldn’t marry in the traditional sense and so would have been in the state of ‘steady’, but the world did have those safe spaces even if to the media and government tried to ignore it. 

Marriage

Marriage

Via: The Ideals of 1950s Marriage Presented in Literature at The Fifties "Housewife" & it's Problems 

The purpose of dating for many in the 1950s was to find the perfect husband or wife to share a house and family with. Compared to earlier generations it was important to love the person and not just marry for convenience. Although, some closeted queers would have married someone just for what society expected of them and to hide from possible social persecution. 

The future husband would ask their future bride’s parents for permission and then they would tie the knot in a traditional way usually at  church. Marriages were impirtant affairs, but were not as crazy as we sometimes seen different events today. It was about keeping to the rites of the society and making sure everyone played the correct role in them. Such as abiding by gender roles, and remaining pure until the special day.

The question of marriage in the 1950s: When Should I Marry? (1957) - YouTube

Final Remarks

Final Remarks

Via: High School History: How Teenagers Invented the Way We Date at Time

The concept of the teenager was quite a modern idea in the 1950s, and they way they courted was both similar and drastically different to their ancestors. They still followed strict rules around gender, family, and society, but they were also just as tempted to break if not bend some. 

Aspects of the 1950s romance should harvested for a new generation of daters. However, in otherways I am also glad we have moved away from strict gender roles and the expectation we must marry. There is more freedom than before, but we could put our phone away sometimes and live like the times before. Go for a little dance date or share a shake with a special someone. Dress for the occasion, and rock away to some Elvis, but leave the sexism and pressure to please wider soceity behind.

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