There was a time not so long ago when asking a girl on a date really meant asking her parents if you could ask that girl on a date. These days, a girl might receive anything from a one-line text message (proper spelling optional) to a YouTube serenade, but her parents tend to stay out of that initial ask. How have we gotten so far from point A to point B? Let’s take a walk back through the decades to see just how things have changed.
In the 1950s, men did all of the asking. Full stop. Period. End of story. While this is still more of the norm today, breaking it isn’t nearly as taboo as it would have been then. In fact, a woman asking a man out in the 1950s would have been considered a little “forward.” This is why the iconic image from movies like Bye, Bye Birdie! is that of a girl lying on her belly talking on the phone – or, more to the point, sitting next to the phone, waiting for it to ring.
Generally, it was polite to give at least three days’ notice between ‘the ask’ and the date itself. On the girl’s side, it was polite to give an immediate answer – no hemming and hawing about it. While asking for permission from the girl’s parents was the respectful thing to do, it wasn’t the end all be all, as it would have been in the 30s and 40s.
With all of this formality involved, it shouldn’t be surprising that when a date happened, it was clearly a date. There was no confusion about whether or not you were just “hanging out” or if it was something more serious. It was something more serious. In fact, if that initial date grew into “going steady,” that meant there was at least some chance you would consider getting married later on. In that way, dating in the 1950s was a lot closer to the courting rituals of historic times, with marriage as the end goal.
Given the cultural revolutions that defined the 1960s, it was a time when your social rules largely depended on where you lived. Parts of the country maintained the traditions of the 1950s, and other parts surged into the new age of independence and feminism. So when you ask, “How were girls asked on dates in the 1960s?” the answer largely depends on where you were. In more conservative communities, asking a girl on a date still meant asking mom and dad and calling well in advance. In more liberal cities, some women asked the guy out instead.
In the 1970s, second wave feminism was going strong, making it even more likely for women to do the asking. Outside of this movement, however, men were still more likely to be the askers. That said, many of the 1950s dating rituals were gone by now. The casual nature of relationships meant that asking a girl out no longer had as much to do with getting yourself onto the marriage track. As in the 50s and 60s, asking a girl out usually happened over the phone, which meant having to make small talk with her parents. Accordingly, brushing up on your polite conversation starters was highly advisable.
The casual dating culture ramped up in the 80s, so if you were to go on an actual date, it was generally a big deal – definitely something to get dressed up for. Other than the occasional Gordan Gekko mammoth cell phone, landlines were still the primary mode of communication with all of the parental pitfalls we’ve encountered so far.
However, asking a girl out in the mall was also a distinct possibility. Somewhere between the Sbarro and the department stores was a dangly earringed, neon parachute pantsed land of teenage independence that not even the strictest parents could broach. Pickup lines were definitely reaching the height of their popularity, though they were also largely ridiculed (think Billy Ocean’s “Get outta my dreams, get into my car”).
Along with the rise of the boy bands came the rise of (drumroll please) the internet, which of course had a huge effect on how a guy would ask a girl out. But don’t get too excited yet. Teens who wanted to get online and chat the night away on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) had to connect through a landline. Unless you were lucky enough to have two landlines in your house, that meant you’d have to wait until the line was free, and that mom and dad could kick either member of the flirting party off whenever they had “important calls to make” (as if your teenaged love life wasn’t important!). What’s more, internet connection was as slow and as unreliable as could be, so it was highly likely a session would be interrupted just as the guy was getting up enough courage to finally make the ask.
When phones were picked up, the situation was much like it had been in previous decades, as the guy would have to call a landline and make chitchat with whoever picked up first.
2000s to Today
Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, cell phones and speedy internet connections became mainstream for most teens. This made the dating process more private than ever, allowing kids to text each other without their parents’ knowing. Because of this new found privacy, many previous dating rules were removed, making it far more normal for girls to ask guys out.
Communication in general has become entirely casual in both good and bad ways. It’s easier than ever to send a text and ask someone out without the fear of an in-person or on the phone rejection, but it’s also far easier to end that relationship over Twitter.
Whether you were a 2000s guy or a ‘50s girl, have fun enjoying memories. Are there any rituals you’d like to bring back? Let us know!