Dates romantically sharing a chili cheese dog, in a dream sequence
Courtship (sometimes called dating or going steady) is the process of selecting and attracting a mate for marriage.
In many "traditional" societies, courtship is a highly structured activity, with well-known rules. In many societies, courtship is reduced to a minimum, or eliminated altogether, by the practice of arranged marriages, where partners are chosen for young people, typically by their parents. In some societies, the parents or community choose potential partners, and then allow limited dating to determine whether the parties are suited.
In liberal Western societies, a date is an occasion when one socializes with a potential lover or spouse. In this sense, the purpose of a date is for the people dating to get to know each other and decide whether they want to have a relationship. However, the term is also used to mean a social evening between people who have an established relationship, particularly if the goal is to relax away from day-to-day responsibilities, such as caring for children. Dating may be the term describing the relationship of two people attending a date, but other terms are often used. These terms can imply different degrees of commitment and monogamy, but with some ambiguity. In the mid-20th century, United States teenagers commonly dated or "went out" with multiple people before "going steady" with just one, but the term "going out" later came to imply an exclusive relationship.
The development of telecommunication and computer technology in the late 20th century has introduced new dynamics into courtship, including the use of telephone- and web-based systems to find prospective partners, and for early dates to take place telephonically or online via instant messaging, e-mail, or even video communication.
In the United States around the 1990s, a movement against dating and casual romantic relationships arose in the conservative Christian community. This movement favored a more family-oriented model of Christian "courtship," as reflected in the writings of Elisabeth Elliot (Passion and Purity) and Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), and rejected by Jeramy Clark (I Gave Dating a Chance).
In Japan, there is a type of courtship called Omiai. It is a formal date with the intention of finding someone to marry.
Courtship activities are widely observed in the animal kingdom, where they play their part in the process of sexual selection. See: animal communication.
Technology's effect on courtship
In the last 5 years, the mechanics of courtship have seen changes brought on by the advent of online dating.
While the move to the Internet took some time, currently one in five singles now looks for love on the Web, which has led to an interesting shift in dating patterns.
Where traditionally, men filled the role of the pursuer, the anonymity of the Internet has allowed women to take on that role online. A recent study indicated that "women pay to contact men as often as the reverse, which is quite different from behavior in telephone-based dating system" (from Wired magazine).
The trend of singles making a Web connection continues to increase, as the percentage of North American singles who have tried Internet dating has grown from 2% in 1999 to over 10% today (from Canadian Business, February 2002). More than half of online consumers (53%) know someone who has started a friendship or relationship online, and three fourths of 18-24 year old online consumers (74%) say they do.
There is still plenty of room for traditional matchmakers to thrive, however, and only time will tell which industry wins out in the end.