Boomer parents bewail the hookup culture that they say has replaced dating, while their adult children stare into the abyss of Craigslist and wonder whether they even know what dating is.Yet we would submit that we know very well what dating is.And one of the things we know is that it is a historically bounded category, not an eternal one.

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Dating field video

Typically, the members of the prospective couple met in her family parlor, supervised by her female relatives.

To the present day reader, this mating dance may resemble nothing so much as a kind of awkward “office hours” of the heart.

But in the 19th century, the setting and rituals of calling powerfully symbolized the marriage one hoped to obtain from the process.

In each of these periods, courtship obeys a cultural logic that may appear inflexible.

But any strict definition of courtship would be misleading.

Because, in fact, each of these periods creates a field of possibility that can support a variety of romantic and sexual practices. For many centuries, the logic of middle-class courtship remained inseparable from the logic of marriage.To survey the field we face at present, we need a map. Before the dawn of dating, the dominant form of such courtship was “calling.” According to custom, young women in the Victorian era extended invitations to suitable young men, asking them to visit their homes at appointed times.Over the past 10 years, rather surprising things have come to be called “dating”: midnight invitations to parties-in-progress, hookups arranged entirely by email, or one-on-one excursions to movies and drinks with a friend with whom one has drunkenly slept.Some long-term partners use “dating” to describe the relationship that each of them has to a third, who supports both as their patron, while others take “dating” to mean lying about in their pajamas and queuing up yet another episode of Breaking Bad.No category could cover such a motley of activities unless that category had become almost infinitely malleable.And indeed the meaning of the term dating has grown so vague that it obscures the very thing it is supposed to capture.