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(Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images) When I first began writing about the history of dating, what struck me most was how similar the problems of today are to the 1930s, the 1840s, and even the 1780s.From worrying about a partner’s financial standing, or whether someone was going to stick around long enough for you to have children with them, to persuading your parents they are indeed a good fit, the means by which we go about finding love may have changed, but not the hopes, dreams and anxieties we’ve had about discovering it.The trick was to guess whether someone showcasing a royal portrait had in fact met the royal in question.
“I paid such a terrible price for sex-ignorance,” she says in the preface, “that I feel knowledge gained at such a cost should be placed at the service of humanity.” In the 1930s, Marjorie Hillis, the author of , recommended that women stay away from affairs before the age of 30 while acknowledging that plenty of single ladies were inviting gentleman callers back to their homes at night, and that societal attitudes were changing: “A woman’s honour is no longer mentioned with bated breath and protected by her father, her brother and the community.
It is now her own affair.” Meanwhile, in the 1960s, ‘the pill’ didn’t quite provide the immediate revolution it has been credited with.
Meeting a lady on the street in Victorian England was a fraught business.
As the etiquette manual put it, you were never to introduce a lady to a gentleman, but always the gentleman to the lady, and must never offer an umbrella to a woman on the street on the basis that “No lady would accept the offer from a stranger, and the other sort of person might never return the umbrella.” Middle-class Victorians embraced a complicated ritual of giving out calling cards, and of making home visits according to a strict etiquette.
So much for the myth that male grooming is a recent phenomenon…
Once you were suitably styled, you needed to get a date’s attention.
The Georgians were mad for ‘lonely hearts’ adverts, which they would write and post via newspapers including the , later in matrimonial gazettes, circulated around London’s coffee houses, while the Victorians settled on the idea of the marriage bureau, an agency designed to match the middle classes, via photos and details about their hobbies.
In the 1930s, gay men and women would use the fan columns of movie magazines to drop hints about their sexuality by referencing Hollywood stars such as Bette Davis and Montgomery Clift.
In fact, the Victorians even had the own version of Instagram, exchanging – small portrait prints which would be organised into albums also containing images of celebrities and royalty.