How Dating Rules Evolved by
(215 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

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At the beginning of my senior year at the University of Michigan, I made a pact with Paula. We were fed up with all of the dating conventions and rules of that era and vowed to spend our senior year working on our minds. In that spirit, we went to see The Shop on Main Street. This Czech art movie had won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, so it fit in well with our plan to be intellectually challenged. It was also the night I committed the most anti-feminist act ever. I came with Paula but left with Fred.

As I reflect on dating from the time I became a teen to that fateful night when I met my husband-to-be, it was a pretty bleak time for a female.

As I reflect on dating from the time I became a teen to that fateful night when I met my husband-to-be, it was a pretty bleak time for a female. The rules were rigid and the power was in the hands of the male, who did the asking. My role was to be a passive participant, waiting and hoping, my only power the ability to reject the guys. I’m sure that possibility made it hard for them to summon the nerve to ask a female on a date.

My earliest experience with dating ended up being a non-date. A random boy saw me and my cousin at a youth Rosh Hashanah service when I was thirteen and asked me out. When I turned him down, telling him I was too young to date, he asked me to set him up with my cousin. This was also a no-go, as she was just twelve. The worst part of this experience was my mother’s reaction. She was disappointed her daughter didn’t want to start dating. After all, she explained, I was now a teenager. Time to get started and join the dating game.

Junior year prom

In high school, when I did start dating guys from my school, the rules of the game were well defined. The guy had to ask and pay. He came to the door, greeted the parents, opened the car door, and returned his date (me) home by the specified curfew time. Even though I was ready to go out with these relatively harmless guys who respected the conventions of how far they could go with a “nice girl,” my mother and I still disagreed about dating. My take was that if I couldn’t wait for a Johnny Mathis song to be done so I could stop slow dancing with a guy, I didn’t really like him enough to continue seeing him. Mom insisted if I just kept going out with said guy, he would “grow on me.” This may have worked with her and my father, but my retort was, “Then you date him.”

College dating conventions when I started at the University of Michigan were different but equally ridiculous. The guy still did the asking and paying. And if he didn’t ask enough in advance, it was considered an insult. In fact, it was better to turn him down and stay hidden in the dorm with other dateless coeds on a Saturday night than to go out with a group of girlfriends. Curfews were strictly observed and late minutes meted out if the coed did not return on time. Too many late minutes resulted in being grounded. The House Mother locked the door and the guilty party had to ring the bell to be admitted. It was expected that the guy would gift his date with a rose for every late minute incurred.

Thankfully, all of this changed during my college years. Women discovered they could go places dateless and still have a great time, perhaps an even better time. Students of either gender could initiate social plans. No more waiting by the phone hoping, as Vicky Carr sang in her 1967 song It Must be Him,

That’s when the phone rings and I jump
And as I grab the phone I pray
Let it please be him, oh dear God
It must be him or I shall die
Or I shall die
Oh hello, hello my dear God
It must be him but it’s not him
And then I die
That’s when I die

Awful. So glad those times are gone. In retrospect, I was extremely lucky to fall in love with my future husband that final year of college. By then, I lived in an apartment with three other women, so I was free to follow my own rules and make my own decisions about when I could call him or what time our dates would end.

The graduates

By meeting my future spouse before graduating college, I avoided the Looking for Mr. Goodbar scene. That method of meeting dateable men involved bar hopping and hoping you didn’t end up dead like the protagonist in Judith Rossner’s 1975 book and the 1977 film that followed. Many women I know found date-worthy men, and even life partners, this way. It was either that or fix-ups in the era of dating.

By the time my daughters were ready to date, it was fine to ask a guy (or girl) out or meet someone on and the multitude of dating sites that proliferated. In fact, one of them met her spouse that way. I’m so glad men and women are both in the driver’s seat, at least in the pre-COVID-19 era. I’m not sure how well zoom dating works.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    You captured the awful date dynamic perfectly. And the late minutes and being locked out from a dorm—yikes. The song “It must be him” words say it all. I mostly managed to avoid formal dates, and am so thankful rules changed. Also glad my mother never pushed any of us three girls into dating or babies, and encouraged self-reliance.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I loved my mother, but she was a product of her times and the choices she had in life. Also, she was 21 when she had me, so we grew up together. Her values totally shifted for her grandkids, which always amazed me.

    • Times have indeed changed!
      When I was in grad school in 1965-66 and age 21 , I lived in a graduate women’s dorm .
      We had curfews, and men (even our own fathers) were not allowed above the first floor lobby. And BTW this wasn’t a conservative school in the sticks, this was Columbia in NYC!

      A generation later when my son was in college not only were the dorms coed but the bathrooms were too.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, you state the rules of the game quite clearly. I am so glad we have moved past those. I lived by those in high school as well. I remember getting a call from someone I absolutely did NOT want a second date with and asked my mother to tell him I couldn’t come to the phone. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t interested in him and we had a shouting match about it (beyond the reach of the phone).

    By the time I got to college, everything had changed (one of the reasons I did NOT go to a school with sororities, but I think by 1970, everything was changing anyway). Both for better and worse. We still waited for guys to ask us out (and pay). By and large, activities were on campus (a few upperclassmen had cars to go off campus), but going out alone or with girlfriends was also acceptable. There were no rigid rules about coming and going from the dorm, who could stay over, when we had to be in, etc. But that left us more vulnerable to creeps, even predators (yes, I had one incident Freshman year that I have not written about). The early 70s saw a social revolution; times were changing quickly for the better, but left some a bit confused too.

    Having not dated in almost 50 years, I hope women are more assertive than I ever was.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Being a bit older than you, Betsy, I was married in 1968 and missed the 70s revolution of sex and drugs. But I saw it through the eyes of my younger brothers, whose dating experiences were far different from mine. I also missed most of the drug scene except for a few encounters with marijuana.

  3. Marian says:

    You have perfectly described those archaic dating rules, Laurie. Don’t they seem absolutely crazy now? I find it so refreshing that, in high school, my niece could go to the prom with a group of friends rather than endure the misery of having to be asked. Your mother’s approach to dating is really interesting because it was the polar opposite of my mother’s, who thought that dating in high school was utter nonsense and a waste of time, so I was not allowed to date–not that anyone asked anyway. Then, by college, a girl was supposed to somehow “magically” know how to date and find a husband. I certainly don’t miss those days.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I explained my mother in my response to Khati. She was a product of her own upbringing and the fact that her father denied her the chance to go to college. I loved her dearly but her dating advice was terrible. She did come to understand with her grandkids that life had changed in that regard, and for the better.

  4. Suzy says:

    Thanks for the memories! You describe those times perfectly!

    When that Vikki Carr song came out, it made me angry and nauseated at the same time. Although of course I did wait for guys to call me, and would not have dreamed of calling them until many years later. Still, I never sank as low as “It must be him or I shall die”!

    I also remember Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and if I ever thought of going to a bar to meet men, that book certainly dissuaded me. I was lucky that the places I worked when I was a young, single lawyer had lots of other young, single lawyers, so it was easy to meet guys to date.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Every time I think about dating, Vikki Carr’s awful song pops into my head. Like you, Suzy, I never despaired to the point of wanting to die. But it was awful to wait without having any agency of my own. So glad that changed!

  5. Yes Laurie, times have indeed changed!
    In fact the language has changed too.
    It seems two people are no longer dating, or going steady, or in love.

    Now they are “in a relationship”!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Like Suzy, Laurie, you have nicely written out the “rules” of dating as they were when we were in high school and college. They weren’t written anywhere — or at least not legally codified; there was probably some Emily Post-like book with them in it — but both genders fully knew and understood them. And they sure were restrictive on girls. Boys, too, in many ways, but we were still in the driver’s seat (as you also reference) — both literally and figuratively.

    So, many thanks for setting out the “rules” so well, and with an appropriately seething anger about their ridiculousness and double standards. And, yes, I am glad for everyone that, to continue the metaphor, the “rules” are in our collective rear view mirror.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It was interesting to watch these “rules” dissolve before our eyes. Unlike my parents, I was delighted that my kids were no longer bound by these ridiculous conventions. And I do get how they were as constraining for guys of our era, but in a different way. Your stories perfectly illustrated that point,

  7. Excellent compendium of dating norms for our generation, Laurie! Thankfully today’s dating norms have evolved to healthy, common sense notions of respect, equality, honesty, and safety…reflections of our society as a whole, that make you wonder what took so long…and why everyone isn’t onboard.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I missed the dorm rules (although the social ones were still in play, albeit less strictly). I do remember the Freshman Orientation meeting (August 1974) with us new students, parents and some Deans where one Dad asked, sort of hopefully, whether the U monitored or restricted access to dorms, especially at night. The Dean of Students had to break the news that the all the dorms were now co-ed and that the University no longer acted, as he put it, “in loco parentis” to the students.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    Laurie, a perfect picture of the dating scene then. My (female-only) dorm had a switchboard, which we each took turns “womanning.” Messages would be taken and left in your mailbox. I’m ashamed to say sometimes I let the messages from a boy pile up. I didn’t have the courage to face him and tell him I wasn’t interested in dating him.

    As for coed dorms, in my opinion you didn’t miss much. I experienced both types, and in the end I realized that it was GREAT to be able to go home at the end of the day and just hang out in my bathrobe with the “girls.” After all, I had already done the coed bathroom thing with my brothers.

    P.S. My father’s favorite song was “Let it Please Be Him”…it was cringeworthy then, too!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I hear you, Susan. I also shared a bathroom with my two younger brothers, so I was just fine with that aspect of female only housing. Funny how you “ghosted” guys by letting the messages pile up. You were a woman ahead of her time.

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