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Courtship is the process of selecting and attracting another for an intimate relationship such as love, sex, commitment, living together, marriage, and having children, or any combination of these. Courtship may last days, months, or even years, but some lovers skip courting altogether as in cases of love at first sight or arranged marriage.

Many couples stop courting or going out after they have chosen to remain together, or after they have married, or after they have children. Those that do still may still call these outings "dates".

Literally, dating means the act of going out on dates. In Western societies, a date is an occasion when one socializes with a potential lover or spouse: it is a pre-scheduled, usually exclusive meeting of two people with mutual interest in one another, to communicate with and to understand each other better through joint participation in one or more social activities during time away from work or school. In this sense, the purpose of a date is for the people dating to become acquainted with each other and decide whether they want to have a serious relationship.

Dating often begins at the teenage age, but younger children may date as well. Double-dating, when two potential couples go out on a joint-date, is particularly popular with young people. There may be even larger "group dates" in some cases.

During dates, people often explore each other's personalities, to discover whether or not they would be compatible together in a relationship. Usually, if the two individuals discover that they have poor or low compatibility, it signals the end of the relationship and there will be no "second date," and often no further communication at all.

Personal information often sought on dates include:

  • Attitudes
  • Appearance
  • Character and integrity
  • Direction and stages of personal growth
  • Expectations
  • Family, class, cultural and social background
  • Age difference and geographical distance
  • Habits
  • Health
  • Income
  • Interests
  • Maturity
  • Personal philosophy
  • Political views
  • Preferences
  • Priorities
  • Religious views
  • Sense of humor
  • Views on sex, marriage and child-bearing
  • Ways of communication
  • Wealth or financial situation
For dates, a person usually tries to display his or her best qualities, and be on his or her best behavior, or do whatever they think is needed to attract the other person, like dress up nicely and maybe use perfume or cologne.

While a date is going out to do something together (like having dinner and then visiting the theatre, or having a picnic at a park or on the beach), courting may continue to take place between dates, such as meeting online (also known as virtual dating), chatting on-line, sending text messages or picture messages, conversing over the phone, writing each other letters, and sending each other flowers, poems, songs and gifts, for instance.

During the early- and mid-20th century (1920s to 1960s), dating was considered to be a social pastime in which most single young people would participate. After the advent of women's movement, the men's movement, the sexual revolution, and other movements that have shaped modern Western culture, this "old-fashioned" form of dating waned in popularity, giving way to what became known as "hanging out" and "hooking up". Formal dating, where one person (usually the male) contacts another person (usually the female) to arrange a date gave way to more casual encounters, including casual sexual encounters.

Many people are now expressing a lack of satisfaction with this way of doing things. The popularity of online dating services is seen by some to indicate a growing desire among singles to meet for "traditional" one-on-one dates, and to date socially, without necessarily having the expectation of either a sexual relationship or a long-term romantic relationship.

In recent years, a surprising number of college newspapers also have featured editorials where students decry the lack of "dating" on their campuses. This may be a result of a highly-publicized 2001 study sponsored by the conservative American women's group Independent Women's Forum called Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Dating and Mating Today, and the ensuing IWF-sponsored campaign called Take Back the Date, which promotes "traditional" dating.

Double Your Dating

While the date is fairly casual in most Westernized cultures, in many traditional societies, courtship is a highly structured activity, with very specific formal rules.

In some societies, the parents or community propose potential partners, and then allow limited dating to determine whether the parties are suited.

In Japan, there is a type of courtship called Omiai. Parents will hire a matchmaker to provide pictures and résumés of potential mates, and if the couple agrees, there will be a formal meeting with the matchmaker and often parents in attendance. The matchmaker and parents will often exert pressure on the couple to decide whether they want to marry or not after only a few dates.

In some cultures, courtship is eliminated altogether by the practice of arranged marriages, where partners are chosen for young people, typically by their parents. Very conservative cultures may view "dating" as nothing more than a synonym for "having premarital sex," which they prohibit, particularly for women. Forbidding experimental and serial courtship and sanctioning only arranged matches is partly a means of guarding the chastity of young people and partly a matter of furthering family interests, which in such cultures may be considered more important than individual romantic preferences.

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Commericial Dating Services

Though most people meet their dates at social organizations, in their daily life, or are introduced through friends or relatives, commercial dating agencies emerged strongly, but discreetly, in the Western world after World War II, mostly catering for the 25–44 age group. Newspaper and magazine personal ads also became common.

In the last several years, mate-finding and courtship have seen changes due to online dating services. Telecommunications and computer technologies have developed rapidly since around 1995, allowing daters the use of home telephones with answering machines, mobile phones, and web-based systems to find prospective partners. "Pre-dates" can take place by telephone or online via instant messaging, e-mail, or even video communication. A disadvantage is that, with no initial personal interview by a traditional dating agency head, Internet daters are free to exaggerate or lie about their characteristics.

While the growing popularity of the Internet took some time, now one in five singles is said to look for love on the Web, which has led to a dramatic shift in dating patterns. Research in the United Kingdom suggests that as of 2004 there were around 150 agencies there, and the market was growing at around 20 percent a year due to, first, the very low entry barriers to setting up a dating site, and secondly, the rising number of single people. However, even academic researchers find it impossible to find precise figures about crucial statistics, such as the ratio of active daters to the large number of inactive members whom the agency will often wrongly claim as potential partners, and the overall ratio of men to women in an agency's membership. Academic research on traditional pre-Internet agencies suggests that most agencies have far more men than women in their membership. [citation needed]

Traditionally, in many societies (including Western societies), men were expected to fill the role of the pursuer. However, the anonymity of the Internet (as well as other factors) 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[s]" (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 two percent in 1999 to over ten percent 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-quarters of 18-to-24-year-old online consumers (74%) say they do. There is also some academic evidence that the 18–25 age group has significantly taken up online dating. This growing trend is reflected in the surging popularity of online communities such as Faceparty, Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, and Nexopia sites which are not directly geared toward dating, but many users nonetheless use to find potential dates or research a new acquaintance to check for availability and compatibility.

There is still plenty of room for traditional matchmakers to thrive, however, and only time will tell which industry wins out in the end.

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The Blind Date

A blind date is a date between two people who have never met and typically know little or nothing about each other. Blind dates are generally arranged by a third party, usually a friend of one or both daters, either to bring together people the third party thinks might be compatible, but who might otherwise never meet, or because one or both of the daters has specifically expressed an interest in a blind date. Alternatively the match may have been made by a dating system.

Blind dates have become more commonplace following the rise of the Internet, when people who have met in chatrooms or fora finally agree to meet in person. Afterwards, they are going to a place where they can have a time to talk and to know each other.

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