In our interview with Donna Freitas, Sex, lies, and hook-up culture, Freitas joked with the editors that though it would be an interesting project, she doesn't know the history of hook-up culture.
Well, here are some insights into college dating in the 1950s.
Some of the observations that Nora Johnson makes in The Atlantics' Sex and the College Girl of college dating scene in the 1950s are similar to what we have today. Freitas describes the freshman girls heading out to parties in large groups and in little clothing, while Johnson says, “During my first two weeks at Smith I felt rather like a display in a shop window.” The results, however, are quite different, with today’s girls ending the night in a hook-up and the 50s girl finding herself “tie[d] up for the next eight Saturday nights, the spring prom, and a house party in July.” It seems 1950s men were looking for “dating security” as Johnson calls it.
The most interesting comparison of today and yesterday, though, is where sexual ethics come from. Freitas says a lot of it comes from the movies or their parents (perhaps even this 1950s generation). According to Johnson, the movies (and not their faith) played a strong role back then, too. And in both time periods, young people are left confused. Johnson:
"The fact is that, lacking a solid background of Christian ethics, most girls have only a couple of vague rules of thumb to go by, which they cling to beyond all sense and reason. And these, interestingly enough, contradict each other. One is that anything is all right if you're in love (romantic, from movies and certain fiction—the American dream of love) and the other is that a girl must be respected, particularly by the man she wants to marry (ethical, left over from grandma). Since these are extremely shaky and require the girl's knowing whether or not there is a chance of love in the relationship, sex, to her, requires constant corroborative discussion while she tries to plumb the depths of a man's intentions. …Clinging to her two contradictory principles, she tries to be a sexual demon and Miss Priss at tea at the same time; she tries not to see what strange companions love and propriety are."
Has dating ever been easy? Perhaps as young people struggle to figure out what they do and do not want from the other sex, it'd be good to reflect on the good and bad of previous generations' tactics.