Generally, during much of recorded history of humans in civilization, and into the Middle Ages in Europeweddings were seen as business arrangements between families, while romance was something that happened outside of marriage discreetly, such as covert meetings. From about a worldwide movement perhaps described as the ""empowerment of the individual"" took hold, leading towards greater emancipation of women and equality of individuals.
Men and women became more equal politically, financially, and socially in many nations. Women eventually won the right to vote in many countries and own property and receive equal treatment by the lawand these changes zoosk dating service profound impacts on the relationships between men and women. In many societies, individuals could decideвon their ownвwhether they should marry, whom they should marry, and when they should marry. A few centuries ago, dating was sometimes described as a ""courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperone ,""  but increasingly, in many Western countries, it became a self-initiated activity with two young people going out as a couple in public together.
Still, dating varies considerably by nation, custom, religious upbringing, technology, and social class, and important exceptions with regards to individual freedoms remain as many countries today still practice arranged marriages, request dowries, and forbid same-sex pairings. Although in many countries, movies, meals, and meeting in coffeehouses and other places is now popular, as are advice books suggesting various strategies for men and women,  in other parts of the world, such as in South Asia and many parts of the Middle East, being alone in public as a couple with another person is not only frowned upon but can even lead to either person being socially ostracized.
In the twentieth century, dating was sometimes seen as a precursor to marriage but it could also be considered as an end-in-itself, that is, an informal social activity akin to friendship.
It generally happened in that portion of a person's life before the age of marriage,  but as marriage became less permanent with the advent of divorcedating could happen at other times in peoples lives as well.
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