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This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement.Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.

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It is a form of courtship, consisting of social activities done by the couple, either alone or with others.The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.Generally, during much of recorded history of humans in civilization, and into the Middle Ages in Europe, weddings were seen as business arrangements between families, while romance was something that happened outside of marriage discreetly, such as covert meetings.From about 1700 a worldwide movement perhaps described as the "empowerment of the individual" took hold, leading towards greater emancipation of women and equality of individuals.While pair-bonds of varying forms were recognized by most societies as acceptable social arrangements, marriage was reserved for heterosexual pairings and had a transactional nature, where wives were in many cases a form of property being exchanged between father and husband, and who would have to serve the function of reproduction.

Communities exerted pressure on people to form pair-bonds in places such as Europe; in China, society "demanded people get married before having a sexual relationship" and many societies found that some formally recognized bond between a man and a woman was the best way of rearing and educating children as well as helping to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings regarding competition for mates.It generally happened in that portion of a person's life before the age of marriage, enabled dates to be arranged without face-to-face contact.Cars extended the range of dating as well as enabled back-seat sexual exploration.Information about human sexuality grew, and with it an acceptance of all types of sexual orientations is becoming more common.Today, the institution of dating continues to evolve at a rapid rate with new possibilities and choices opening up particularly through online dating.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.