Dating 150 Years Ago

Courting CandleDo you think most teenagers today could have handled dating in the 1800s?

Back then, a woman’s choice of spouse had to be approved by her parents. A mother only let men in the house that she believed were ‘fit companions’ for her daughter. Similarly, a father used a courting candle to set boundaries for his daughter and her suitor. He would light the candle when the daughter’s suitor arrived, and when the candle burned down to the top of the metal holder, the suitor had to leave. If the father liked the suitor, he would raise the candle, but if the father felt as though the suitor did not deserve as much time, he would lower the candle.

Women were chaperoned when they went to balls or dances, as these events introduced them to society. She remained close to her chaperone before and after dancing, and always kept in mind that dancing with the same man more than 3 times was improper. Teenagers and young adults refrained from sexual relations, while the average ages to get married in 1890 were 26 for men and 22 for women.

Expected behavior in the 19th century:

A Lady

  • Never rude, crude, ignorant
  • Has a positive attitude
  • Never uses slang or bad language
  • Accepts/gives compliments graciously
  • Never holds private conversations in public

A Gentleman 

  • Chivalrous
  • Stands up when a lady enters/exits the room
  • Always opens doors for a lady
  • Always walks on the outside of 1+ women
  • Never removes jacket before dancing

Queen Victoria and her family were respected role models. ‘Love tokens’ were given to show emotion. These tokens could include fans, gloves, handkerchiefs, flowers, painted miniatures, and love letters. Diamonds were popular on an engagement ring because they represented innocence. When a man decided he wanted a woman’s hand in marriage, he was obligated to ask for permission to marry from the woman’s parents. The notion of ‘romantic love’ was becoming more popular for marriage, as it included sincerity, honesty, and intimacy. After 1850, honeymoons became more and more common. When the practice first started, the couple used to travel with relatives, but later honeymoons were taken only by the bride and groom. Divorce was very uncommon until the middle of the 20th century.

Here’s a poem written by someone who lived in the era.

Marriage Advice by Jane Wells (1886)

“Let your love be stronger than your hate and anger. Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break. Believe the best rather than the worst. People have a way of living up or down to your opinion of them. Remember that true friendship is the basis for any lasting relationship. The person you choose to marry is deserving of the courtesies and kindnesses you bestow on your friends. Please hand this down to your children and your children’s children.”


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