Dating in the 1920’s (or, Obligations Since the 1920’s)

Dating is a social trend that apparently started around 1920. That is, dating as defined by two young people going out to do something (often dancing or movies) together, alone. Several sources on the subject point to the accepted dating trend of “rating and dating” and “petting and paying.”

The first of these all-too-cute phrases, rating and dating, refers to competitive dating, or young men with more money and material goods were more able to date more, and more attractive young women. It seems to me that this had actually been going on for some time, but with marriage in mind. In the 1920’s it probably changed to a less-committed and younger crowd.

The second phrase, petting and paying, refers to young men who would pay the young women’s way on the date, and at the end of the date they would sit in the young man’s car and “pet.” Petting could include just about every sexual act short of sexual intercourse, although probably not as much oral sex as is seen in teenage crowds these days. But really anything that would not get a young girl pregnant was fair game.

Now, I’m not sure how your teenage dating lives went, but mine were pretty different than what is described here. Not, that is, the rating and dating system. That was firmly and uncontroversially in place. The primary difference was that I tended to pay my own way in order to avoid the feeling of obligation to make-out, or pet. Occasionally, on a particularly romantic evening, a young man who was a long-standing boyfriend would pay my way. But I was always slightly uncomfortable with that arrangement, I was somehow aware of this history of sexual obligation (perhaps my mother had connected those particular dots for me?) and sought to buck the trend.

So what are the dating trends that are affecting you or your son or daughter? What are the subtle obligations and expectations about sex and money that unfold during a date? How did you/are you handling them?

(The pictures at the top of the post are, of course, Mary Astor and John Barrymore, who dated from 1924 – 1925, with thanks to

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.