Back in Time for Winter

Dating in the 1950s Was No Picnic 

'Refrain from showing ‘affection’ in movie theatres' and other tips from a 1950s teen dating manual

'Refrain from showing ‘affection’ in movie theatres' and other tips from a 1950s teen dating manual

Teens have a real swell time on CBC's Costume Party in the late 1950s. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Teen dating in the 1950s was full of expectations and rules. While dating today may be trying — you need a Tinder profile that grabs people instantly and a social media presence that makes you look effortlessly exciting, even casual coffee dates somehow costing the better part of $100 — those challenges are nothing compared to what '50s daters faced.

Here are some real rules for dating, straight from the Marion S. Barclay's Teen Guide to Homemaking, an "official guide" for teenage life in the 1950s: 

"It is a good idea to have your family meet and approve of the people you know." 

While modern teens are fierce about their privacy and will text "here" when they're outside over ringing the doorbell, in the 1950s you had to show your face at the door. To the parents.

Sixty years ago, signaling your arrival by honking from the curb would have ensured you'd never be dating anyone on that block again! 

A potential date should be "punctual," and "clean-minded." 

The author also suggests being "likeable" and "well-groomed," which seem sensible, to the point that makes you wonder what made this rule important enough to write down in a book. It's worth noting that such criteria is tinged with a heaping dose of sentimentalism, as no one has truly been "likeable" since the advent of Facebook. As for clean-minded? Since #MeToo, our bar has been somewhat lowered to "demonstrably a mensch."

Simply getting places during a date in the 1950s sounds like an incredible amount of work. The hardest part regarding travel on dates these days is deciding how to split the fare on your rideshare app.

Also, my dirty mind only sees the very last part of these instructions, and this is why I would never be anyone's "clean-minded" anything. I am a '50s dating failure. 

When a boy takes a girl on a date, he should escort her to the door and help her open it.- Teen Guide to Homemaking

"When a boy takes a girl home after a date, he should escort her to the door and help her open it." 

Was arm strength an issue for women in the 1950s? Was Rickets really that much of a problem? Cars were built heavier back then, as were toasters and everything else, but luckily this "rule" has lessened with the advent of lighter vehicles (and women who are happy to close doors themselves). We're all for chivalry, but it's not a "rule" now like it was then. Front doors shouldn't need a burst of manly strength to heave open. 

"Refrain from showing 'affection' in movie theatres."

This rule proves that teenagers don't change; only decades do. It's hard to believe teenagers have been making out in movie theatres for almost a century! This rule still holds true today but is easily circumvented. Now that most people own screens in their own homes, private movie nights are easy and accessible. 

Refraining from showing "affection" in movie theatres is also mentioned several times in the manual, and it's kind of a relief that it needs to be mentioned repeatedly. It's good to know these "punctual" and "clean-minded" teens weren't completely bloodless.

Most modern 1950s dating knowledge comes from retrospectives like Back to the Future or Grease, and based on that, the sock hop decade looks exciting. But being a teenager during that era was a challenge, especially according to the prescriptive "rules" in this guide. Anyone who thinks "helicopter parenting" is a modern construct needs to read this manual. Honestly, it makes today's hyper-involved parents seem laid back. Even casual daters were told to be up to speed on the rules above, as well as having knowledge to do things like "safely extinguish fires," and "swim in groups." 

On second thought, if dates in the 1950s regularly involved fire and swimming, maybe it was more fun than it sounded.