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10 Fascinating Facts About the Evolution of Dating and Courtship

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The rituals of courtship have evolved over time, and what is considered romantic today would have been scandalous, if not criminal, less than 100 years ago. As revealed in Moira Weigel's Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, a remarkable history of the subject, here are 10 things you might not know about dating and courtship over the years.

1. IT WASN'T ALWAYS CALLED "DATING."

According to Weigel, “date,” in the context of relationships, reaches back to 1896. It was first used in a newspaper column in which a young man laments that his girlfriend is seeing other people—that they are "fillin' all my dates," as in "the dates on her calendar."

2. IN 1900, DATING COULD BE A FELONY.

At the turn of last century, dating was still a new concept and law enforcement wasn't sure what to make of it—but they were sure something sordid was going on. A young man and woman meeting in public, him buying her food, drink, and gifts: well, it was veritable prostitution in the eyes of authorities, and women could be arrested for it.

3. DATING INTRODUCED PRIVACY TO THE PROCESS OF COURTSHIP.

Ironically, a man and a woman meeting in public was the best way to have some privacy. Before dating, courtship involved suitors calling on prospective partners in the family home. And since McMansions were not yet a thing, it meant the parlor or kitchen, where there were always eyes and ears close by.

4. DATING QUICKLY BECAME A BIG BUSINESS.

Before dating came into the picture, "courtship" and "calling" were conducted with the express goal of marriage. It was a family affair, as callers meant heirs, property, and happiness. The newly established dating industry, however, had other goals in mind. Marriage would hurt business. "For the first time in human history," writes Weigel, "dating made it necessary to buy things in order to get face time with a prospective partner. This remains true today."

5. CONSUMER GOODS WEREN'T ALWAYS PART OF COURTSHIP.

Whereas before, the compatibility of prospective couples was determined by land, status, and wealth, with the onset of industrialization and the rise of the middle class, consumer goods became a go-to method for determining compatibility with a potential partner (e.g., comparing phones or favorite albums.) "Taste" would become a central element of courtship, and is still used to telegraph status today, however subtly.

6. DEPARTMENT STORES CHANGED EVERYTHING.

Department stores brought those of humble means into contact with those of wealth. The shopgirl selling fashion learned to imitate her buyers, and labels would come along that could let anyone look rich. "Driven by anxiety, as well as romantic ambition," writes Weigel, "the shopgirl drove a kind of arms race. The more effectively she sold fashion and beauty culture to her clients, the more mandatory participation in that culture became. It was just what the economy needed."

7. WEARING MAKEUP HAS ITS ROOTS IN DATING.

Before the 1900s, the only women who wore "painted faces" were actresses and prostitutes. (Previously, a natural look, it was said, demonstrated "clean living.") To make their product mainstream, the cosmetics industry renamed their goods "makeup," with the lofty, admirable goal of "making oneself up" to express femininity.

8. EVEN 18TH-CENTURY PARENTS ALLOWED SERIOUS COUPLES TO FOOL AROUND.

Societal mores before the 20th century weren't so rigid as you might think. According to Weigel, "In the United States, a long tradition gave courting couples tacit permission to engage in sexual behavior so long as they stopped short of intercourse." Young couples could sleep in the same bed, provided they were each "tarried," or sewn into cloth sacks. "Benjamin Franklin reminisces about how the parents of his first marriage prospect encouraged him to fool around with their daughter. They would invite him over and leave the two of them in the parlor alone. Versions of this wink-winking permissiveness toward serious couples persisted up through the Calling Era."

9. HIPPIES WERE LATE TO THE FREE LOVE GAME.

With the rise of Marxism and feminism in the 1800s came the belief by some activists that marriage was itself "sexual slavery." Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, described herself as a "free lover" with the inalienable right to love whomever she chose, whenever she chose, for however long she chose, "and with that right," she said, "neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.” 

10. THE "BIOLOGICAL CLOCK" PANIC WAS BASED ON BAD NUMBERS.

Warnings of the so-called "biological clock" first appeared in the 1970s and quickly gained traction as a major source of anxiety for women in the workforce and an impediment to career advancement. (A direct sexism came with this; the male biological clock was ignored completely, giving men all the time in the world to "play the field.") But heavily quoted "clock" statistics were tragically flawed, drawn from French birth records from 1670 to 1830. As one journalist explained, "millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment."

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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