Comments are welcome but please have the courtesy to sign your name. Unsigned comments will be deleted.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Evolution of Mennonite Dating Practices

This month our daughter and her husband will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. We're just that many years ahead of them, so do the math. That led me to think about how dating practices in our youth compared to theirs and then look back at the generations before. I'll begin with my grandparents. 
I don't know exactly how Grandpa asked Grandma for their first date. I've read that in that era the guy usually sent a letter to the girl to ask for a date. I don't know if Grandpa did that or not, but I do know they were from two different branches of the Mennonite church and met at a popular neighborhood swimming hole in the Conestoga creek. Grandpa's father operated a mill on this creek and one of his employees was dating Grandma at the time. I inherited a small clock that boyfriend gave Grandma. In those days, getting a clock from a boyfriend was often an engagement gift. So I believe Grandma and this boyfriend had a serious relationship. But then enter Grandpa. When he met Grandma he decided he wanted her and "stole" her away from her boyfriend. They were married at a minister's house in October 1908. She wore a gray dress which was the correct color for a wedding dress at that time. Years later, that old boyfriend was living in a retirement home. One of my aunts went there to visit someone and met him. When he learned who she was he said, "Your Pop stole my girlfriend." He never forgot that injury.
Grandpa and Grandma had four children. The youngest was my mother, born 13 years after the others. That put enough difference between her and her siblings for dating practices to change by her teenage years. When my aunts were dating (in the 1930s) they dated multiple guys and kept a date book to keep track of who had asked for the next date. They might have a date with one guy Saturday night and another Sunday night. If they decided to cross a guy off their date list and told him she was not accepting another date with him, he could ask for a "back date." One of my aunts said when the guy she eventually married asked her for the first date she accepted but said not until after she fulfills the "back date" she had with another guy. He had no problem with that and they started dating after she was "free." If a couple dated each other exclusively it was called "going steady." 
My mother's dating years were in the 1940s. Someone was waiting for her to turn 16 which was the acceptable age at that time to begin dating. From the time she turned 16 until she was married there were only two nights when she didn't have a date, and she said those two times someone asked to take her home but she refused because she didn't want him. She dated quite a few guys but never more than one at a time. Grandpa wasn't impressed with any of her boyfriends until Daddy came along. He was wishing to ask Mom for a date but never had a chance because she always had a date with someone else. Daddy asked his brother (husband of Mom's sister) for advice. His brother said, "You have to get your foot in the door if you want her; you can't wait until she's free." So Daddy went to her house and asked her for a date for that Sunday evening. She agreed and then felt terrible because she had a date with someone else on Saturday. She was determined not to date more than one guy at a time so she knew she has to break up with the other guy Saturday night. She and her best friend had arranged to go on a "double date" together Sunday night. The girl and her boyfriend were there waiting for mom's boyfriend to arrive and were shocked when a different guy came in the door. And the rest is history. Mom never dated any other guy and married Daddy in her home in October 1944. She wore a blue dress. 
Twenty years rolls around pretty fast and my generation was dating in the 1960s. Date books were a thing of the past and we never dated more than one guy at a time. Dating multiple guys would have smeared a girl's reputation. We had a very large youth group but no youth leaders. Dating was the way we learned to know each other. Couples often broke up after a couple weeks. We didn't take a relationship seriously until a couple dated about three months. Sometimes a couple broke up, both dated others, and months later got back together. If it was the second time around we usually considered it a lasting relationship. The age of 17 was the accepted norm to be allowed to date.
We usually went to church somewhere with our friends both Saturday and Sunday evenings. Since I was the only one in my circle of four girlfriends who had her own car, I was usually the driver. That prevented anyone from asking to take me home. Guys usually came to the girl's house to ask for a date. Mom had strictly warned me not to accept a date with any guy who sat in his car and blew the horn. If he wasn't enough of a gentleman to come to the door he wasn't worth dating. She need not have worried. That was a relic from her generation that had faded away in mine. My rule was that the guy had to ask me himself. I would not accept a date with a guy who sent someone else to do the asking.
After church on Sunday nights my group of girlfriends usually went to one of our homes to eat and talk until it was time to go home (midnight). On Saturday nights we often went to get something to eat at a drive-in and see who else was there. One Saturday night three guys who were together met my group of four girls. We decided to get into one car and go somewhere (I don't remember where). It was a tight squeeze for a Corvair with four in the back and three in the front. Someone had to sit next to the driver so I decided to be brave and got in. That was the beginning of a mutual attraction. For the next month we managed to be the same place every weekend and then he officially asked me for a date. 
Our dating years hit a speed bump when he was drafted during the Vietnam war and moved out of state to serve two years of alternate service in a hospital. We wrote letters which are still in my attic as out-of-state phone calls were much too expensive except in an emergency. On one occasion he did call me and took advantage of the newest direct dialing technology. That meant he did not have to speak to an operator to make the call but simply dialed my number (rotary dial) and it rang in my house. Amazing!
When his two years of service were nearly up, he asked me to marry him. I said, "yes, but you have to ask my dad first." He did and daddy said yes. We were married in the church where I was a member. I wore a white dress. We went to California on our honeymoon but called home once a week in case something important had happened that we should know about. We took our marriage certificate along as proof in case a clerk in a motel questioned whether we were married. No one did so I guess we looked old enough to be married.
Another 20 years rolled around and my oldest children were dating age in the 1980s. Eighteen was fast becoming the acceptable age to be eligible to date. The church had fractured into several parts which resulted in smaller youth groups. My children had youth leaders to plan and oversee activities. Young people learned to know each other in this way without dating. They often married  the first and only person they dated, which was very rare in my generation. And the guy secured the father's permission before taking the girl out for the first time. Young people went to Bible School or into voluntary service where they met young people from other states. The gene pool widened as they married and moved out of state. It became rare for a family to have all their married children living within a short drive of home or even attending the same branch of the church as their parents. 
This fall we were the grandparents at a wedding for the first time. Our grandson's dating experience was vastly different from ours. With cell phones at their fingertips, they didn't have to make plans for the next date a week in advance. Writing a letter would have cost more than a phone call. He traveled to California and could talk to his girlfriend from anywhere with the phone in his pocket, text, send pictures, etc. The clerk in the motel would have laughed in his face if he had waved a certificate as proof of marriage on his honeymoon. In fact, the general society would consider them odd for not living together before the wedding. 
Times change and customs change, some for the better and some for the worse. One thing that stands unchanged is the absolutes of right and wrong in the Word of God. What was sin in my grandparents day is still sin today no matter how the laws of the land may be changed to accommodate the moral decline of society. There is more than one way to do the same thing but there is only one way that is right.


Gary Good said...

Greetings Romaine,
I'm totally FASCINATED by your comments in the first two paragraphs when you say your grandparents (not sure if maternal or paternal),"met at a popular neighborhood swimming hole"! Could it be the same swimming hole where I spent many hours as I was growing up??---on Cider Mill Rd. near the covered bridge, where the mill which was called Fiandt's Mill (sometimes Bitzer's and later Eberly's). This was located a small distance downstream on the Conestoga Creek from the "Arm of the Conestoga", where we also spent many winter times ice skating.

Gary Good

Scribbler said...

You're right on target. My great-grandfather, Joseph Burkholder, operated Fiandt's mill. They moved there when grandpa (Mom's father) was 4 years old (1893-94)and that's where he grew up.