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The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.
While the term has several meanings, the most frequent usage refers to two or more people exploring whether they are romantically and/or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other.
Women eventually won the right to vote in many countries and own property and receive equal treatment by the law, and these changes had profound impacts on the relationships between men and women. In many societies, individuals could decide—on their own—whether they should marry, whom they should marry, and when they should marry.
A few centuries ago, dating was sometimes described as a "courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperone," but increasingly, in many Western countries, it became a self-initiated activity with two young people going out as a couple in public together.
Still, dating varies considerably by nation, custom, religious upbringing, technology, and social class, and important exceptions with regards to individual freedoms remain as many countries today still practice arranged marriages, request dowries, and forbid same-sex pairings.
Although in many countries, movies, meals, and meeting in coffeehouses and other places is now popular, as are advice books suggesting various strategies for men and women, in other parts of the world, such as in South Asia and many parts of the Middle East, being alone in public as a couple with another person is not only frowned upon but can even lead to either person being socially ostracized.
Thus, the concept of marriage is changing widely in many countries.
This term may also refer to two or more people who have already decided they share romantic and/or sexual feelings toward each other.
Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.
From the standpoint of anthropology and sociology, dating is linked with other institutions such as marriage and the family which have also been changing rapidly and which have been subject to many forces, including advances in technology and medicine.
Dating is a stage of romantic and/or sexual relationships in humans whereby two or more people meet socially, possibly as friends or with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in a more committed intimate relationship or marriage.
It can be a form of courtship consisting of social activities done by the couple.
In the twentieth century, dating was sometimes seen as a precursor to marriage but it could also be considered as an end-in-itself, that is, an informal social activity akin to friendship.