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Accordingly, there was little need for a temporary trial period such as dating before a permanent community-recognized union was formed between a man and a woman.While pair-bonds of varying forms were recognized by most societies as acceptable social arrangements, marriage was reserved for heterosexual pairings and had a transactional nature, where wives were in many cases a form of property being exchanged between father and husband, and who would have to serve the function of reproduction.

As humans societies have evolved from hunter-gatherers into civilized societies, there have been substantial changes in relations between men and women, with perhaps one of a few remaining biological constants being that both adult women and men must have sexual intercourse for human procreation to happen.Humans have been compared to other species in terms of sexual behavior.New types of relationships formed; it was possible for people to live together without marrying and without children.Information about human sexuality grew, and with it an acceptance of all types of sexual orientations is becoming more common.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.

It generally happened in that portion of a person's life before the age of marriage, enabled dates to be arranged without face-to-face contact.

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.

Today, the institution of dating continues to evolve at a rapid rate with new possibilities and choices opening up particularly through online dating.

Social rules regarding dating vary considerably according to variables such as country, social class, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender.

The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.