I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature and History – I had always been better at literature throughout school, but I couldn’t let go of my passion for researching history. So when I caught sight of The Curious History of Dating in our office library, I knew I had to read it!
As the title promises, the book is a thorough and revealing look at UK dating from the 1700’s all the way through to modern-day. It talks about dating etiquette, activities, and possibilities. It details how huge historical events shaped the personal experience, like how the invention of the telephone made it easier to talk to a suitor, or how WW1 brought GI Joes over to the UK who radicalised casual dating.
Time and time again whilst reading, I found my presumptions about the past challenged. Some of the facts about Victorians, for example, made me blush! The book also delves into the realities and triumphs of LGBT+ dating, dating across class, and inter-racial dating. Hodgson is a proud feminist, and whilst the book never preaches, it also doesn’t tolerate prejudice no matter which time period she is exploring.
Hodgson is always pragmatic in her approach, never judgemental and often humorous. My only criticism was that sometimes I wished for more depth into some of the interesting facts, but I suppose it wouldn’t have been able to have the breadth if it had.
The book is an incredible tool not only for empathising with past date-goers, but for learning lessons from them that are still applicable today. One example I know applies to Drawing Down the Moon explicitly is Hodgson’s exploration of matchmaking agencies through history. At the office, we often get asked why we don’t show our clients photographs of the person they’re meeting. There’s a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into here (call the office on +44 (0) 207 224 1001 for more info!) but the most important one is that we know it works better for fostering a long-term connection. And history seems to agree with us! The Wedding Ring matchmaking agency in 1848 apparently had two books full of their clients – one with their individual photos, and one with descriptions of their personality and interests. Guess which one was more successful?
The Curious History of Dating is a fascinating book that I really enjoyed reading. I often found myself making notes to research later and talk to my colleagues about! It uses the filter of dating culture to explore gender issues and social politics – and isn’t that true of our present reality? Technology changes dating, as does economics and social progression. Our human relationships reflect humanity itself – and Hodgson’s work is a fascinating reflection of that.