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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.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.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.
This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement.
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 people exploring whether they are romantically or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other.
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.