7 Ways Dating Used To Be A Horrifying Game Of Roulette
Dating has always been terrifying. Even today, when Tinder does half the job for us, it's a nerve-racking shitshow of chemistry, presentability, first impressions, and, in the case of women, figuring out whether to pack regular or bear Mace in case said first impressions turn out to be false. But at least it's a straightforward kind of terrifying, which wasn't necessarily the case in the past. In fact, our parents, grandparents, and assorted ancestors were subjected to such random, insane dating clauses that they might as well have been a completely different species.
The Courting Stick
Let's take care of the thing we're all secretly thinking of before we move further. It's not about wiener. Instead, this is a Puritan invention. And yes, the terms "dating" and "stick" sound pretty worrying used together in a non-BDSM way, but it's not exactly that. Nor is it some Puritanical club our uber-Christian forefathers used to beat each other over the head, caveman-style. They did something even weirder. Behold:
""Psalm reading and chill?"
That's a courting stick -- a hollow, six-to-eight-foot wooden tube that the prospective lovebirds used to communicate in something approaching privacy while saying at a respectable distance, lest the Devil go in them and they start furiously holding hands or ankle 69ing, which is a thing. Meanwhile, to ensure that the young couple wouldn't just throw the stupid fucking thing away and start going at it, the entire family lingered nearby, watching. Watching and scowling.
What makes this practice especially ridiculous is that, as we've previously mentioned, under their thin veil of chastity and marital sanctity, Puritans were actually total hornbags. With that in mind, I refuse to believe that they only used the courting stick to discuss riverside walks and Jesus. They totally used their primitive tin can telephone for low-rent sexting. Maybe they even sometimes managed to distract the eavesdropping family members by having a friend throw fake plague rats through the window halfway through the conversation, causing enough of a kerfuffle for them to move the tube a little lower and proceed to invent the term "blowjob."
Embarrassing Fruit And Other Assorted Restaurant Customs
Have you ever thought that fruit is secretly conspiring to sabotage your romance? Do you suspect on some level that the pineapple on your table is just waiting for the correct moment to completely fuck up your prospective sex life?
"As soon as you lower your guard, I'm going straight up your ass."
Unless you're reading this article on a stolen tablet you used to club the guards into submission during your escape from Arkham Asylum, of course you haven't. That would mean you're either crazy or a fan of old-timey ladies' advice magazines. As you're probably aware of, the 1950s were still firmly entrenched in the "shh, little lady" stage of genital equality. The thing is, it's hard to understand just how freaking ridiculous it got until you see actual examples, like the 1954 edition of Women's Own magazine.
Most of the advice is your regular 1950s fare. "Let the man order the food," because fuck your allergies and preferences. Things get really serious and strangely era-specific when we get to the advice regarding the things women may and may not eat. Fish is right off the table, because eating it is "difficult to manage." This is mysterious, because knowing what sorts of recipes the era liked to throw around, fish seems like one of the easiest available consumables to manage. Maybe they just slapped a whole live salmon on peoples' plates back then? Though to be honest, I think I'd be rather impressed with a woman who consumed a whole salmon in a restaurant setting like it was a horse heart and she was Daenerys Targaryen.
Anyway, the best advice here is related to eating fruit, and it's simple: Ladies, you put that goddamn quince down this instant. This is not explained in any way, apart from an offhand mention that "it will cause some embarrassment." I like to think that this is because the women of the era were rapidly recognizing the reality of how they were treated, and decided to fight back by eating all their fruit like this:
The article never said who would get embarrassed.
Tactical Napkin Warfare
Imagine, ladies, that for some unfathomable reason, your 1950s restaurant date isn't going all that well. You barely survived the allergic reaction from the starter soup your dumbass date randomly ordered for you, and you were forced to leave your main course untouched because it consisted entirely of mackerel and bananas in unflavored gelatin. Luckily, the era's customs didn't leave you completely hanging, and you have the opportunity to politely tell your date to go fuck himself.
On a related note, how strong is your napkin game?
Level 9 or stronger, and you can use it as a means of escape.
According to the 1950s etiquette, women were given the option to end the date by placing an unfolded napkin to the left of their plate, perhaps accentuating the gesture with some "I want to get the hell away from here" eyes and body language. After that, it's her game, as though that napkin somehow called upon the forces of General Patton himself, and now the tables have turned for our hapless heroine.
Provided that the guy even gets the clue, that is. If he doesn't notice or chooses not to acknowledge it, well, screw you napkin. Regardless of your gender, have you ever once paid attention to your date's goddamned napkin unless they were actively using it to clean the blood after a battle with a particularly belligerent lobster they ordered for an entree? That's "five years into the marriage"-level body language fluency right there.
Let's say you're a lady having a night out with your friends. Suddenly, a guy approaches you. You remember you've seen him around town -- is his name Rasputin? Chucklefuck? You can't recall, but you're pretty sure you've seen him on a Segway with a monkey. He approaches you coyly yet determinedly, and suddenly whips out ... this fucking thing:
"I carved this from the shinbone of your ex-boyfriend."
Don't worry, the guy's not a serial killer (maybe!). He's just embarking on a strange 17th-Century Welsh custom called lovespoon, which is totally the sort of thing a serial killer would do in his spare time, when not making room in the crawl space or masturbating with steel wool.
Wooden lovespoons were custom-made romantic gifts, hand-crafted to convey romantic messages, emotions, and promises and brag about the skills of the carver. They started out fairly basic, but over time, competitiveness kicked in and they became so ornate that they were virtually impossible to use for anything other than 17th-Century Welsh ass-spoonings -- the most hilarious and welt-producing spoon warfare in human history.
"Fedora: Really, you should be carving this spoon for me."
Shit, wait. Phallic pieces of wood delivered with a bunch of symbols with the expectation that there's sex somewhere down the line? Man, these were basically the era's equivalent of a dick pic and a bunch of emojis. Maybe our ancestors aren't so different from us after all.
Don't Move Your Hands
This time it's 1949, and we're with Esquire's Handbook For Hosts, the ultimate guide in fun and games if you're a guy, and painstaking, soul-leeching grooming and hosting if you're not. Still, as a scientifically-minded lady who is determined to let an experiment run its course, you know what to expect. You get through an evening filled with outdated customs and mild sexism with relatively minor damage to the other participants and just mild-to-moderate internal screaming. Finally, you find yourself sitting around alone with your prospective significant other, having what actually amounts to a quite pleasant conversation. In case the situation starts going south and you need to call a timeout, you've made sure a napkin is nearby, and you absentmindedly fidget with it as you speak ...
Bzzzzzzt! And, just like that, you've ruined it all. "You've done something with your hands, woman! Have you no manners at all?" the man screeches at you, scoffing at your obscene behavior as he flees the room, shedding pomade and mustache wax in a cold panic.
The book is actually quite sneaky about the whole "Thou shalt do jack shit with your hands" thing. The original advice they give is that the woman should refrain from knitting when conversing with a man, which I can kind of buy, because a casual conversation can easily fall off-course when half of the participants wield foot-long needles and keep making booties. However, they immediately up the ante by advising against any and all hand motions. Have you ever talked with someone who doesn't move their hands at all? That's Stepford Wife territory right there -- which I kind of suppose was the point. Well, it's that or someone over at Esquire had heavily invested in the restraint industry and was trying to make social handcuffing a thing.
Don't Talk While Dancing
In 1938, things were as shell-shocked as you'd expect for a period when people had just recovered from one world-ass war, only to realize that some Chaplin-stached dick trickle had been kicking its tires to figure out how to build an even bigger one. Maybe that's why dating advice was constructed like military manuals -- precise, to the point, and full of tidbits so glaringly obvious that behaving otherwise wouldn't even occur to you unless you're hopped up halfway to oblivion on adrenaline and mustard gas.
Luckily, even this fucked-by-history era had ways to let its hair down, like sweet wartime dancing. That's something pretty much any point in human history has treated as a joyous event, be it the slow sarabande of 17th-Century French courts or the straight-up Kevin-Bacon-infused foot loose shenanigans of Footloose. Surely, the dance floor was one place where the people of the late '30s could let their hair down and whisper sweet nothings in one anothers' ears ...
... or not.
I think the whole "shut up while dancing" thing may have been a legitimate attempt to bring joy to the dance floor by keeping couples from fighting or interrupting that sweet guitar solo from "Sister Christian." However, given the "man wants to focus on the dance" wording, I can't help but picture a dude doing his level best to remember the steps, his neck veins slowly bulging as it becomes increasingly evident that he has the rhythm and grace of a rhino on bath salts. "Uh, Steve, do you need help or something?" "SHUT UP WOMAN, I'M DANCING! "
We as a society aren't huge fans of body odor, and Big Deodorant will thank us for it as it sells us yet another $30 stick of bullshit that mostly just makes our sweat-stained armpits smell 5 percent less revolting and 40 percent more like an eagle's-mint-and-sandalwood-laden asshole, if Old Spice is to be believed. But if we rewind a few generations, not only was ol' B.O. much more socially accepted, but on some occasions, it was outright cherished. It is with this prologue that I lead you to an entry about romance. And yes, you probably should stop eating now.
At some point in Elizabethan times, for reasons that are beyond yours truly, European women started keeping peeled apples in their armpits. When sufficiently infused with their scent, they would then offer them to guys to sniff, with the expectation that the salty musk of the freshly-generated "love apple" would act as an aphrodisiac. Is everyone's boner sufficiently raging? Let's move on.
And if the guy started retching, a well-aimed apple can do quite a lot of damage.
In some rural parts of Europe, it's believed that the custom was taken even further. The lady kept apple slices in her armpits during dances. After the dance -- the energetic, sweaty dance -- was over, she would then fish out a slice and graciously offer it to her preferred partner. Who would then equally graciously eat it. And the rest of us would very graciously dry heave.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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