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It is a form of courtship, consisting of social activities done by the couple, either alone or with others.
The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.
Historically, marriages in most societies were arranged by parents and older relatives with the goal not being love but legacy and "economic stability and political alliances", according to anthropologists.
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.
Generally, during much of recorded history of humans in civilization, and into the Middle Ages in Europe, weddings were seen as business arrangements between families, while romance was something that happened outside of marriage discreetly, such as covert meetings.
From about 1700 a worldwide movement perhaps described as the "empowerment of the individual" took hold, leading towards greater emancipation of women and equality of individuals.
Communities exerted pressure on people to form pair-bonds in places such as Europe; in China, society "demanded people get married before having a sexual relationship" and many societies found that some formally recognized bond between a man and a woman was the best way of rearing and educating children as well as helping to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings regarding competition for mates.
This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement.
Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.
In modern times, emphasis on the institution of marriage, generally described as a male-female bond, has obscured pair bonds formed by same-sex and transgender couples, and that many heterosexual couples also bond for life without offspring, or that often pairs that do have offspring separate.
Thus, the concept of marriage is changing widely in many countries.