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Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.

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.

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.