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Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.
It is a form of courtship, consisting of social activities done by the couple, either alone or with others.
Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky constructed a reproductive spectrum with opposite poles being tournament species, in which males compete fiercely for reproductive privileges with females, and pair bond arrangements, in which a male and female will bond for life.
These species-particular behavior patterns provide a context for aspects of human reproduction, including dating.
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.
However, one particularity of the human species is that pair bonds are often formed without necessarily having the intention of reproduction.