9 Surprising Ways Online Dating Is Like 18th-Century Courting

Believe it or not, sending emojis is not dissimilar to the dating tactics of 18th-century women.

18th century woman on telephone, modern woman online dating and texting Nicolas Menijes, irynakhabliuk | Canva

Woman’s empire is an empire of gentleness, skill, and obligingness; her orders are caresses, her threats are tears.” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Dating on online apps forces us to answer all sorts of questions our parents never had to consider: Is my profile clever enough? Too clever? Genuine, but not edging into the dreaded realm of TMI? Are my photos just revealing enough to be cute, not garish? And then there’s the biggest irritant of online dating: How do I escape a chat with a jerk without suffering verbal abuse or worse? 


Forget meeting a decent partner — getting away from the trolls has never been harder, right? Well, take comfort: My research into “subversive sensibility” in the literature of the 18th century has taught me that when it comes to the delicate dance of saying no without saying no, you have at your disposal an array of dating defenses with origins in the drawing room, not the chat room.

RELATED: What It Means To Court Someone & How It's Different From Dating

My research focuses on three escalating tactics that women used back in the day:

  • Sighing, which indicated her annoyance with what was going on
  • Trembling, which showed immediate displeasure to a suitor — and to anyone watching
  • Fainting, which got a woman out of a situation with a man who kept pushing his luck despite the other signs she gave him. This resets the power dynamic because, at least within the world of the novel, when a woman faints, the man can’t continue his advances on her. He has to go find somebody else, probably another woman, to help “revive” her. 

RELATED: 10 Online Dating Rules You Had No Idea You Should Be Following


Here are 9 surprising ways online dating is like 18th-century courting:

Since so much of today’s courting takes place via text, we in the 21st century can’t use these exact physical signs to say no without saying no. But you do have a powerful tool at your disposal: emojis!

1. If things are slightly uncomfortable, the monkey covering its eyes relates to 18th-century blushing or blanching. 

How Online Dating Is Like 18th-Century CourtingPhoto: Valentina Vectors / Shutterstock

2. The below emoji, and others like it, are today’s ways of giving the “silent treatment,” or politely looking away.

How Online Dating Is Like 18th-Century CourtingPhoto: Larryneu77 / Shutterstock


3. Sighing? There’s an emoji for that!

How Online Dating Is Like 18th-Century Courting

Photo: Eugene B-sov / Shutterstock

4. The emoji of a woman's face-palming equates to leaving a room in the same way that an 18th-century woman might earn a few moments away from an overly pushy suitor.

How Online Dating Is Like 18th-Century CourtingPhoto: Canva


RELATED: 3 Reasons Courting Works Better Than Any Modern Dating Strategy

5. If a chat gets especially nasty, reporting inappropriate behavior on an app has its roots in discussing a snooty duke’s behavior with his family.

6. If someone continues to pursue you after you’ve repeatedly and clearly shown that you're not interested, ghosting or blocking them is the digital equivalent of fainting.

They remove you from the situation definitively.

Of course, not all app-based introductions require a speedy escape. Some do lead to actual IRL conversations, and when you agree to meet someone new in person for the first time, the precautions you take also have their origin in 18th-century courting behavior.

7. Requesting a picture of a potential date’s ID is the great-great-great grandchild of learning about a suitor’s family and lineage.

8. Sharing your location with a friend or family member on early dates provides you with a virtual chaperone.

9. If your relationship becomes “Instagram official,” posting a photo together online or changing your relationship status is the online dating equivalent of “reading of banns.”

Reading of banns is a centuries-old tradition of announcing an engagement in the church to allow the community to comment on the union. 


So the next time you’re feeling fed up with online dating and ready to delete all the apps (again), just remember that when you ghost that not-so-special someone who just wants to hook up, you’ve got centuries of tradition behind you.     

RELATED: An Expose Into The Sad, Scary World Of Tinder And Online Dating

Heather Heckman-McKenna holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Missouri and is currently an Instructor of English and a Gale-ASECS Fellow. She is also a memoirist and creative nonfiction writer, and her work has appeared in the Jackson Bibliography of Romantic Poetry, Aphra Behn Online, The Explicator, The Carolina Quarterly, CutBank, and The Journal, amongst others.