Dating etiquette in the Victorian era

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Victorian era, the period between approximately 1820 and 1914, corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901) and characterized by a class-based society, a growing number of people able to vote, a growing state and economy, and Britain’s status as the most powerful empire in the world.

But what dating was like in the Victorian Era? Here is the bizzare etiquette of Victorian Era Dating:

Accepting presents from gentlemen is a dangerous thing!

According to 1837's etiquette guide The Young Lady's Friend - make it a general rule never to accept a present from a gentleman. The guide felt it was necessary. It warned that one gift will lead to another and encouragement to offer their hearts to you. It also felt a firm policy of refusal would avoid hurting anyone's feelings and save a lady from all further perplexity. Anonymous gifts were no exception. Ladies were encouraged to put them by, out of sight and never to mention them.

No public displays of affection!

In public, a gentleman should show constant attention to his intended. Engaged men should show their fiancees constant attention and never flirt with another lady. However, men should also avoid, even with their fiancees, public displays of affection. Engaged lovers may exchange portraits, presents and locks of hair. But no kissing, touching, hugging, holding hands in a public area!

Do not carry your politeness too far!

According to 1883's etiquette guide The Marriage Guide for Young Men: don't flirt with every lady you meet and do not carry your politeness too far. Men were further advised no to assume that every young woman is eager to fall in love with them. Instead, gentlemen are instructed to maintain a dignified reserve. Failure to do so risks belittling yourself in the eyes of sensible people and hurting your chances at the match you actually desire.

A lady never calls on a gentleman!

Ladies were never supposed to call on gentleman romantically. This much is made crystal clear in 1882's Decorum, A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, which states "It is not only ill-bred, but positively improper to do so."

Men had a lot more freedom in this department. Gentlemen were permitted to call on married ladies at their own houses. A man was never supposed to call on a married woman without the full knowledge and permission of her husband.

Don't speak to each other during the dance

Actually, this rule governs the incredibly specific situation of a man and woman being introduced for the first time at a ball for the purpose of dancing. If you've never spoken to each other before the dance, it's rude to do so during or after. So when can you speak to your dancing partner? Only after the hostess has made and official introduction.

Women may have some excuse for coquetry, but a man has none

No gentleman should permit a lady, whom he likes, but does not love, to mistake for one hour the nature and object of his intentions. Women are allowed coquetry, but such behaviour was frowned upon in men because it was perceived to be womanly.

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