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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.
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These people will have dates on a regular basis, and they may or may not be having sexual relations.
This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement.
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.
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.