Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.
From the standpoint of anthropology and sociology, dating is linked with other institutions such as marriage and the family which have also been changing rapidly and which have been subject to many forces, including advances in technology and medicine.
As humans have evolved from hunter-gatherers into civilized societies and more recently into modern societies, there have been substantial changes in the relationship between men and women, with perhaps one of a few remaining biological constants being that both adult women and men must have sexual intercourse for human procreation to happen.
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.
However, one particularity of the human species is that pair bonds are often formed without necessarily having the intention of reproduction.
The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.
While the term has several meanings, the most common sense is two people trying out a relationship and exploring whether they are compatible by going out together in public as a couple, that is, they are undergoing a trial period to assess mutual compatibility.
A related sense of the term refers to a couple who have already decided that they like each other, and are seeing each other on a regular basis, and who may or may not be having sexual relations.
This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement or marriage.
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Dating is a stage of sexual selection in humans whereby two people meet socially, possibly as friends or possibly with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or marriage.
It can be a form of courtship consisting of social activities done by the couple.