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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.

It generally happened in that portion of a person's life before the age of marriage, enabled dates to be arranged without face-to-face contact.

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.

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Today, the institution of dating continues to evolve at a rapid rate with new possibilities and choices opening up particularly through online dating.

Social rules regarding dating vary considerably according to variables such as country, social class, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender.

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.

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.

However, one particularity of the human species is that pair bonds are often formed without necessarily having the intention of reproduction.

In modern times, emphasis on the institution of marriage, generally described as a male-female bond, has obscured pair bonds formed by same-sex and transsexual couples, and that many heterosexual couples also bond for life without offspring, or that often pairs that do have offspring separate.

Behavior patterns are generally unwritten and constantly changing.

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