Trust us, this 18th-century dating hack still works

Trust us, this 18th-century dating hack still works

If you're following the advice of Jane Austen, it is better to declare everything up front.

If you're following the advice of Jane Austen, it is better to declare everything up front.Credit:Alamy

When it comes to finding love, seeking advice from our ancestors is hardly the first place we might look. But studying 300 years of how people met, wooed, tarried and married revealed some common themes that have stood the test of time. Here’s the historically-proven way to date in 2018.

1. Declare your intentions
At the time Jane Austen was writing, "Lady, 26, of a fair demeanour and fine sloping shoulders seeks virtuous gentleman with 10,000 a year" was the kind of personal ad that could be found in the Times newspaper. Frank, yes, but necessary: Regency women, who forfeited all "ownership" of their property and selves upon marriage – even of their children – found it was the only way to guarantee an honourable partner. And while stipulating income may no longer be necessary today, when it comes to making it known you’re seeking commitment and a family, it’s best to outline this very casually in the first date. Anyone who "doesn’t know" what they are looking for need not be seen again.

2. Try the goods before you buy them
It’s a long-held myth that modern Americans were the ones to introduce the rest of the world to the concept of dating multiple people, settled with that most torturous of questions – "are we exclusive?"

But during World War I, it was commonplace for the women left behind to write to multiple soldiers stationed at the Front – spreading their eggs, metaphorically-speaking, as they waited to see who would come back alive – even having premarital sex with them on weekend leave to guide their decision.


So if you’re the kind of person who starts planning the wedding before you’ve even ordered a second drink, try juggling multiple suitors – it will prevent you from getting overly attached to anyone in particular before they’ve had a chance to truly prove themselves worthy of your affections. If it was good enough for our great grandmothers ...

3. Dance like your love life depends on it
When the protocol of the day stipulated men and women must only ever touch through gloved fingers at Regency balls, dancing was the only socially acceptable way of getting your hands on someone you fancied. And from jiving in bunkers during the Blitz, to bopping all night at acid house raves, it’s kept spirits alive through the toughest of economic times. And there’s a science to it – dancing releases endorphins and creates physiological stimulation – which, while different from sexual stimulation, can create strong initial romantic attraction – as eminent psychologist Dr Arthur Aron has confirmed.

4.Encourage accountability
If you’re past the heady days of limerance – when you can’t eat or sleep for thinking about your sweetheart – and are headed for stability, making sure your lover sticks around needs a bold strategy. The Victorians even came up with a law called "breach of promise" by which you could sue someone for breaking off your engagement and thereby wasting your most marriageable (and fertile) years – Australia only dropped it from law with the 1961 Marriage Act.

Today, the trick to getting a partner to stick around is to ensure they are accountable to you and others about your relationship – denying your existence to co-workers or anyone else is an incontestable red flag. And if you do make it up the aisle, be sure to have a big wedding – Emory University economists Hugo Mialon and Andrew Francis found that those with the greatest number of family and friends present (not those who spent the most) stayed together longer.

5. Get the better of dating apps before they get the better of you
It’s estimated that 53 per cent of Aussies know a couple who met online in 2017. But just as Silicon Valley executives are turning their smartphones to grey-scale and disabling pop-ups to prevent concentration hijacking, be aware of "gamified" dating apps provoking you to compulsive use - even when you’ve met someone bedazzling. Disable updates when searching and remove the app from your phone the minute you meet someone you like – you can always reactivate it if it doesn’t work out – and in mere seconds: most dating companies routinely retain your data unless you specifically request otherwise.

6. Wartime’s a good time
We may be living in fragile geopolitical times but be assured, in the event of World War III, the world becomes "one massive double bed" as English writer Quentin Crisp observed about London during WWII. From the arrival of foreign troops who’ll swing you silly, as the GIs did during the 1940s, to the pressing sense that tonight might be your only chance to tell someone how you really feel, wartime increases our risk-taking, and often with it, our romantic reward.
Just be sure not to wear button-up knickers in the event of elastic rationing - during the 1940s, "escaping knickers" were a common but alarming sight around the ankles of European women hurrying about their business. Might be best to start stockpiling now.

The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder by Nichi Hodgson is available from Amazon and Audible now.

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