In the late ‘50s, parents worried that their kids were too young to be so serious about love.
In the age-long battle between adolescents and their parents, the two factions are now embroiled in what is perhaps their most turbulent and acrimonious controversy.
The subject at issue is “going steady,” a dating custom which made an immense leap in popularity just after World War II and has now reached epidemic proportions among our youth. “Going steady” means that a boy and girl—usually in the twelve-to seventeen-year-old age group—form a relationship which can best be described as a form of premarital monogamy. As long as their pact lasts, they vow tacitly or in fact to be “faithful” to each other. They don’t “cheat” by looking twice at, or going out with, another member of the opposite sex. If they live near each other, they walk to and from school together. They eat, study, play and go to dances and parties as a couple. They are, in matter of fact, as inseparable as a husband and wife and their union is regarded as inviolable by their contemporaries.
Many parents are alarmed—especially if they have a daughter—by the chance that “something might happen.” They point to the inexorable law of nature that “biology plus propinquity equals intimacy.” They are supported by a statement from a Roman Catholic theologian that “going steady is a proximate occasion of sin—a situation from which sin will almost inevitably result. It places too much strain on the moral fibre of the individual.” Apart from the danger of an “accident,” parents dread the possibility of their youngsters drifting into early marriage long before they are economically or socially prepared for it.
On another level, many parents object to going steady on the grounds that it has a stultifying effect on the social and intellectual growth of their offspring. One father told me, “It’s a cut-and-dried, hidebound affair. It has no excitement or freshness to it. They don’t have any fun. At the ripe old age of fifteen they’re like a stolid middle-aged married couple—the girl is bored and the boy is henpecked. It’s a nauseating and silly business all around.” Teen-agers who favor the institution of going steady react to the parental outbursts in puzzlement and anger. “Why do they get so hysterical over going steady?” an attractive fifteen-year-old brunette asked me. “Most of their views are ancient and idiotic—I get a good laugh out of them.”
A 1967 fashion spread featuring a Canadian invention— the Velcro bikini
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