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It is a form of courtship, consisting of social activities done by the couple, either alone or with others.

The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.

A few centuries ago, dating was sometimes described as a "courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperone," but increasingly, in many Western countries, it became a self-initiated activity with two young people going out as a couple in public together.

Still, dating varies considerably by nation, custom, religious upbringing, technology, and social class, and important exceptions with regards to individual freedoms remain as many countries today still practice arranged marriages, request dowries, and forbid same-sex pairings.

Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.

Dating may also involve two or more people who have already decided that they share romantic or sexual feelings toward each other.

These people will have dates on a regular basis, and they may or may not be having sexual relations.

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.