For the older or the once married, steady dating is doubtless more closely associated with marriage than for those who are younger or never married. Steady dating in later adolescence is a common pattern, but its social definition points to various types of mutual exploration, with no commitment on either side to an eventual marriage. Two adolescents who are “going steady” are protected from further commitments by this social definition.
By contrast, there is some feeling in most circles that when the couple is older, neither party to a steady dating relationship “has the right” to hold the other in exclusive possession, unless there is some possibility of eventual marriage. The social definitions are, then, that the older or the once married do not have an infinitely wide number of potential marriage partners, or time to find them. Therefore, they should not stay, or hold others, in a steady dating relationship if there is no chance at all of marriage. A basic assumption of our society is, as we have analyzed previously, that almost all will get married, and that almost all should get married. Thus, relationships are disapproved that hinder adults from entering the statuses, and thereby the role obligations, that are prescribed for them.
For these reasons, we treat both steady dating and remarriage in this chapter, locating some of the factors that appear to be associated with these steps toward resuming the previous status of “married mother.” Here, we look at the 303 divorcees who had not yet remarried by the time of the interview.
Let us first state the obvious, that frequency of dating is associated with steady dating: 68% of the frequent daters (more than once weekly at the time of interview) are steady daters, while 38% of the medium daters (Once weekly to once a month), and only 5% of the infrequent daters are also steady daters. It is useful to state the obvious, since the obvious is not always correct.
However, the proportion of steady daters might not increase much over time, for over time we also lose the steady daters into the remarried group. Thus the proportion of steady daters can not increase indefinitely. Now, the proportion dating steady does increase somewhat with time since separation, from 30% of those separated 0-1 year, to 49% of those separated 3 years and over. However, time since separation does not measure whether they could have remarried. Some had separated two or three years before the decree. From such segments, then, we would not lose the remarried, and thus the proportion could increase. By contrast, when we arrange our divorces into Time Groups (since divorce), the proportion of steady daters among all divorcees does not change systematically: they form 27% of Time Group I, and 23% of Group IV.
Those who were not daters become daters. These become frequent and then steady daters, and then remarry. Thus, the number of steady daters drops, but so does the numerical base. When we eliminate the remarried, we find that the steady daters form 29% of the not remarried in Group I, and increase to 49% in Group IV. In Time Group IV, there are 51 divorcees who have not remarried; 25 of these are steady daters, 10 are dating without being steady daters, and 16 are not dating.
Thus, the ratio of steady daters to ordinary daters rises over these Time Groups. By Group IV, the steady daters are two and one-half times as many as the ordinary daters. With reference to the larger institutional processes, we call attention to the fact that 76% of the divorcees who obtained their decrees 26 months before the interview were either remarried or were going steady by the time of the interview.