This Is What Flirting Looked Like 50 Years Ago

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Single folks advertised themselves in the newspapers.

While today you can find your next sεχual partner or significant other with the swipe of a finger—thanks, Tinder!—folks in the 1970s had to pick up a newspaper if they wanted to get lucky. Publications like Singles News and the Singles News Register were available from coast to coast, and they were filled with advertisements for men and women alike in search of a partner. One advertisement from a 1976 edition of Singles News for a girl named Kally, for instance, noted that the eligible bachelorette “loves New York City” and “would love to meet someone with the same interests she has and who loves being a single New Yorker as much as she does.”

Women were taught that they should focus on his wants and needs.

Nowadays, flirting is all about witty banter and forming a meaningful bond. In the ’50s and ’60s, though, women were taught to worry more about their appearances and getting a guy’s attention than they were about actually finding a person they connected with. In the 1958 McCall’s piece, some of the tips under the headline “How to Look Good to Him” include things like “buy a full-length mirror and take a good look before you go to greet him” and “go on a diet if you need to.”

In the ’70s, women were encouraged to simply “brush off” unwanted flirtatious advances.

If a male coworker was making lewd jokes at you or getting too touchy-feely in the 1970s, the most common advice you’d hear was to ignore it and move on. In Helen Witcomb and Rosalind Lang’s 1971 book Charm: The Career Girl’s Guide to Business and Personal Success, the two authors encourage women in uncomfortable sεχual situations to “act naturally, change the subject, and ignore it,” as “expressing displeasure at this stage (either by a feigned look of alarm or by coolly and quietly moving away) will probably discourage further advances.”

Similar advice can be found in Evelyn Bourne’s 1965 book The Anatomy of a Love Affair: The Guide to sεχ for the Girl Who Says “Yes!” As if the title isn’t bad enough, some of the worst advice Bourne gives in her book involves unwanted advances and keeping quiet. “If you do find it necessary to shower at his place, and he makes a pass at you when you step out of the stall, soft-skinned and sweet-smelling, don’t threaten to scream,” she wrote. “With your luck all the neighbors will be stone deaf. And if you do scream, he and the police department might well ask what you were doing up there with no clothes on in the first place.”

But by the ’80s, women had more freedom to flirt and fight back.



Things changed by the 1980s. During this time, advice columns and manners books started to encourage women to both fight back against unwelcome advances and take more initiative themselves. One author at the time, for instance, wrote that “if there is no opportunity for you to get into a conversation with someone in an inconspicuous way that does not seem forced, perhaps the best thing would be simply to walk up to him/her and say you would like to make his/her acquaintance.”

Though today this advice seems silly—why wouldn’t you just walk up to a person you like and say hello?—it was major for women at the time, as up until then they were expected to wait until the man approached them.

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