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Life Stages: Dating and Courtship

Accepted Practice

Germans teach their youngsters that they need not suppress love or carry it out in a clandestine manner. Society considers dating a natural part of life for teens and unmarried adults.

Most young Germans consciously date without creating firm ties that may upset their life or career plans. Courtship tends to occur only after two young people finish with school and reasonably settle into their careers, but no specific courtship rules exist, and courtship does not noticeably differ from dating.

Young people usually start dating in their early teens. Most German youngsters have had at least one boyfriend or girlfriend by the age of 16. Young people meet at school, through friends, at parties, or at work.

Young men and women may socialize on a casual basis without labeling such an interaction a "date." In such cases, each pays for his or her own expenses. A special occasion like a birthday, however, may demand otherwise.

Traditions Persist

Germany’s dating practices remain traditional in some respects. A woman expects the man to ask for a date, and a woman can, at most, make it subtly known that she would like to be asked out. Men are also expected to bring the woman back at the promised time, pick up the tab, and ask for a subsequent date. Customarily, a man picks up a young woman living with her parents at her home; in such cases, he usually brings a small bouquet for her mother.

Popular venues for dating include restaurants, cinemas, theaters, discos, parties, fairs, and other events. German teens may select the location based on their access to transportation. Dates can even take place at home by sharing meals or watching TV.

A typical date includes a meal and possibly a visit to the cinema, theater, or nightclub afterward. Custom dictates that the man meet his date at her home and escort her back to her home at the end of the evening.

How long people date before they decide to marry remains entirely up to the individuals. People may marry soon after they meet or they may date for many years and feel no need to marry. Desirable attributes in a husband or wife also prove subjective. Most Germans will try to choose someone emotionally and physically compatible.

Getting Serious

Sex has become a natural part of dating in Germany. Both men and women consider sex as important as love in a relationship. Nearly all couples seek sexual intercourse within three months of starting a relationship, and virginity neither invites stigma nor impresses virtue. Germans do not regard virginity highly enough to preserve it. West German boys and East German girls have their first sexual experience slightly earlier than the national average, which has remained constant at 17 years for the last decade. Most parents keep aware of and accept their children’s sexual partnerships. Birth control stands culturally accepted and widely practiced.

Only two percent of the German population would like to see abortion—currently widely accepted—outlawed. A woman may legally have an abortion performed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A doctor in a recognized hospital or healthcare center must perform the procedure, but only after the woman attends a mandatory pre-abortion counseling session.

Although German parents may not necessarily encourage cross-cultural dating, the culture certainly allows it. Society usually views selecting a dating partner as a personal choice—not a matter for the family or the community to comment on. Visibly interracial couples may attract stares, but they rarely receive further negative attention. Most Germans make their own choices about whom to date and do not seek parental approval.

Marriage proposals, a private matter between a man and a woman, are usually made very simply in Germany. Sometimes no actual proposal takes place; rather, the couple makes a mutual decision to marry. In other situations, the man may formally ask his girlfriend to marry him. In either case, both members of an engaged couple normally wear a plain gold ring on their left hands until they are married, when they move the rings to their right hands.