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Social rules regarding dating vary considerably according to variables such as country, social class, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender.

Behavior patterns are generally unwritten and constantly changing.

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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.

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.

Historically, marriages in most societies were arranged by parents and older relatives with the goal not being love but legacy and "economic stability and political alliances", according to anthropologists.