11 Dating Tropes From The '90s That Don't Exist Anymore
There are some things about dating that don’t change over time — the way that it’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying, the way that first conversation is always a little awkward — but some things certainly do change, for better and for worse. There are certain dating tropes from the ‘90s that simply don’t exist anymore, which can be both a curse and a blessing. Most of these changes have to do with how much communication technology has evolved in the last 20 years — the internet and mobile technology have fundamentally changed how we communicate, work, and shop, so is it any wonder that it’s had a major impact on how we date?
Dating websites and mobile apps like Tinder have made dating easier and harder; finding people with similar interests to you is easier than ever, but there’s a whole new batch of social codes and behaviors that go along with it. It can be tempting to feel nostalgic for the simpler, pre-interwebs days of dating as an adolescent or teenager in the ‘90s, but before you start waxing poetic about bygone times, take a moment to read this handy list and remember what dating in the ‘90s was really like. I think you’ll find that while dating back then was different, it wasn’t necessarily better.
Keep reading for 11 dating practices from the ‘90s that would make no sense today:
1. Calling someone to ask for a date.
I know that “Calling to ask for a date” sounds fairly mundane, but how often do people literally call each other to ask for a date these days? It’s so much easier (and by “easier,” I mean, “less terrifying for socially awkward people like myself”) to text, send Facebook messages, flirt via Snapchat, swipe right, or do basically anything other than actually using your words and asking someone out. Of course, some people do still talk on the phone now, but phone calls in the ‘90s came with a few added risks…
2. You might have to chat… with PARENTS. (Cue dramatic music).
If you were calling some fellow teenager’s landline in 1996, there was every likelihood that your crush’s mother or father would answer the phone. And then you’d have to ask to speak to their kid, and sometimes they would get chatty and ask you about school and how your mother was doing, and all the while you were sweating profusely and wishing you could melt into the floor.
3. “Get off the phone! I need to check my emaaail!”
In the midst of asking someone out (or being asked out), you also had to deal with other people’s demands that you get off the damn phone. It’s awkward enough to ask someone out for the first time (or to agree to go out with someone for the first time), but if you were doing so over the phone in the ‘90s, you probably also were inundated by background noise from your family — with your parents wanting to be able to receive other calls, and your siblings desperate to log onto AOL.
4. Trying to glean info about your date from the yearbook.
Nowadays, when someone asks you out, the first thing you do is google that person to see if he or she is wanted in five states for criminal douchebaggery, and then you mind your date’s Instagram for potential conversation topics. Back in the day, it was a lot harder to study up on your date’s interests and habits, so if you found yourself combing through your high school yearbook and trying to figure out if you could turn that blurry photo of your date in last year’s production of Our Town into conversation starter, well, you weren’t alone.
5. It’s date time! So, obviously, you meet at the mall.
Indoor malls are a dying breed, but giant retail-filled behemoths were all the rage for ‘90s adolescents. They were perfect for dates (especially if you were not yet old enough to drive): You could go to a movie, hit up the food court, and take a romantic walk among the mall fountains and department stores.
6. Adorable photo booth pictures.
Photo booths — you know, the ones that produce long strips of little pictures — were a staple of the romantic date back in the day. Taking photos in a photo booth was the perfect date activity because it gave you instant photos of you with your potential S.O. and an excuse to get all cuddly with him or her. (What? Those booths were tiny. Of course you had to squeeze in!). Photo booths still exist now, of course, but they’re popular because they’re nostalgic, not because you actually need them to take pictures. If you and a date want a selfie, all you have to do is pull out one of the many devices you own that house cameras, and start snapping pictures.
7. Having to use a payphone to call for a ride home.
This proud ‘90s dating tradition combines the awkwardness of the ‘90s lack of mobile technology with the more timeless awkwardness of not yet having a driver’s license (and therefore relying on your parents to drive you to and from your romantic interludes). That’s right, it’s awkward squared: SUPER AWKWARD.
8. Trying to puzzle out your date’s deepest emotions from his or her AOL screen name.
People's email addresses, as well as their Instagram accounts, Twitter accounts, and other social media platforms tend to have fairly mundane names these days, but in the early days of the AOL screen name, creativity was everything, and we used our self-made monikers to express our deepest selves. So obviously the first thing you did upon discovering that your date went by “Trek4Lyfe” online was analyze its every nuance.
9. AOL communication fails.
The mid-90s were a dangerous time to be communicating online because, though we may have had enthusiasm, we didn’t have the complex language of emoji and Internet speak that guides our online conversations now. So it was inevitable that when you and your boyfriend or girlfriend were chatting online, you would get bogged down in misunderstandings. You would write something sarcastic, your date wouldn’t get that you weren’t being serious, you wouldn’t get that he or she didn’t get it, and then everything would go horribly downhill from there.
10. Renting movies… from a store. (Guys, I know. It was the dark times).
Shopping the video rental store with a date was a fraught thing in the ‘90s. Not only did the pair of you have to pick out a movie, but you also had to stay in “date mode” while you were doing it. In my experience, that meant that both my date and I would be too afraid of making a bad impression to actually have an opinion, so we’d wander the Blockbuster Video for what seemed like hours, each politely deferring to the other, until ultimately nothing was chosen and the store manager kicked us out.
11. The unspeakable tragedy of the missed connection.
OK, so you’ve braved the asking your date out via a family phone line, you’ve studied up on the yearbook, and you’ve set up a time to meet your crush at the mall for your very first date. You get there and hang out by the entrance near Contempo Casuals. After waiting for 15 minutes, you have a startling realization: You and your date never established where at the mall you were going to meet. What if he or she is waiting by the food court? What if they’re at the entrance next to the Sharper Image? Or the one next to Wet Seal? Noooooooooo! You star-crossed lovers never find each other, and when you see each other at school the next day, you’re both mad about being stood up, and your nascent love withers on the vine. The End.
This nightmare would have never happened if you’d just had a damn cell phone. You may be nostalgic for the ‘90s, but it’s situations like these that remind us we can never go back. Our current age of social media and mobile dating apps might have its own challenges, but at least you never have to worry that you and a date will separately spend a whole evening wandering among Spencer Gifts and 5.7.9, always just missing each other as you pass by on separate sides of the mall fountain.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy (8)