It was 1896 when young office worker Artie Blanchard met the love of his life. He spotted Mamie at a casual dance on North Clark Street and recruited the guy next to him to be his on-the-spot wingman. Impressed with Artie’s wit, Mamie gave him the chance he was looking for and they had their first date, right there on the dance floor.
Of course they didn’t call it a date at the time, because no one did. In fact, the thing itself was still a pretty novel concept. With a swelling of immigration into American cities, what had long been a somewhat public event carried out in the parlor or on the front porch swing under the careful supervision of parents, was in the process of morphing into something new. Courtship was becoming dating.
And no one had quite decided yet what to call it. That is, until Artie came along. Though he and Mamie eventually decided to marry, the beginning of their relationship was a little rough and at one point, she stopped seeing him entirely, preferring the company of another young man. Artie confronted her, saying, “Well, I s’pose the other boys fillin’ all my dates?”
The scene occurs in Artie: A Story of the Streets and Towns, a series of columns written by American humorist George Ade that appeared in the Chicago Record. The series, like most of Ade’s writings, takes a humorous look at the changing manners of the common working city dwellers, including a laugh-out-loud discussion of the intricacies of flirtatious communications involving stamp placement, handkerchief manipulation, and how one chooses to hold an umbrella.
And if we can take the word of author Moira Weigel in her book Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating (and we probably should because odds are she did way more research than I did), Ade also coined the word “date,” as it pertains to young men and women going out for dinner and a movie, or anonymously chatting one another up on a dating website, or swiping right, or whatever the cool kids are doing these days.
Because the typical first date has gone through a few changes since the early days of Artie and Mamie. And sometimes a couple may even have a hard time retrospectively pinpointing exactly when that first date occurred.
In some ways that’s true of me and my husband, though this day is the anniversary we celebrate. Today we have been together as a couple for twenty years. That’s right, TWENTY YEARS! For those of you keeping track at home, I am not yet forty, which means we have been together for more than half of my life.
But what happened twenty years ago today wasn’t probably a classic first date. We didn’t go dancing or to the theater. We didn’t grab a cup of coffee. He didn’t swipe right, though I’m sure he would have if such a thing as Tinder had existed.
We were college students with mutual friends and all of us tended to hang out in a group. On September 22, we were doing just that, when something that had already become obvious to our friends, started to become obvious to us. You see, even though we liked being with all of our friends, what mattered most to each of us was that the other one was there. Something changed that day.
The next afternoon we took a walk across campus, the first time we’d gone anywhere together alone. And maybe that was our real first date. I don’t know.
What I do know is that twenty years, a happy marriage, and two kids later, we’re still fillin’ up one another’s dates. And I suppose we have the eloquent George Ade and his somewhat less eloquent pal Artie to thank for it.