The Dos And Don’ts of Courting in the Old West

Nowadays, we have endless—?!—possibilities of falling in love, going on a date and eventually getting married. 

I said endless? Okay not endless, even today, but definitely more than those women of our beloved Old West had. And then it occured to me! How exactly a woman and a man would flirt or go on a date during the Frontier Era? The right term back then was courtship…I bet you already know that, because of propriety, there were courting rules! 

So today, my dear, join me for a ride back in the history of courting, wild-west style…Believe me, gentlemen of the Old West who were truly in love, were doing their best to show their love while at the same time trying to be appropriate!

The Meeting

This time, I won’t focus on the Mail-Order Bride advertisements or the letters and correspondence that were very common back then. It’s worth saying, though, that most of the marriages during the western era were done through this process. Men mostly en, but later on women too, were posting their ads, waiting for someone to respond. 

But today, sweetie, I will present to you with a couple of things that lovebirds did face to face. No letters, no advertisements. Just the two of them, courting! Well, almost. Because there was another way for a man to court a woman…and it was through a photograph

Yes, you read right…through photographs! 

Here is an example. A man of marriageable age visits his best friend’s house. His best friend is married to a beautiful woman. There are many framed photographs in their house. 

Suddenly, there she is. In a photograph the man sees his friend wife’s sister… “Is she single? Can I meet her? Can I write to her? May I ask her father’s permission to court her?” would be some of the interested man’s questions. If the woman would be available, perhaps the family would prepare for a second marriage!

Back to our face-to-face meetings now…

Where could a man find a single woman? In church, most probably; also in social gatherings, celebrations and festivals, in balls, or even at a barn “party”. Well, we should keep in mind that men were much more in number than women. That is why they were the ones who started posting Mail-Order Bride advertisements…to find available ladies! 

Okay. We’ve Met. Now What?

Let’s say two lovebirds have found each other. That they have found love. What now? 

Well, first of all the man had to make his intentions clear. The man in love had to ask the permission of his love’s father, brother or uncle to court her. He had to show that his intentions were serious and that he was not fooling around. The lady had a reputation to protect after all. 

Needless to say that many marriages started from courtship. Back then, courting meant that a man was spending time with a woman to see if they are indeed  “compatible” for marriage. It wasn’t like an engagement but it was surely a promise for both of them to be seriously committed to one another. Also when a lady was being courted, she couldn’t court or flirt with other single men or potential suitors. 

Where Can We Meet? What Can We Do (And Can’t Do)?

Propriety and society back then were very demanding and strict. The saloons—that were something like our bars today— weren’t places for a lady. Only saloon girls could go there. So where could the two lovebirds meet up?  What they were allowed to do?

Do: The man could visit girl’s place. Of course, with an adult family member as a chaperone. As I said, the lady had a reputation to protect.

Don’t: The man could not be alone with the lady in her house without a chaperone.

Do: Spending time in his girl’s house and joining her family in meals. 

Do: Going for a walk alone, only the two of them, in public places where other people could see them as well.

Don’t: The two of them alone, in a private place. We can say here that the Victorian rules were far more restricted. In the Old West, things were a bit looser. At least regarding the romantic walks…

Do: Riding. Who doesn’t love horses?

Do: Dinner in wonderful restaurants. Great choice. Public place, warm atmosphere, nice food and little times of privacy…;)

Do: Picnics. It was really common for people back then to go on picnics and enjoy the outdoors. It was considered a truly romantic gesture! If there was ice cream too, it would be the best!

Do: The two lovebirds could attend social events together. Of course, the man had to ask for the lady father’s permission. He had to  pick her up from her doorstep, take her to where the festival/event was and then take her back home, at a reasonable time, without any delays.

Don’t: Staying together after the event has ended…and people knew what time that was! If the two lovebirds would stay together somewhere private after the event, the lady’s family—and not only— would find out. The lady’s reputation was not protected.

Do: Reading together or playing games together. Poetry, literature, parlor games, card games.

The Dos Of Showing…Affection?

A man could open the door for his beloved, as proof of his interest. He could also bring her some flowers or offer her a present…a dress, a handkerchief,  an embroidery, a ribbon for her hair! 

What is more, as mentioned before, correspondence during the Western Era was crucial. The man could not express his love and desires directly to his lady, but he could write a love letter! How romantic is that?

And Then We Are Engaged

When the commitment became even more serious, the couple was allowed to sit together in the church or hold hands. BUT: Holding hands required the presence of the lady’s mother or father. Difficult times, what can we say? 

Also, the man could help the lady with her shopping: , the heavy bags. What is more, the man could help his lady’s  family too. If her father needed help in the ranch or something, our man would be the first to help. 

Love is love…

A Goodbye Kiss…

When our lovebirds would finally get engaged,  they could exchange their first kiss! Well, at last, if you ask me! 😉

That’s it! It’s time for me to say goodbye to you, dear. For now, at least!

Thank you for reading my article, I sincerely hope you enjoyed it! I must say I loved writing it.

I will be thrilled to read your thoughts, as always! You can leave me a comment below, or send me an email!

Until then, you have my love 🙂


Written by Cassidy Hanton

  • I love the atmosphere of the old west. When ladies and their young men would take it slowly and truly get to know each other before starting their lives together. It is possibly the reason most marriages worked back then.

  • When you think about it, not a lot has changed, or has it? The times have changed and the number of men brought up to be Gentlemen has certainly diminished but love will never change.

  • I love your articles, because history is fascinating to me. I personally believe the world would be better if we returned to some social customs of the past that were not harmful to others. For example, everyone’s (male and female) reputation should be protected by courting, maybe we would be more appreciative of one another.

  • I enjoyed reading this article. It makes me think back on my own courtship. I meet my husband in July of 1994. We dated for six weeks and were engaged for six weeks then married on October 22. We followed most of the rules above. We never went out alone and always had a chaperone. Our first kiss was after he asked me to marry him. We have been married for 25 years. Thanks for this wonderful article.

  • I guess the Western way was different than the British way. You mentioned he could give her a dress. This was forbidden in the Regency and other times was well as far as
    I have understood.

  • Goodness how times have changed. My “courtship” was almost 12mths long but we did have more private times then. My husband is not a garrulous person so talking was mostly confined to me but he didn’t seem to mind too much. He did carry my heavy things & he did ferry me about in his car, even had an attempt to teach me how to drive using his car!! As for photographs I didn’t have too many of me solo nor did he but we managed to capture each other’s likenesses with our Kodak cameras. We went to regular dances while away from home as we were teaching in a country town & then there were the parties, picnics & whatever fun things we could be involved in with other friends & family once we were able to be home again. Marriage was definitely on the cards & I can say that it was the very best thing I could have done as he has been an abiding force for good in my life.

  • I enjoyed reading this article and learning the history and rules of courtship in years past. Thank you for sending this.

  • I always enjoy the Cobalt Fairy articles. This one is especially good. A lot of couples would benefit from some of these rules. Too many “revolving door” marriages and relationships today.
    Marriage is a major commitment. People today often don’t know what commitment is. Not to a person, pet, job, anything. It is a complex and often difficult relationship. Stress on relationship. When you stand up and make those promises to each other, you are promising that your relationship is the most important thing in your life.
    I was surprised to learn that buying a dress was allowed. Maybe a dress length of cloth, but not a dress! You learn something new everyday!
    Thanks again for the article. Most of all for your wonderful books! Keep writing.

  • I believe that sometimes a long courtship is needed so that the couples can get to know each other and see if they are really suited to be together.
    But for others I think they should just go ahead and elope. Because at the end of the day you know they just Belong together now and for always so
    I do enjoy your article I Love hearing about the old west courting customs .