Dating is hard.
How long should you wait to text back? You don’t want to seem too desperate.
What’s the perfect amount of punctuation to convey your nonchalant coolness? You want to seem relaxed and fun, but not dumb.
For that matter, is going to see a movie still a valid dating option? Or is it a little too “high school?”
These are just a few of the questions that might cross your mind when swimming in the murky waters of 21st-century dating, but count your blessings. Things could always be worse.
1. In 19th-century Austria, apple slices soaked in armpit sweat were the gift of choice for potential partners.
Back in the Austria of the 1800s, eligible bachelorettes had an interesting way of wooing the apple of their eye.
It all starts pretty normally: There’s party with music and dancing. The young, single men and women attend with the hope of finding a mate. This all sounds pretty familiar, right?
But that’s when things take a strange turn. Instead of simply trying to catch the eye of a future spouse with a great outfit and killer moves on the dancefloor, the dames would show up with apple slices, which they would then hold under their armpits for the entirety of the dance.
At the end of the night, if the bachelorette found one of the young men particularly alluring, she would gift him the apple slice, which after a night of dancing was thoroughly…seasoned.
If the attraction was mutual, the young man would then take a bite of the funky fruit.
Say what you will about the ritual, but at least there’s no room for uncertainty.
2. 19th-century Finnish bachelors had a not-so-subtle way of letting the ladies know they were interested.
The tradition, which died out sometime in the 20th century, involved a traditional Finnish knife called a puukko. The puukko was basically a knife that just about everybody carried for everyday tasks like hunting, fishing, cooking, and gardening.
Once a girl had come of age, she would begin wearing an empty sheath on her girdle. If a young man happened to fancy a young lady wearing an empty sheath, he would be responsible for either buying or forging a knife to place in it.
Once the young man had obtained the knife, he would approach the empty-sheathed bachelorette, and—you know exactly where this is going—gently slide the knife’s blade into the sheath.
If the female recipient of the knife didn’t feel the same way about the young man, it was her duty to remove the knife from the sheath and return it to him. If, on the other hand, she kept the knife, it was considered a socially-binding agreement that the two were to be married. We can’t imagine why this ritual died out.
3. Colonial Americans’ courtship rituals were much less…suggestive.
Sensuality isn’t exactly something that early Americans were known for.
In contrast to the evocative imagery of the Finnish knife and sheath ritual, young couples bound for marriage in colonial America (as well as many of their European counterparts) took up a less sexy practice called “bundling.”
Also known as “bed courting,” the idea was that the couple should spend a night together in the wife-to-be’s bed to ensure that the two were compatible. There were rules, though. Undergarments had to be worn at all time, and there was a strict prohibition on any sort of romantic contact. The two were to lay in bed, possibly talk, and sleep—nothing more.
To that end, there would likely also be either a “bundling sack” or a “bundling board” involved. The bundling sack was similar to a double sleeping bag, but was sewn shut in the middle. The bundling board was simply a large plank placed between the two lovers to prevent physical contact.
More hilariously, colonial American sweethearts in the earlier stages of courtship had to use something called a “courting stick,” a six-foot long hollow tube with ear and mouthpieces at either end.
The colonial equivalent of a date consisted of the young couple sitting in the home of one of their parents. They were allowed to get no closer to one another than the length of the courting stick, but were able to use the stick to communicate without being heard by the parents. How romantic.
Weird dating rituals aren’t just the stuff of yesteryear, though. There are still cultures around the world with courtship traditions that would probably strike you as a bit strange.
4. On the island of Borneo, newlyweds aren’t allowed to use the bathroom for three days and nights.
Yep. That’s right. The Tidong community, who live in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia hold (no pun intended) a tradition that might make you cringe.
For westerners, the marriage ceremony is often the light at the end of the tunnel following months of stressful planning wallet-emptying expenses. For the Tidong, the wedding itself marks the beginning of a whole other ordeal.
The tradition prohibits both members of a newly married couple from using the restroom for a full three days after the marriage. They also aren’t allowed to leave their home during the 72-hour period.
For some reason, the Tidong came to believe that engaging in the, ahem, natural processes of the digestive system in the first three days of marriage could make divorce, infertility, and even premature death more likely. We’re not exactly sure how they came to that conclusion, but different strokes for different folks, right?
Through the course of the three days during which the commode is off limits, family and friends monitor the couple to make sure that they aren’t cheating, and also to ensure that they’re consuming a minimal amount of food and drink.
Once the three days are over, the couple is finally allowed to bathe—and more importantly—do the deed that they so desperately need to do.
5. But at least they aren’t literally force-fed goat milk and couscous until they can’t keep it all down.
That’s exactly what happens in Mauritania, where young girls are sent to “fat farms,” and forced to eat as many as 16,000 calories per day to make them more desirable to potential partners.
In the Saharan nation, mothers send their daughters to professional force-feeders to undergo a practice known as leblouh in order to help them attain these beauty ideals—whether they like it or not. In contrast to the contemporary U.S., where the female body type widely considered ideal is unrealistically thin, extreme obesity is considered supremely desirable in the West African nation.
“The stomach flab should cascade, the thighs should overlap, and the neck should have thick ripples of fat,” professional force-feeder Aminetou Mint Elhacen told Marie Claire, adding, “Parents will give me a bonus if a girl develops stretch marks.”
Sadly, the girls are forced to eat the excessive amounts of food. Elhacen denied that the practice of leblouh amounts to child cruelty, saying:
And you thought choosing the right restaurant was hard.