Off-line dating: How did we meet boys before the internet?

By Cindy Phillips updated Wed, Feb 22, 2012 10:43 AM

Online dating is big business that continues to gain popularity at a rapid pace. Sites like and eHarmony promise to help you find your soulmate by cross-referencing likes, dislikes and personality traits. Though you may tend to think online dating is exclusive to the technologically-advanced Generations X and Y, it’s actually the baby boomer generation that is plunking down credit cards looking for love.

I have mixed emotions about online dating having watched several close friends utilize the service. It appears that the “kissing a lot of frogs before you find the prince” theory often accompanies online dating. Then again, I have friends who were a made in heaven. They have a marriage that most would envy – compatible, best friends, mutual respect and they laugh together all the time (yes, this is you Jimmy and Connie).

We boomers often ask the questions that start off “what did we do before…?” We are usually referring to things like cell phones, microwaves, DVRs and ATMs. I pose the question, “How did we meet boys before the internet?”

The Corner-Suburban New York neighborhoods were filled with houses that all looked the same and lots of kids. Friends always seemed to find a corner to congregate. It was usually near the house of someone in the group whose parents didn’t mind a dozen or more teenagers outside their front door. In our case, it was the Bruno house. They had four boys, so Mr. and Mrs. Bruno were used to activity and not easily rattled by excitement. On any given night, you would find cars and teens lining the street. We talked, we laughed, we smoked Marlboros and we “hung out.” And as typical teens, we flirted. Many a romance had its inception at the corner.

The Mall-This was typically the Saturday afternoon hangout spot of choice. After begging and pleading with parents for a volunteer driver, a group of girlfriends would get dropped off at the South Shore Mall. You knew you were going to run into multiple groups of boys from high school. Sometimes it was the collegiate guys, other times it was the leather-jacket wearing tough boys. If a day at the Mall went well, you might have a date for that night.

The Roller Rink-This was the usual Saturday night hangout location. Finding volunteer parents to drive us was even more difficult, especially if they had already driven us to the Mall that afternoon. We had better luck hitting up the older siblings who had their licenses. The Roller Rink offered a plethora of cute boy possibilities, though every girl’s dream was the guy who worked there policing the rink. He could skate backwards too.

Church Dances-Though my parish was St. Anne’s where I also attended grammar school, Our Lady of Lourdes held the coolest church dances. It was in a different town, so it was a fresh new batch of boys. Exciting at first, but it didn’t take long to figure out all boys were the same.

The Pizza Place-On Long Island, almost every street corner had a pizza joint. Sorrento’s was within walking distance of my house. It took about 15-20 minutes to get there. First we would rummage through jeans pockets and winter coats scrounging up enough money to pay for a slice and a coke. We would sit at one of the tables, eating and drinking as slowly as possible to extend the stay. But eventually Mr. Sorrento would shoo us out to make the table available for “real” customers. There was a candy store and a drug store in the same shopping center, so we could make an entire afternoon out of it. The shopping center sat right on the borderline of two neighboring towns, so we had the possibility of running into boys from our school, or new boys from West Islip. That was a banner day.

Dating outside the neighborhood. This was a Catch-22. It was always kinda cool to date someone from another town, but you quickly discovered you had no friends in common since you went to different schools. Then there was the dilemma of territorial rights among the guys, and it sometimes resulted in a showdown. It was really best to keep your manhunts within your own town limits.

Dating seemed so simple back then. Everything was face-to-face, except for late night phone calls with the phone cord stretched taut so you could be out of earshot of parents. Most phones back then were in the living room or kitchen. If you were very lucky, you got an extension phone in your bedroom. We were young enough to not be thinking about marriage, but old enough to know if we had landed a good kisser. We weren’t concerned about his financial worth, just whether or not he had a car.

I don’t think I would do well in the dating game any longer. I’ve outgrown my skates and the last time I drove by the corner, not one person was hanging out. I guess all good things really do come to an end.

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