Having been feeding on a steady diet of Victorian novels of late, and running into the occasional set of thoughts about how we need to get back to a more traditional approach to dating and courtship, it has been striking me to what extent I had the benefit of having things both ways. Going to a small, orthodox Catholic college, I had the benefit of living among a congenial group of people in which living according to the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality was generally taken as a matter of course. Not to say that people never violated these rules, but the rules were, at least, seen as the rules. In this sense, it had something of the feel of the image people have of the "good old days" in regards to dating and courtship.
On the other hand, it was still very much the modern world of the turn of the millennium that I was living in, and with this, in the broader culture, came many freedoms. Even in Stuebenville culture, most of these carried through -- one could avail oneself of flexible modern cultural standards so long as one clearly adhered to Catholic moral standards as well.
Thus, for instance, MrsDarwin and I, in our quiet way, had a lot more leeway during our years of dating and engagement than would have been the case in 1950s, much less the 1850s. During the semester that we both spent studying in Europe, we traveled together every weekend -- sometimes with other students, but usually alone -- and suffered nary a raised eyebrow. Our senior year, seeking both to save money and escape the at times over-close paternal embrace of Steubenville dorm administration, I rented a three bedroom house off campus. A guy I knew shared the one large bedroom with me while MrsD (then my fiance) and a female grad student took the other two rooms. It was by far the most congenial living situation I had during college, and although I'm sure someone or other in Student Life would have had a case of the vapors had they known about it, it was actually an easier environment to maintain virtue in than the more highly supervised dorm life on campus. Because privacy on campus was at such a premium, when a couple did manage to find a little time together it seemed like they had better get some serious kissing and cuddling in before the moment of privacy passed. In the house, we had plenty of time together and so it was usually spent in comfortingly domestic activities like making dinner or talking over morning coffee.
Indeed, thinking back over my relationship with the college, what I liked about Steubenville most was as a social clime was that it provided a culture which clearly shared my moral standards. What I often found most frustrating was the rules it put in place in order to try to enforce those standards. Having and living by those standards, I still very much valued the more modern freedom to organize my life as I saw fit without people seeing the necessity of policing it.
While many look to a return to the more rigidly enforced social standards of the past (or imagined past) as a way to guard traditional morality, the freedom that comes from the mores of the mainstream culture in some ways served, in our case, to make it easier to live according to our own moral strictures. The freedom to be so close made it easier to wait out three and a half years between when we started dating and when we were able to get married.