How it was:
אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל, לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמישה עשר באב וכיום הכיפורים, שבהם בנות ירושלים יוצאין בכלי לבן שאולים, כדי שלא לבייש את מי שאין לו. וכל הכלים טעונין טבילה. ובנות ירושלים יוצאות וחולות בכרמים. וכך הן אומרות, שא נא בחור עיניך וראה, מה אתה בורר לך; אל תיתן עיניך בנואי, אלא תן עיניך במשפחה.
R. Shimon Ben Gamleil said: There were no greater holidays in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, since on those days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing (so as not to embarass those who did not have - and all such garments requried tevilah). The daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vinyards and this is what they would say: "Young man lift up [your eyes] and see, what [girl] do you choose for yourself? Do not look for beauty, but set your eyes on family." Mishnah - Ta'anis 4:8
How it is:
You can't meet a girl except through the arrangement of a shadchan. The shadchan must first check out the girl by asking all sorts of questions regarding schooling, hashkafah, size of the father's bank account, if there are any skeletons in the family's closet (did her cousin once accidently eat cholov stam?)? What type of tablecloth does her mother put on the Shabbos table? Does the family do anything that in the slightest way deviates from the norm?
Of course, in some circles, before the shadchan can even approach the boy, s/he has to have the answer to the most important question of all: For how long will your father support the young man in learning and how much support will he be providing? The larger the figure, of course, the more doors open to the young woman. If the figure is small (or non-existant), then the options may be few and far-between.
Once the shadchan puts his/her stamp of approval on a potential match (and, of course, after the parents give their approval), then it's time for the prospective couple to meet in a stressful setting where every word, action and breath has to measured and thought out three times before being executed, lest it convey the wrong idea (If I use the word "religious" instead of "frum" will he think I'm not religious... I mean frum enough?? Can I tell her this joke, or will she think that I'm not serious enough?) . Throughout the date, both parties must hide behind a mask of frumkeit, since they are afraid to let their true selves show through (even though, in the end, it is the true selves, not the mask, that they will be marrying).
At the end of the date, the young man will take the young woman home (to her house!) and both sides will confer with the shadchan and with their respective camps for a strategy session and date review where every minute action that happened (and didn't) on the date is wheighed and analyzed. Of course, any direct contact between the boy and girl at this point is strictly forbidden -- all contact must occur through the shadchan. Why, if he were to call her up directly and say something like "I really enjoyed our date, I'd like to see you again," it would cause such a public scandal that the two of them would likely not be able to get another date with anyone else within 100 miles. So, both parties discreetly contact the shadchan and give their impressions of the date, telling everything that they felt was right or wrong about the date, and then both parties wait for the shadchun to let them know that the other one is interested (or not) in seeing them again. And so, another date gets arranged (or not).
But no dancing!
(Yes, I know it's not truly as bad as I make it out to be in my post. But the point remains how such a system as existed in the times of the Mishnah would *never* fly in certain circles today. I guess they're just frummer than R. Shimon ben Gamliel.)
P.S. Happy anniversary to the artist who designed the header for my blog and who is supposed to get back to me with information! :)