From Personal Ads to Avenue of Chat: A Short History of Online Dating
Digital technology, Internet and the rise of the smartphone, in particular, have changed many aspects of our society, especially how people seek out romantic partners and establish relationships.
Only ten years ago, people were still skeptical about meeting other people online – things have changed drastically.
For instance, when the Pew Research Center polled Americans on online dating for the first time back in 2005, only around 15% of adults in the United States reported that they’ve used online dating sites and services. According to a 2015 poll by the same company, 27% of young adults in the US actively use online dating apps and sites.
This marks a 10% increase from 2013, mostly due to a number of new dating apps. For people from 55 to 64-years, we’ve seen a 6% increase from 2013 to 2015.
Is this surprising? Honestly, it’s not. Although some people think online dating is relatively new, at its core, it isn’t really something we just started doing a decade or two ago….
1690: The Invention of Modern Newspapers
As H.G. Cocks, explains in his book, The Secret History of Personal Column, personal ads started just a few years after the invention of modern newspapers. They actually began as a way to help bachelor's across the United Kingdom find eligible partners.
One of the earliest ads placed in the papers was placed by a British man in his mid-30 with, as he put it, “very good estate.” He announced that he was looking for a young woman that has a fortune of 3,000 pounds – which is the equivalent of 300,000 pounds today.
1700s: The Gay Community Seeks Discretion
During the 18th century, personal ads presented perhaps the only way for the members of the gay community to meet each other discretely and more importantly – safety. While you might not be aware of it, homosexuality was banned during those days, and punishable by death, due to The Buggery Act.
Gathering sites for gay men, known during that time as “Molly Houses” were raided by police officers on regular occasions. Personal ads, which feature various code words and certain female names were channels that provided the members of the gay community a chance to find companionship.
1800s: Aristocracy Starts Using Personal Ads
A century later, the aristocrats’ managed to caught on to personal ads. In fact, they’ve used them to broadcast their interest in sexual relationships, which may seem scandalous even by modern standards.
Just for example, you can check out this 1840s ad found in the Journal of Munich, which found a man in 70s looking for a female companion between the ages of 16 and 20 with healthy teeth and “little feet.”
1900s: Lonely Ranchers, Farmers and Soldiers
After the First World War was finally over, personal ads become more popular than ever, especially in the Western part of the United States, which still had a very low population. Part of the reason why personal ads were so popular is that social pressures to “settle down” by 21 were lowering rapidly.
Ads with soldiers looking for companionship became fashionable during WWI. However, in reality, some soldiers weren’t even looking for romantic relationships at all. Back in 1920s, you could find a number of people simply looking for penpals in almost any newspaper.
1960s: The Rise of the Counterculture
The 1960s saw the rising popularity of the famous “lonely hearts ads” and just like many people have their suspicions with the Internet today, these ads were suspected of harboring scams. More often than not, these ads were used by sex workers and gay men, so some of them were prosecuted by the police.
At the same time, new technologies were emerging left and right. In this decade, a few Harvard undergrads started Operation Match, which turned out to be the first dating service in the world. For three dollars, users answered various personal questions and were given a list of potential partners.
1990s: Online Dating Re-enters the Mainstream
With the Internet expansion in the mid-1990s, personal ads become more widespread and in turn, relatively more acceptable by the general public. You had dating services like Online America and after a while, Craigslist started offering online chats, forums and online classifieds.
In 1995, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred in the rom-com hit, You’ve Got Mail and it became perfectly clear that the Internet has affected every part of our lives – including romance. During the same year Match.com was launched and after a few years, it already had hundreds and thousands of users.
2000s – 2010s: Mainstream Acceptance
Ten years ago, as the Atlantic reports, online dating officially became the second-highest-paid industry on the Internet. Even though you still have sites like Personal Avenue that connect people from all over the world, you now have a niche dating site or app for everything imaginable. For example – kik usernames or even online direct messaging via chat avenue – these are just a few example of a vast “ocean” of sites available.
The mainstream public now completely embraces online dating. Some would even say that Internet dating has become the new norm for introductions. In the end, human beings will continue to seek companionship with any tool available.
We use the technology we have because every single one of us craves connection with others and you’ll definitely agree that this desire will connect us until the end of time.