A History of Non-Traditional Dating, Starting in 1695

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When we think about dating throughout the ages, we think about how conventions have changed. How women have gained a greater voice and enjoy more control, how social conventions have shifted to allow men and women to meet freely and how we’ve extended the courtship period dramatically.

The biggest change, however, hasn’t come through a change in our social norms, but through advancements in technology. Specifically, the emergence of the Internet and high-speed data connections.

Today, online dating is huge, especially for the over 50s dating crowd. However, whilst using the internet for dating might be a new thing, humans have always made use of new technologies to meet new people, from personal ads in the paper to video and telephone dating services.

In this article, we’re going to share with you the proud history of those who sought love not by waiting for chance to lend a hand, but by going out and making it happen for themselves.

1695: The First Personals Ad

History professor H.G. Cocks believes that the first personal ads began to appear in newspapers during the year 1695, helping British bachelors find suitable wives outside of their immediate social circles.

One of the earliest surviving examples was placed by a 30-year-old man with a “very good estate”, in search of “some good young gentlewoman that has a fortune of £3,000 or thereabouts.” For those wondering how much £3,000 was back then, it translates to over £300,000 today. Oof.

17??: Homosexual Personals

In the 1700s, homosexuality was about as taboo as possible and punishable by death. As always though, love and passion will always find a way, and personals became a popular way for homosexuals to meet one another. Ads began to spring up which used code words, female names and other tricks to get into the paper, where they could meet like-minded people safely.

18??: The Wealthy Join In

Aristocrats in the 1800s began to use personals to broadcast their interest in romantic engagements, although they weren’t always looking for long-term partners, as an 1841 ad in the Journal of Munich shows, with a 70-year-old Baron seeking a woman “between 16 and 20 having good teeth and little feet.” At least he knew what he liked.

Mid-1800s: Everyone Else Gets in on the Action

Although personals dating was still seen as something of an embarrassment in the early 1800s (remind you of how online dating used to be viewed?), by the mid-1800s, everything had changed. Magazines and periodicals launched and, with them, came a greater emphasis on finding love. Everyone got in on the act, especially mature dating.

1965: Operation Match

Operation Match launched in 1965 out of Harvard. Using a questionnaire and an IBM 1401 computer, it matched students with other students for $3 a pop. Although the system utilised was primitive, it set the stage for modern online dating websites which make use of questionnaires to help individuals find people with whom they share things in common.

1984: The First Online Dating Service

Although it was pre-World Wide Web, the first online dating service launched in 1984 as Matchmaker Electronic Pen-Pal Network. It was a bulletin board system, much like personals ads, which allowed anyone with access to the network to publish messages on the site.

Today, mature online dating is about as common as can be, becoming safe and socially acceptable along the way. It’s giving millions of people a way to meet that special somebody, so why not join them? It could be the best decision you ever make.