This BBC magazine article describes how people over the centuries used technology to find somebody to love. Starting with newspaper ads, the overview will guide you through the dawn of electronic matchmaking to TV shows, blind dates and online dating as we know it. Plus some ideas on the future of dating.

1695 First lonely hearts

The first lonely hearts ad was published in A Collection for Improvement of Husbandry and Trade on 19 July 1695. It was placed by a “gentleman” looking to “match himself” to a “good young gentlewoman”.

1944 The Marriage Bureau

At this 1940s dating agency, men and women were asked to fill confidential forms with personal details and a description of their ideal mate. The Marriage Bureau would then pair them up and set up their first date.

1980s Enter the chatroom

Bulletin board systems, which served as a precursor to the internet, enabled online communication. People could communicate remotely and fall in love in cyberspace chatrooms without having ever met in person.

1998 E-mail loveThe film “You’ve Got Mail” featured two professionals (played by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks) caught up in a bitter business rivalry, but who fall in love while communicating anonymously by email, unaware of each other’s real identity. According to some psychologists, the film helped take away some of the stigma of online dating.

2003 Online dating is a big business, launched in 2003, is now China’s largest online dating site. It has more than 9 million unique users per month, according to internet intelligence company comScore.

2013 The spread of online datingToday, there are more than 1,000 websites dedicated to online dating around the world. is ranked second in the Middle East and Africa; is the most popular in India; PlentyofFish is the top site in the UK; and in Latin America Oasis Dating Network is the most visited, according to internet intelligence company comScore. About 10% of total number of internet users around the globe go to online dating sites.

Anders Sandberg
Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University

“In 50 years’ time interaction will be based on advanced social media. We will use technology to help us stay together. So, rather than getting a key to an apartment we will have a key to a network.”

Dawn Shepherd
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Boise State University

“As long as people go on dates, all the systems work. It’s like online shopping. There’s a large inventory of potential dates: Dating has been transformed.”

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