For most of human history, the choice of life partner was limited by class, location and parental diktat. In the 19th and 20th centuries those constraints were weakened, at least in the West. The bicycle increased young people’s choices immeasurably; so did city life. But freed from their villages, people faced new difficulties: how to work out who was interested, who was not and who might be, if only they knew you were.
In 1995, less than a year after Netscape launched the first widely used browser, a site called match.com was offering to help people answer those questions. As befits a technology developed in the San Francisco Bay area, online dating first took off among gay men and geeks. But it soon spread, proving particularly helpful for people needing a way back into the world of dating after the break-up of a long-term relationship.
By 2010, nearly 70% of same-sex relationships were starting online, and the internet had overtaken churches, neighbourhoods, classrooms and offices as a setting in which Americans might meet a partner of the opposite sex. Couples who had met online became commonplace. Today dating sites and apps account for about a sixth of the first meetings that lead to marriage. For more information about how the internet has chnaged the dating landscape, see our briefing.
This article is from our Graphic detail blog.