The personals sections of those 18th century newspapers were also useful for gay men and women to meet lovers, back when homosexuality was still illegal (it remained so in the UK until 1967).Personal ads went mainstream in the early 20th century, with expectations at a much lower level than their earlier incarnations."Short self-descriptions aren't only the preserve of Internet daters, they are also the essence of things like Facebook and other social networking sites," said Cocks.The difference between the personal ads of the previous centuries and today's is the age of those using Internet dating sites, according to statistics.Almost everyone these days can name a couple they know that met on the Internet, though it wasn't so long ago that skimming the online personals for love was considered strange, even a bit desperate.
When we first studied online dating habits in 2005, most Americans had little exposure to online dating or to the people who used it, and they tended to view it as a subpar way of meeting people.
Many of the postings were simply calls for friends or pen pals, becoming especially popular among single servicemen, called "lonely soldiers," during World War I.
"At that time advertising for pals or for lonely soldiers was fashionable and contemporary — something done by those who were, as they put it in their ads, 'bohemian and unconventional,'" Cocks said.
The core demographic of those publicly "looking for love" has been turned on its head, with people settling down and marrying much later (if at all) in Western cultures.
Internet sites tend to favor older singles, many of whom turn to the technology after a divorce or traditional forms of courtship have failed, Cocks said.