Searching For Love Throughout History

CULTURE | June 5, 2019

Couple meeting through a matchmaker. Source: (wikihow.com)

These days, the search for true love often involves swiping left or right on a smartphone, though any people look down on the use of such dating apps. Some consider them to ineffective, dangerous, desperate, or some combination of the three. Others simply believe that meeting one’s soulmate should occur naturally, through the machinations of fate or God. However, while the technology involved with dating apps may be new, people have been finding creative ways to seek a mate for centuries.


One of the oldest methods of seeking a partner is using a matchmaker. Early matchmakers played a key role in arranged marriages in many cultures as parents would seek aid in finding a spouse for their child. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham employed a matchmaker, called a shadkhan, in seeking a wife for his son, Isaac. These shadkhanim were prevalent in Jewish communities during the Middle Ages. In Western culture, clergy members often assumed the role of matchmaker, particularly in Catholic and Jewish communities. Farming communities of North America would hold dances during which chaperones acted as informal matchmakers. The Japanese tradition omiai, introducing individuals to consider marriage, often involved using matchmakers known as nakoda who provided pictures and resumes of potential mates. Omiai died off during the mid-twentieth century in favor of “love matches.” While it continues in some of the rural areas of Japan, professional matchmakers have been largely replaced by relatives who perform the same function without the fee. Korean tradition has a similar practice which uses a matchmaker called a jung-me. While this practice has also diminished, matchmakers are still commonly used in South Korea.

Victorian flirtation card. Source: (etsy.com)

Flirtation Cards

A precursor to the modern pick-up lines, flirtation cards were a variation of the gentleman’s calling card. These were popular during the Victorian Era when matchmaking and arranged marriages were acceptable ways for couples to meet. Due to the strict social standards of the time, a man could not simply walk up and speak to a woman without first being introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Flirtation cards, also known as escort or acquaintance cards, were a way of bypassing formal social protocol. These cards were covertly slipped into the woman’s palm and contained short messages ranging from icebreakers to outright propositions.

Ad from a Texas newspaper. Source: (postalmuseum.si.edu)

Mail-order Brides

Today, there is a very fine line between mail-order brides and human trafficking - if such a line exists at all. But during the settling of the western frontier, it was a common practice. The initial settlers were primarily single men, who went in search of gold or farmland. However, they arrived to discover that while resources were plentiful, single women were scarce. Going back east to pursue a wife meant risking having one’s land taken over in his absence. Therefore, they had to get creative. One way was to ask family and friends back home to introduce them to a potential wife who they would then court via correspondence. Other men would place advertisements in eastern newspapers describing themselves and their ideal bride. If a woman was interested, she would write back and they would court via correspondence. In rare cases, the woman might be the one to place the ad.

Large personal ad. Source: (pinterest.com)

Personal Ads

The settling of the western frontier wasn’t the first time that advertisements were used to procure a mate. The first personal ad was published in a British agricultural journal in 1685 by a man looking to marry a “young gentlewoman that has a fortune of 3000£ or thereabout.” In 1727, Helen Morrison became the first woman to place a personal ad and was subsequently sent to an insane asylum for a month. During the 18th and 19th centuries, personal ads were primarily used by men seeking wives. During the early 20th century, they were also used to find friends or pen pals, particularly by soldiers during World War I. By the 1990s, personal ads began to be replaced by online dating.

Match.com. Source: (investors.com)

Online Dating

The foundation for online dating sites was laid long before the internet became mainstream. In 1940, a company in Newark, New Jersey, began creating social matches using collected data. In 1959, two Stanford Students, Jim Harvey, and Phil Fialer used an IBM 650 mainframe computer to create matches from a punch card questionnaire. Then in 1965, Operation Match became the first computer dating service when Harvard students Jeff Tarr and Vaughan Morrill used an IBM 1401 to make matches for a fee of $3 per match. In the 1990s, the rise of the internet took personal ads online and, in 1995, Match.com became the first online dating site. It was followed in 2000 by eHarmony and in 2004 by OKCupid. In 2007, after smartphones became mainstream, Zoosk was founded and became the first dating site to also offer a mobile app. In 2012, Tinder introduced the swiping system still used today.

Tags: love

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook