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History of dating

The famous opening line of Jane Austen’s (1813) classic book ‘Pride and Prejudice’ runs as follows: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The expressed sentiment illustrates that the characters in the book, like most people, are much occupied with finding a partner, to attain things like love, stability or security.

A partner in the time of Jane Austen was usually handpicked or at least approved of by the parents. If you disagreed with your parents’ choice, or if your parents were unable to find you a partner, you would have to either accept your fate, or find different ways to look for someone.

The rise of newspapers created a solution for this problem, with their personal advertisements section, the analogue version of dating websites. It is estimated that the first personal ad was placed around the end of the 17th century and its popularity really took off in the early 18th century. However this does not mean it was a socially acceptable way of looking for a spouse. It was seen as a last resort for people with no other means of finding someone, for instance because they had no family of parents to arrange their matrimony (Cocks, 2009). The first woman to ever place a personal ad was Helen Morrison. She was even sent to an asylum by the government for four weeks, for it was believed she was mentally unstable.