Many people are hesitant about online dating, stating that it’s too new, impersonal, and problematic, but the relationship model used in online dating is actually much, much older than computers and the internet. Here are three historic dating methods that share strong similarities to finding your soulmate online (and why it might not be as bad as some people think).
• Royalty: Whether you were George III or Queen Victoria of England, finding your spouse in another country was a very real thing. You’d get descriptions of your options from your family, friends, and commissioned courtiers, sometimes even having a portrait painted so you could figure out if you liked how the candidates looked. Letters would go back and forth, not between you and your prospective spouse, but between you and your “scouts,” as they scoped out the prospects and reported back to you on reputation, manners, and looks, just as dating sites scope out your candidates and try to find suitable matches.
• Colonial Marriage in America: Early on, some of the American colonies struggled to attract families and there just weren’t enough marriageable women around, so the Virginia Company and the French government would recruit brides, seeking women who would willingly accept passage to the New World with the understanding that they’d marry a settler (of their free will; according to an article on the topic, the government “actively protected women from the possibility of forced immigration.” Women were seen as the heroes who would come and stabilize the region, and there was such demand that men would bid on the right to become their husbands. But, like online dating that vets people for consideration before presenting them and their profiles to you, they’d only take certain women, evaluating character and appearance before they’d agree to accept someone into the program.
• Miai in Japan: This is a matchmaking practice that lasted for hundreds of years, where fathers and mothers would look for candidates for their son or daughter, often when their children had shown no initiative in the department themselves. They’d accept pictures of candidates from their friends, matchmakers, or other go-betweens, examining one’s appearance and “rirekisho,” a short personal history (profile, anyone?), which they’d then present to their son or daughter, all before meeting the candidates to avoid a potential rejection. Potential suitors could be screened out by the parents and matchmakers without the son or daughter even having a chance to decide if they’d like to meet the person and give them a chance anyways, as suitability for the family’s status was often included in the criteria for courtship.
So, while online dating is far from perfect, it has the same historical challenges of many dating methods. Just as photoshop might be tweaking someone’s appearance, a painter might depict a candidate as better than they were (or the reports of one’s friends might be inaccurate). And though online dating costs something, at least you don’t have to bid for the right to marry someone right there and then. You get to set your own criteria, modify your own profile, and choose who you’ll interact with, without the pressure of friends and family sending you photos and profiles and “helping” along the way.