Relationships Before Smartphones and Dating Apps

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage….or is that how it truly goes? If this playground song changed with the times might sound a little different in today’s world, because after all the US marriage rate is at an all time low coming in at a solid 51% for 2011 (Cohn, 2013). That song today may sound a little more like; first comes your career, then comes trying to find time to date, then comes plugging all your info into a website and sifting through a bunch of other people looking for love, and maybe just maybe that whole marriage thing and the baby in the baby carriage thing might work out down the road. The world of relationships, specifically romantic has of course changed over the years as many things do especially due to technology.

Over time technology has taken over many aspects of our lives, and recently it has done so quite rapidly. When the telephone was invented it didn’t have any major effects on romantic relationships until around the 1950’s and 60’s when the commercial telephone was widely adopted. But it took the telephone from over 60 years to start fully affecting that specific area in our lives. It allowed people to keep in contact much easier over long distances, and contact each other more instead of waiting for their next run in or date. But that was the 50’s and 60’s when my grandmother was just meeting my grandfather, and I can’t speak for everyone, but they way they met and how their relationship was built doesn’t seem like many relationships that I know today. Even for my parents the way that they communicated and built their relationship is totally different from my relationships today.

'I really miss the old days when we were smarter than our phones.'
‘I really miss the old days when we were smarter than our phones.’

This brings us to the technology that matters most to our generation and the upcoming generation, the rise of the Internet and smartphones. We live in a time when we can be engaged in fifteen different conversations all at the same time, while simultaneously “communicating” with our friends through social media; reading their statuses, seeing their pictures etc. To put it in perspective in 2011 around 35% of American adults had smartphones, and in just four years that number almost doubled to 64% in 2015 (Smith, 2015). We are constantly connected to everything and everyone twenty four seven. What does all this connection and instantaneous communication do to our relationships? What effect does it have on our romantic and sexual relationships, on how we meet people, fall in love, and how we keep relationships alive, or at least attempt too. But lets take a step back, lets focus on relationships before the Internet and before mobile devices dominated much of our communication.

In the time period of the late 80’s and the 90’s, before the takeoff of in 1995 and the app Tinder in 2012, people found each other in many different ways. The leading way that straight couples met in the 90’s and early two thousands was through mutual friends (Kelly, 2014). In fact since World War II that has been the leading way people have met up with one another (Kelly, 2014). Of course you spend the most time with your friends and you value their opinions so it makes sense that this has remained the leader for so long. However if you look at the second most common way spouses have met it differs from the 90’s to the 2000’s. Around 20% of all spouses in 1990 met each other at the office or through co-workers, while that statistic has been cut in half to 10% from 2005-2006 (Kelly, 2014). This too also makes sense because usually for adults you spend 8 hours a day 5 days a week with your co-workers so they either become friends and can then refer you to someone, or you develop feelings for someone in the office. And of course there is also just meeting someone at bar, but the chance of that turning into a romantic long lasting marriage are pretty slim. Even now bars remain last in places where people have met their spouses (Kelly, 2014). It should be mentioned however that in the 90’s there was a service that could be called the father of online dating for people who wanted to date but couldn’t seem to find the right person. This father of online dating was called video dating. According to Watts (2015) a person looking for a date would pay to come into a studio and record a video of themself discussing their interests and hobbies to then be shown to other clients. They were then brought into an area that fit there age group where they could choose a few people that interested them and watch there videos. The video acted as a profile someone would create for online dating, and instead of an algorithm choosing who they would actually talk to; the people chose themselves, which in a way is like Tinder with a limited selection. All of these ways that couples met each other in the 90’s never had anything to do with the Internet or smart phones, but that wasn’t the only difference in relationships and communication back then.

People’s means of communicating were completely different before Tinder and smartphones came out.   The cell phone did not really take off until 1995, and even then it was just voice calling, no texting. Couples interactions always began face-to-face, even through a mutual friend the first time, there interaction would have been either face to face or a quick phone call to set up their first date. There was no texting for days or randomly being set up with someone but being able to chat them for a few days leading up to the first date. Many people in the 80’s and 90’s were still dating in the “traditional” sense. They would meet up face to face, then if both parties were interested in the other they would set up another date. There was no continuous yet segmented communication such as texting back and forth every few minutes where you could plan a response. When you were communicating with the person it was always instantaneous meaning you could not type, erase and then say something else. Communication was either face-to-face or talking directly over the phone so when one person says something the other responds right away.

It was not just how people met each other back in 80’s and 90’s that was different from today, it was what they wanted out of relationships and the way they viewed different types of relationships. For example, the percent of adults has dropped every year from 1990 to 2012, at 58.5 percent in 1990 to 50.5 percent in 2012 (Fry, 2014). This could be due to the rise of technology but it could also be a cultural shift. This cultural shift could involve people focusing more on their careers and wanting to establish themselves before getting married and Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 9.44.21 AMstarting a life with someone else. As can be seen in figure MS-2, the median age for marriage in 1990 was around 23 while now in 2015 the median age is approaching thirty. Two-parent households were more common in the 90’s with the percent of children living in a two-parent household being around 78 percent, which now in 2015 has dropped to 69 percent (The American Family Today, 2015). People’s views in the 80’s and 90’s of what a family is supposed to be and their views on marriage and relationships were obviously different then people’s views on those issues today.


There seems to be a cultural shift in America. Relationships are different now than they were back then; communication is different now than it was back then. Views on marriage and what constituted a family are much different now, ways to communicate with other people and find other partners is much easier in this day and age. Some of these changes seem to be good things, while others could arguably be bad, and it will be interesting to see how technology has changed our relationships, and the way we go about finding partners and keeping the partner we want in our lives.










Cohn, D. (2013, February 13). Love and Marriage. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from                

Fry, R. (2014, February 06). New census data show more Americans are tying the knot,                    but mostly it’s the college-educated. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from                                              more-americans-are-tying-the-knot-but-mostly-its-the-college-educated/

Harrington, E. (2012, April 25). Less Than 50% of U.S. Households Now Led by Married                    Couples, Says Census Bureau. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from                                                      couples-says-census-bureau

Kelly, M. (2014, March 27). How We Meet Our Spouses. Retrieved February 9, 2016, from        

Smith, A. (2015, April 01). U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015. Retrieved February 9, 2016, from        

The American family today. (2015, December 17). Retrieved February 10, 2016, from                 

Watts, M. (2015, April 27). What I learned about romance by working at a video dating                   service in the ’90s. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from                                                                              learned-about-romance-by-working-at-a-video-dating-service-in-the-90s/



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