How We Dated Online In The Age Of Dial-Up Internet

How We Dated Online In The Age Of Dial-Up Internet ©iStock/Poike

Online dating has become the status quo, and many people feel that it’s ruined the art of love and romance. After all, things have been simplified to the point that you choose a partner with a simple swipe of the screen. It wasn’t always like that, though. Back in the early ’00s, online dating was only in its infancy, and things were much more complex than they are now. Here’s how we flirted online in the age of dial-up:

  1. A/S/L? The first step of Internet dating around the turn of the millennium was to find out who you were speaking to. A/S/L meant Age/Sex/Location. If you got an 18/f it was probably a 12/f pretending to be an adult; and if you got a 13/m it was probably a 55/m trying to sleaze on young girls. Of course, we were all much more innocent back then and didn’t realise the dangers of internet predators.
  2. AOL chat. There literally was a chat room for every subculture you could imagine – from X-Files fans to lesbians who love leather. This was a great way to chat to people with similar interests, or to get some sex education from one of the “adult” rooms by pretending to be a 25-year-old woman. One of the great games of teen sleepovers would be to sex chat with a stranger, then giggle like mad when he wrote something rude or dirty.
  3. Yahoo Geocities. All the (not-so) cool kids had their own Geocities website. You could add photos of your favorite bands, or show off your intimate knowledge of Stargate SG-1 in the hope that it would really impress the guy you liked. Your life’s ambition was to have him leave a message in your comments page.
  4. MySpace. Myspace was the first social media site which allowed us to display information about ourselves such as hobbies and interests, so you could stalk your crush’s page to find out what he was into. Then if you could let him know you really liked him by adding him to your top 8 friends.
  5. MSN Messenger. The rules of flirting on MSN were so complex that someone has probably published a book about them. First of all, your screen name had to contain some sort of obscure song lyric — one that you hoped that your crush would recognize and think you were really smart and clever for using. Also, it had to be in an almost illegible font with a heart, rainbow, or cat emoticon included. Secondly, whenever your crush signed in, you’d have to wait five minutes before talking, so you didn’t look too desperate.
  6. Webcam chat. Webcam chat was awkward because we weren’t really sure what to do. “Should I just sit there and wave at the camera, or does he want me to take off my bra?” My only personal experience of webcam chatting was with a schoolmate who asked if I wanted to see a “Chippendale show.” He then proceeded to undress on camera and drape a towel over his erect penis before letting it fall to the floor. I wasn’t sure what the hell I was watching. I eventually clicked off when he asked if I wanted him to measure his penis against the TV remote. No thanks.
  7. Forums. Whatever your hobby, favorite movie, or favorite band, there was a forum or website for fans to discuss important issues on. Here, people from all walks of life would chat online about a common interest. Lots of flirting went on in forums, as well as trolling and dissing “noobs.”
  8. Napster. If your crush mentioned a song or band he liked, you would spend the evening searching for it on Napster, and wait the entire evening just to download two songs. By the end of the week, you might have the full album if you were lucky and had managed to avoid downloading a virus. Then the following Monday at school, you would sing along to your Sony Discman, praying he would notice you. It seems so complicated – I wonder why we even bothered!
  9. Online dating sites. This was once considered only the domain of creeps and freaks. It seemed as though a new online dating site launched (and disappeared again) every five minutes. If you were brave enough to register, you probably put a fake profile picture or body shot so your friends or family would never find out. If you were able to find a match, you probably exchanged emails and telephone calls for a number of months before plucking up the courage to meet in person. Oh, how the times have changed.
  10. “BRB.” It stands for “be right back” and meant that you had to leave the chat because your mom or dad wanted to use the phone. Possibly the most frustrating thing about dial-up was that you couldn’t be online and talk on the phone at the same time. You would whine to your mom that she was ruining your life, and then pray that the guy would still be online when you returned.
  11. Good old fashioned email. Yes, most of us had mobile phones by this point, but text messages cost money and were limited to only 160 characters. Email was the way forward if you really had something important to say to your crush. There was nothing quite like the excitement when you heard the notification sound, telling you that you had a new message. Seriously.

Had enough of online dating? Don’t forget that nothing beats meeting in real life.

Ailie is a freelance and creative writer living in Scotland. When she is not busy writing, she will likely be found taking part in political protests, competing in muddy obstacle courses, and climbing mountains.