In 1995, less than a year after Netscape launched the first widely used browser, a site called match.com was offering to help people answer those questions. As befits a technology developed in the San Francisco Bay area, online dating first took off among gay men and geeks. But it soon spread, proving particularly helpful for people needing a way back into the world of dating after the break-up of a long-term relationship.

By 2010, nearly 70% of same-sex relationships were starting online, and the internet had overtaken churches, neighbourhoods, classrooms and offices as a setting in which Americans might meet a partner of the opposite sex. Couples who had met online became commonplace. Today dating sites and apps account for about a sixth of the first meetings that lead to marriage.