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17 May

As more and more Americans got online in the early 1990s, they learned how to enjoy relationships that were text-only.

At the turn of the twentieth century, “tough girls,” “charity cunts,” and other early daters upset their parents and the police by taking a process that had always been conducted in private to the streets.

For the first time in history, dating let young people seek mates and life partners on their own behalf, in public places.

She placed more emphasis on expanding your horizons than on safety. The chat abbreviations that Levine lists — like ASAP and LOL — now seem so obvious that it is hard to remember that they once needed defining. Decent webcam technology and the bandwidth needed to transmit high-quality images were still a few years off.

In the interim, using the right expression at the right time was the only way to flirt and bond.

Pioneering “cybercitizens” developed forms of dating that were all talk.

*** In 1990, only 200,000 households in the United States had Internet connections. (The upward climb has continued to 43 million in 2000 and 85 million in 2013.) When the price of personal computers dropped dramatically in the mid-1990s, many families acquired more computers and moved them out of their living rooms into bedrooms and private places. In many ways, the liaisons between early online boyfriends or girlfriends followed the pattern set by earlier generations of daters. After crossing paths in a chat room, if you hit it off, you could start making appointments to come online at the same time and talk together. In some chat rooms, disabled singles who found it physically challenging to go out or hook up in real life, connected and fell in love.

Levine encouraged them to use their computers to flirt, start online relationships, and explore their farthest-fetched fantasies without taking real-world risk. The pages she cited ran the gamut from tutorials for geeks, like to resources for free lovers like the Open Hearts Project and

“The driving source behind sex in the 1990s, whether you’re partnered or single, is the human imagination,” Levine declared. The place where imaginations go wild, anonymity is the rule, and desire runs amok.” Like earlier safe-sex educators, Levine used multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires to help readers take stock of what they wanted. The chapter “Overcoming Sexual Inhibitions,” for instance, started with a quiz intended to help you assess how uptight you are. If your best friend started unexpectedly talking about his or her sex life over coffee one day, you would:a. A service called Tri Ess connected heterosexual couples who were into cross-dressing.

I remember furtively clicking on thumbnail after thumbnail in an “Interns of the Month” gallery, watching spray-tanned haunches and balloon-taut breasts of girls posed around Oval Office interiors materialize, bit by it.