Personals is a shortened term for personal advertisement. A personal advertisement, sometimes called a contact ad, is a form of classified advertising in which a person seeks to find another person for friendship, romance, marriage, or sexual activity. In British English, it is commonly known as an advert in a lonely hearts column. In India, it is a dating ad or matrimonial ad.
The earliest personal ads were placed in newspapers among other classified ads, and typically had matrimony as the objective. As interest in personal ads grew, newspapers provided personals sections specifically for those ads. Later, newspapers and magazines for the sole purpose of personal ads were published. Lonely hearts clubs were organized in the 20th century to provide listings of ads to their fee-paying members. With the advent of the Internet, personal ads began to appear on online sites as well, eventually turning into profiles on dating sites and apps.
Personal ads have been described by a researcher as “a valuable way of finding potential mates for those whose social world has been artificially constrained by contemporary urban life and the demands of modern employment practices”. However, personals have also been used by criminals—con artists, fraudsters, and killers—to find and lure victims.
Public opinion toward personal ads varies over time, from disapproval and suspicion in the 17th and 18th centuries to a patriotic service in the United States during the Civil War and to general public acceptance in modern day.