HOW-2 Meet Women



Chapter 7

Nothing Personal


"Men wanted. Hard work. Low pay. Danger. High adventure. Chance of fame and glory."

The Arctic explorer who placed this newspaper ad to recruit participants for his expedition might well have been shocked by the magnitude of the response. Hundreds applied. The language is simple, direct... and compelling. Here is an example of marketing at its finest, the art of evoking human hopes and dreams.

Writing a personal ad is something of an adventure in itself. Here is the chance to reassess yourself, to focus and clarify your self-image, in effect, to recreate (or, at least, rewrite) yourself. You can sculpt the profile you display to the outside world, to the women you wish to meet. This assumes your total involvement in the project. It requires complete dedication to the task and responsibility for the consequences. What you are starting here may have far-reaching effects.

What Personal Ads Can Do (Perhaps)

What Personal Ads Cannot Do

What Personal Ads Are

What Personal Ads Are Not


Writing an effective ad requires imagination, sensitivity, and humor. Intermediate level or better communications skills, while not absolutely mandatory, considerably improve your chances for success. Treat this as a creative writing project, lavishing on it the same care you would on a grant proposal or a submission to a publication. This means extensive editing and revisions, not to mention having a working knowledge of the precepts of good writing (Strunk and White's book, THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, provides an excellent starting point). Note that if you cannot express yourself effectively in writing, now would be a good time to begin your education in this vital survival skill. A poorly written personal ad (or a lame imitation of someone else's) is an exercise in futility.

Given a very limited number of words in which to state your case, perhaps 50 or less, make each one count. Poetry compresses language almost to the bursting point. Imagery and metaphor are wicked, sharp edged blades. Rhythm compels. A feeling for subtlety and nuance lends elegance to expression. Language, in its grandeur, its majesty, its naked violence, plumbs the mysteries of existence, unleashes avalanches of change and has the power to transform all it touches.

                     A savage place! as holy and enchanted
                     As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
                     By woman wailing for her demon lover!
                             Coleridge, "Kubla Khan"

              Shy guy in need of girlfriend. Lonely. Desperate. Life is
              empty. Save me from drowning in misery. From the depths, I
              cry out.

Strangely enough, this is hardly the worst of possible ads. It is stark, almost gothic in its intensity, in its ostentatious display of pain, in its pale echoes of Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol. It might even strike a chord with a woman looking for someone to "save", to rescue and nurture. More realistically, it will either elicit no responses at all, or, worse yet, get an answer from a woman looking for someone to "remodel". On a scale of 1 to 100, this gets a 5.

            SWM, NS, ND, tall and handsome, muscular, financially secure.
            Enjoy long walks on the beach, moonlit nights, and cuddling
            in front of the fireplace at midwinter.

This is a generic "white bread" ad. Uninspired and poorly written, it is about as palatable as a heaping bowl of cold oatmeal. The less said about it, the better. On a scale of 1 to 100, this one barely rates a 2.

As an aside, avoid the use of acronyms, unless you can make up clever ones of your own. Acronyms, while saving on word count, break the flow of words, dilute the flavor of the message, and, in general, make their own unique contribution toward mediocre prose.

Axiom #0: Grab the readers' attention.

        Stray puppy in need of a good home. Cuddly, floppy-eared
        35-year old inventor would like to reinvent your life...

Axiom #1: Target the writing to the audience you wish to reach.

        Cassiopeia, oh starry-eyed maiden of my dreams, book lover, gourmet,
        esthete, athlete. Contemplate an afternoon at the atelier feasting
        our eyes on the Renaissance masters. Then home, for more substantial

                        A man and a woman
                        Are one.
                        A man and a woman and a blackbird
                        Are one.
                                Wallace Stevens
                               "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

Axiom #2: Paint a picture of who you are, what you are about. Let your true self shine through. Give the reader substance, rather than flash. Avoid jargon and euphemisms.

         Biker daddy, Herman Munster lookalike, popcorn addict, soap
         opera afficionado, seeking a ray of sunlight. Set me on fire, baby.


         Potbellied Polish polymath polygrapher, pundit, punster.
         Poleaxed by polka-dotted polyester Polynesian Pollyanna.
         Reply posthaste. Polly want a cracker?

                    No, no! Desire both lives and dies
                          A thousand times a day.
                               Edmund de Vere

Axiom #3: Honesty and integrity. There is only one real you.

Axiom #4: Humor. If life is funny, then all the more so this whole business of finding a lover. A little laughter will enliven your ad, and your life.

Axiom #5: Patience. Things must proceed at their own pace. Or they will not.

Axiom #6: Courage. If your ad gets just a few or no responses at all, don't despair. Try again.

Axiom #7: Empathy. Put yourself in the woman's place.
Try to imagine why women respond to a personal ad.

Corollary: Be kind to the women who respond to your ad. Try to answer each response compassionately, even if the woman responding is not quite right for you.

Axiom #8: Read other people's ads, to get ideas and to learn from their mistakes (it is much less painful than learning from your own).

Axiom #9: Check your spelling (or use a spell checker). An ad containing spelling errors makes you look foolish.

Axiom #10: Run the prospective ad past a friend, preferably a woman friend, to confirm that it is not complete gibberish. Listen to advice, but trust your own judgment.

Axiom #11 (the Eleventh Commandment): Do not rely on axioms.

Putting it all together, construct your ad using this template:

Consider the following sample ad, put together according to these guidelines:

Icy winds tear asunder boiling thunder clouds, deliv'ring sun from Nature's rage. Still I'm a man, strong enough to be gentle, a free thinker, self-educated. At 22, old enough to discern wisdom's shadow, young enough to wonder, innocent in splendid solitude. Please, cultured older woman, show me the ways of life, and love.

Can a well-crafted personal ad (or reply to same) persuade a woman to respond to a man she would otherwise consider unsuitable? Conventional wisdom holds that expressive skill, words alone, can tilt the balance if she is uncertain, but hardly effect a complete transfiguration. This classic assumption needs some cold water thrown on it. Consider how unpredictable we humans are. Only occasionally do we act rationally, and more often we grope our way blindly through a fever dream of wish and expectation. Our very desires, even our perceptions are in a constant turmoil. Yes, words can change a woman's mind. Maybe.

This is but one perspective on ad writing technique. For a somewhat different approach, see the "One-and-only tips on writing ads".

Exercise #1: Write your own ad. Revise it. Show it to a trusted friend, if you like.


The Village Voice, along with the LA Free Press and Berkeley Barb, can claim credit for pioneering the modern era of personal ads. What was once a solitary voice in the wilderness, or village as it were, has changed since then, and for the worse. The Voice Personals, in common with many other publications carrying personals, have plugged into the 900-number scheme both for responding to and retrieving responses from the ads. While the initial ad is "free", the associated costs may easily run into hundreds of dollars. Moreover, the costs of answering an ad via a 900-number can easily discourage someone who might otherwise respond by the traditional letter/note method. This is the dark underside of technology. It reduces what should be a correspondence by letter, nice and easy, unhurried, safe, to a series of frenzied phone calls. It kills the spirit of romance, not to mention plundering your pocketbook.

This brings up the question of whether it is worth spending hundreds of dollars to place one or more personal ads in what is essentially a gamble. This issue you will need to resolve according to your own judgment and circumstances. Those fortunate few for whom money is no object will have little to lose by placing multiple ads. For everyone else, us working people, there are certainly alternatives to spending hard-earned money on speculation.

The newsgroup alt.personals, after a promising beginning in the early days of the Net, has more or less become a wastland of ads for X-rated spam and other foolishness. This mostly holds true for the entire alt.personals.??? newsgroup hierarchy, unfortunately. It is still worth a look, but might well be a complete waste of time as far as actually posting an ad.

The Classifieds2000 site offers a good testing ground for placing an ad. There is no charge for ad placement on this popular site.

The American Non-Profit Dating Service features free personal ads, as do
Lover's Leap Alternative Personals and Abracadabra.

Yahoo offers free regional personal ads as a benefit of its free membership. These are certain to reach a wide audience.

Try the Singles Sites Chat Site Directory for a list of places on the Net to investigate for posting ads. Find additional sites by querying one of the Web search engines for the key words "personal ads".

Dean Esmay has written an excellent Personals FAQ This is required reading for those contemplating posting their ad online.

Consider using your own web site as a sort of personal "display ad". This alternative mode of advertising yourself holds some promise as a way of transcending the boundaries of the traditional personal ad.

Exercise #2: Prepare a list of ten places to publish your ad. Narrow down the choices to the best three.

Exercise #2a: Actually place an ad in one or more of the places you have selected. Do not become discouraged if you fail to get immediate results. Remember, this is a learning experience.

Answering Ads

The odds favor the person placing an ad over one who responds. Far better to have 30 respondents to your own ad to choose among than to be one of 30 responding to someone else's ad. All the same, there come times when you find someone else's ad so captivating that you would never forgive yourself if you did not at least give it a shot.

Consider the options available if you respond. Most likely, you would need to call a toll number, and pay by the minute. Your presentation will, of necessity, be short, attention grabbing, and to the point. You absolutely must distinguish yourself from all the other "applicants" who answer this particular listing.

Take the time you need to develop a "script" for your five-minute one-man show. Pencil and paper are your tools, and a tape recorder and stopwatch useful accessories. Outline what you want to say, then edit and revise, revise, revise. With your final script in hand, rehearse out loud until your playlet rocks and rolls. Put on your favorite music (softly) in the background, pick up the phone and let your voice flow, smooth, effortless, and convincing.

If you respond via U.S. mail or e-mail, then display your expertise in the classic art of letter writing. As necessary, refer to the pointers given in the previous chapter on writing love letters. Consider that this is not the two of you alone, rather, you are trying to make your voice heard above the crowd. Your epistle will be competing with those of your unseen rivals. A "generic" note will get only a cursory glance, if that. Again, aim to have your response stand out. Write creatively, seek the unusual, listen to inspiration, and revise, revise, revise. Keep file copies of your previous correspondence, and learn from your mistakes.


The best-kept secret in the business world is that publicity works better than advertising. Calling attention to yourself by getting in the news, becoming well-known by achievement or a timely "coup" is worth a thousand personal ads. Public personalities and "celebs" have no need to place or answer personal ads. On the contrary, their problem is fending off the advances of female admirers. You should only have such problems.

Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and similar publicity stunts have their attractions, but the cost generally outweighs the benefits, to put it mildly. Much less hazardous is having yourself crowned emperor* of your own patch of real estate, or, if you are truly ambitious, of the entire continent, complete with coronation ceremony attended by the regional and national press. Short of risking your life or making a complete fool of yourself, you may avail yourself of the many other opportunities for attaining a high profile locally, and possibly on an even larger scale.

Volunteer your services to charitable organizations, or better yet, initiate your own project to help the poor or handicapped, or to teach the educationally disadvantaged to read. Bring artistic and cultural events to your town. Invite the bicycle racing association to schedule an event there. Get the area's artisans together to hold a crafts fair. Bring the carnival to town. Sponsor a "salon" for intellectual discussion. Organize the local painters and sculptors for an exhibition. Start a writers workshop. Even if your motives are not entirely altruistic, and you wish to obtain a bit of recognition for your efforts, you will more than likely be forgiven, if you go about it in a good-humored and tactful way.

Other possibilities include becoming an established authority in your field of expertise, a person invited to write newspaper columns and appear on talk shows. Be it only a hobby or leisure time activity, if you are exceptionally good at it or can teach it effectively, you can build your reputation on it.

Far better to be a "celeb", if only a local one, than a faceless figure behind a personal ad. However, it requires more imagination, resourcefulness, and truly, much more daring. These are qualities that all human beings, not just shy ones, should cultivate.

* As it happens, in 1859, a certain Joshua Norton of San Francisco did declare himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Surely, there was no shortage of womenfolk in his interesting life.

Exercise #3: Brainstorm at least 5 ways to make a name for yourself.

Final Words

"There ain't no cure for the summertime blues", nor is there one for loneliness. Think "tool", rather than "remedy". Placing or answering a personal ad will not necessarily make a fundamental difference in your social life, but it can be an interesting ride.

In the personal ad "game", as in chess, the rules are easy to learn, but the strategy is complex and tricky. Similarly, the results are proportional to the amount and intensity of effort expended, and the level of skill attained is as much a matter of practice as talent. Like chess, and much of life itself, "playing" the personals should be fun. If you do it for the prize alone, then you are missing the point.

An ad can, at best, only provide the opportunity to meet women. A woman who answers your ad has made no commitment, beyond a willingness to speak with you once. Taking it from there, actually establishing a relationship is still a matter of personal contact, of the interaction between the two of you. As yet, there are only words between you... and words alone cannot bridge the gap, nor can they touch, nor kiss.