Do personal ads get you laid?

Feb 14, 2007 at 12:00 am

What are your thoughts on piña coladas? How about beardy physicists? Or bald, short, fat and ugly men, age 53, seeking shortsighted women with tremendous sexual appetites?

No dice?

Pshaw — you're all picky bloody yanks, every last one of you.

When They Call Me Naughty Lola hit the shelves late last year, the pocket-sized collection of personal ads culled from the London Review of Books by David Rose, the literary magazine's advertising director, had the refined ranks of the Brit-lit scene all atwitter.

When Scribner picked up Lola for U.S. distribution, the "surreal haikus of the heart" found therein put the ludicrous ramblings of Craigslist's "Missed Connections" to shame — admittedly, not a Herculean task, but if placed in position, LRB's literary and pithy witticisms are clearly the top to Missed Connections' grammatically atrocious and, frankly, pathetic bottom. (Not to mention the yawn-inducing Nerve/Myspace/Match, etc., profiles, those no-nonsense "It's Just Lunch" ladies and that creepy "compatibility profile" scientist in the eHarmony commercials.)

Not a fair matchup?

As any boob who's seen a Hugh Grant flick knows, self-deprecation is a competitive sport in England — and, apparently, the LRB classified section is its Olympics. When you add up the advanced degrees of its readership, combined with waiting-for-tenure student-loan debts, minus a pence-per-word price tag, how could you not get knee-slappers like "Love is strange — wait 'til you see my feet. F, 34, wide-fitting Scholl's. Box no. 5973" or "Blah, blah, whatever. Indifferent woman. Go ahead and write. Box no. 3253. Like I care."

Just as sidesplitting are the put-downs found in the book:

"I've divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don't think placing this ad is the biggest come-down I've ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34. Box no. 6322." Or: "Like the ad above, but better-educated and well-read. Also larger bosoms. Man 38, Watford. Box no. 1369."

It's clearly not a science, but the LRB lonely-hearts club has produced "a handful of marriages, many friendships and at least one divorce." And it's still going strong. In a recent issue, in fact, we're asked the eternal question: "While these ads may reveal the undeniable erudition of their authors, do they actually get anyone laid? Sciolistic female, fifties, ponders. Box no. 03/03."

I wouldn't know. But while I'm too chicken to place an ad, I'm a huge fan of reading them, pithy poetics or pathetic pathos notwithstanding. But when it comes down to it, honesty, humility and a sense of humor are far more interesting, attractive, and even sexier, than this ad, found in a recent Craigslist post on the "men seeking women" forum:

"i am looking for someone to spend valentines day with, go out for a nice meal, maybe go to a movie or something. and of course give them a valentines gift. if you are interested i am open to any suggestions on what to do."

Yes it's sweet. But people who look sweet on screen are often hiding things like this saucy bit from Lola:

"Baste me in butter and call me Slappy. No, really. M, 35. Box no. 3175."

Everyone has issues. Why not get them out in the open from the start? Then again, personal ad creativity has never really been our nation's strong suit — aren't we the ones who came up with the "long walks on the beach" line?

But being an avid personal ad reader, I've noticed certain cultural clues that lead me to believe that our country is headed in a more Naughty Lola-like direction.

Here's what we know: The LRB audience is apparently honest, open and well-read. Following is proof that at least certain corners of our country are picking up these traits as well. In turn, we can hope that our personal ads (and maybe even American dating) will improve. Here I list a cultural clue, followed by an example of an LRB ad in the same line of thinking, followed by a similar emerging pattern in America.

Cultural clue No. 1: Everything is public

"7 million is good for me. Most days, though, I plateau at around 3 million. Any advances? Man with low sperm count (35 – that's my age) seeks woman in no hurry to see the zygotes divide. Box no. 8385."

According the cover story in this week's New York magazine (Feb. 12 issue):

"Kids are using the Internet to create records of their lives so permanent and personal it makes even some twentysomethings feel like they're on the wrong side of a generation gap. But the MySpacers are the ones adjusting constructively to a phenomenon that affects us all — the inevitable death of privacy."

My main gripe with the traditional American personal ad is that it's incredibly dehumanizing. Who doesn't like a fancy dinner? The more current offerings are more individualized, but they create the "problem" of having too many choices. There are so many faces and ads to choose from that there's this attitude going in that if this one doesn't work out, I'll try one of the other 20 blond architects on my list who like cats and the Shins. And, of course, everything's a game. Sure, you're meeting up with Tom, who is looking for a serious LTR, possibly marriage, but how do you know he's not just a one-night-stand guy who gets off on breaking hearts? Must we engage in the act of brutal honesty and zero privacy for our only shot at true, unconditional love?

The only time I considered placing a missed connections post was after a video store celebrity sighting. In my mind, it read something like this: "I was wearing black and standing in the French New Wave section of Kim's Video in the West Village. You were Philip Seymour Hoffman. I could've sworn you were checking me out. Did we have a moment?" But since countless online and print sources told me that he is in a relationship (and granted, a few other reasons too) I refrained. Maybe these kids are onto something.

Cultural clue No. 2: The fetishization of the librarian

"Not all female librarians are gay and called Susan. I, however, am and would like to meet non-librarian gay women to 35 with names such as Polly, Kate or Demeter. Chichester. Box no. 5208."

In the words of Dorothy Parker, "Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." Her contemporary dopplegänger, Parker Posey, might disagree. When her Party Girl came out in 1995, hoards of undergrads signed up for library science advanced degree programs. It's no surprise that the actress was a recent cover girl for Bust, the third-wave feminist magazine that also recently featured a slightly questionable sexy librarian fashion spread. Add those ubiquitous "reading is sexy" T-shirts and bumper stickers, and the intimate eroticism of the images inside Stefan Bollmann's Reading Women, which came out last year, and you might see where this is headed.

Cultural clue No. 3: The objectification of books

"University lecturer in Russian Literature (male, 57). Great legs. Box no. 1344."

Books are sexy. At an early age, Americans learn about their bodies through the preferred Puritan parenting pawn-off of birds-and-bees lectures by way of helpful reference guides. Unless, of course, you were raised Catholic, in which case you're lucky to get a terse instructional on how to use a sanitary pad and a near-fainting spell upon mentioning tampons. Gasp! You want to put something ... inside? For years, I lined my sneakers with panty-liners, naively thinking they were Odor-Eaters.

Anyway, moving on, there's no greater turn-on than fear. Everyone loves a good "print publishing is dead" story. Just when we thought it was bouncing back, Publishers Group West, the leading distributor responsible for such indie publishers as Soft Skull Press and McSweeney's, went belly up. But then, this just in, Perseus Books Group has stepped in to pick up the million little pieces. So we scramble to the stacks at the mom-and-pop bookshops to stockpile all those rare, first-edition classics before the Internet tosses them into the digital bonfire to be archived and searchable. Zoom in on that rare hard spine, pull it out and turn it around to reveal those oh-so-tantalizing tactile jagged pages — oh, the money shot! Can you smell that dust? Are you getting hot?

To recap: Reading books will get you laid.

And so ...

In times of despair, and indeed these are desperate times, we rely on our sense of humor (and if we're lucky, sex) to help us through the darkness. Trust me. Since beginning this piece, my boyfriend of four months dumped me. Literally, it was only a few hours ago. What can I say? I procrastinate. Still, I don't think I'll ever build up the courage to actually place an ad myself, even anonymously. But if I were to do so, it'd probably read something like this:

"Pitiably desperate female, two months shy of 30, two teeth shy of a full set of crowns, yet arguably cute, seeks affordable dentist — or rather, another chance to prove she's not as heartless, bitter and fearful of love as she's let on for the entire duration of this article, and/or the past four months."

Melissa Giannini is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]