PLAYING THE PERSONALS

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[Caution: The advice dispensed below is not meant for persons in the full bloom of youth.  If you’re part of the hook-up generation, other rules will apply, of which I am entirely ignorant.  Persons of an age between hooking up and giving up should proceed only when no better option presents itself.  Persons who’ve already given up should change their minds.  Where there’s life, there’s hope.  Also a few laughs.]

I once had a plumpish friend who wanted to meet another Bill.  Whether another Bill would have wanted to meet another her is another question entirely. One I cannot answer.

She meant, of course, that I should give her some tips on the use of personals ads to produce a dear companion of her very own.  [It is true that Bill and I found each other in the back pages of Boston Magazine.]

This was four years ago, when she was sixty-nine — my very age when I ran that fateful Boston Magazine ad.  She may have felt I would have some expertise in this area because she knew I had been advertising, and answering personal ads, on and off, for nearly thirteen years before the lightning bolt from the heavens that put an end to all that.  (Although I do admit to sometimes still taking a peek at the back of The New York Review of Books — the gold standard for this kind of thing — where you can find ads from some really weird guys over which to chortle in the bathroom.)

I promised to consult my files in the basement and get back to her with sample ads, and the responses.  In the meanwhile, I urged warming up copywriting skills and adopting a proper frame of mind. I even wrote it all out for her, at considerable length:

“You must be clear about the demographic to which you are marketing yourself.  It is exactly like advertising.  Forget  truth as you know it.   The ad can’t lie, but it doesn’t have to lay everything out, either.  And it must seem to offer what the customer may be hoping for, without use of words like “luscious” and “lovely,” which nobody believes anyway.

“Actually, I’m pretty sure by now that men who do personals have no idea of what they’re looking for.  The ones under seventy usually say they want “thin” or “fit” — and “sweet” or “understanding.” But what they’re really hoping for is someone they can talk to (meaning someone who will listen, not argue), who is presentable and  — please God! — exciting.

“Maybe the ones over seventy are hoping for the same thing, and keeping their fingers crossed that everything will work the way it used to if “exciting” does come along.  But I have less experience with this age group, other than Bill.

“Be that as it may, I will in due time send what I can find.  In the meanwhile, you might study the personals run by women in The New York Review of Books.  Not the long, fulsome ones that sound as if they’ve been drafted by professional matchmakers, but the three-liners from older women who don’t sound needy.  I don’t know how successful these ads are, but some of them strike me as the right approach.

“Be warned that once you embark on this project, it will be hard work, and often discouraging  You have to keep up appearances.  Which means staying away from strudel and chocolate and investing in a full-length mirror and hand mirror, so you can see what your butt looks like and do something about it if necessary. You might even consider  acquiring a few new outfits somewhat less reminiscent of Woodstock than what you wear whenever I see you.  (Think Mrs. Exeter, if you ever looked at Vogue in the old days.)

“You also have to be tough, while staying not tough — meaning you have to not care too much or get too discouraged or hurt too soon.  Remember:  it’s a numbers game, you never can tell, and even if it comes to nothing for a long time it can be more interesting than staying home and waiting for Mr. Wonderful to wander in off the street, get past your doorman, and make his way up to your apartment to discover you hanging out in front of the screen in a scruffy bathrobe — clutching a fork and a whole Sara Lee cheesecake.

“You will not get many answers.  Not if you are specifying a man aged 65-75.  (Some who reply may even be older.)  Don’t be too quick to send them packing, even if they sound grumpy or whiny or full of braggadocio.  Let each one have a chance — at least a little chance.  You will learn something from each one, about yourself as well as about the man.

“Don’t give your last name or address when you answer.  Pesterers can be persistent.  Meet for the first time at a cafe or other public place, carrying a red rose between your teeth for identification purposes if you must.

“You invite e-mails from me at your peril.

“P.S.  I used to be very shy.  But one does what one must.  First baby steps.  Then cautious jogging.  Then tall mountains in a single leap!  Pace.”

As for the rest of you, that should be enough for starters.  However —  not to leave you cliff-hanging — I just happen to have with me right here the last ad I ever ran.  I was 69 3/4 years old.  It appeared in the special “Valentines” section of (you guessed it) The New York Review of Books.  I also ran it in Boston Magazine, where twenty-four words or less were free:

“BOSTON/CAMBRIDGE.  Great-looking professional woman with intelligence, class, culture, charm, pizazz seeks 60+ man of comparable qualities as partner in long hurrah!”

I must have finally figured it out.  I never had to run another.

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