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In Search Of … Personal Ads

A wistful look back at cleverly written newspaper personal ads

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Before match.com, Tinder and the like, strangers seeking romantic partners could place personal ads in newspapers, magazines and alt weeklies. At their heyday in the mid-1990s — after the social stigma of placing such ads had eased, and before the internet absorbed all the lovelorn — hundreds of personal ads filled the pages. 

I was always captivated by those little blocks of text condensing someone’s life, looks, hobbies and hopes into four or five lines. (Ads cost money, and thus were brief.) Imagine having only 40 words to describe yourself, what you do, whom you would like to meet, and what you might do together. All for the formidable task of selling yourself and hopefully attracting others. Sadly, most folks chose to parrot the same predictable dull ad, but others confronted these constraints with inventiveness or humor.

In 1997, I doubled down on my obsession. I read close to 50,000 personal ads drawn from papers across the country, and compiled the best in a zine titled If You Like Piña Coladas … Finding Humor, Weirdness and Exotic Cocktails in the Language of the Personal Ads. (It was later published as a square-shaped book which one reviewer pegged as a “fun book for those who like to read in the bathroom.”)

Newspaper personal ads are essentially gone, and I miss the days of idly reading them while waiting for the bus or eating lunch. As a writer (and reader), I saluted those who could transcend the restrictions to craft a great ad — a perfectly honed word-arrow to win a suitor. Or at least get noted and appreciated by a bus-rider.

** Shown here, actual personal ads


SW Male, 40, seeks lifemate to help dig foxholes, make bombs, forage abandoned cities, determine which mutant plants are edible, clean and load machine guns, lay booby traps and stitch flesh. Cause Armageddon won’t be any fun to face alone.


Tempe Jail, Sunday 10-20-96. We spoke briefly before doing 24 hours. You blonde female, me brown hair and beard. If you’re not married and not in love, call!


At the full moon I ask the goddess, are there no more single, straight employed pagan men left here in Chicago?


ISO Grade A Beef — SGWM ISO hot-beef injection, no slimjims or beef jerky need apply. Whoppers w/o cheese only please. Tacos with extra beef and salsa can head for my border.


Pickleman seeks Izzy. Handsome SWEET SJM who RELISHes life and hasn’t SOURed on the idea of love, seeks DILLightful SJF-30s to CURE me of bachelorhood.


Alien Abduction — Fox Moulder [sic] type seeks X-file. The truth is out there, so is a sexy 25-35 year-old alien. Me, 30-year-old agent, 6’, WM into world travel and NW. Shorter, dark-haired aliens preferred, cancer man need not.


For lease: 1966 Single, 6’2” ceilings, blond/blue décor, charming and attractive atmosphere, perfect for SWF, 25-30, month-to-month lease with option to buy.


Near Tide — Find me in the littoral zone, washed up among the bladderwrack. Show me to your hydric home, halospheric sea shack. And when the sun has bleached all bones, night will steal the beach back. I’ll leave you wrapped in seaweed sheets, alone, to swim to sleep.


1969 American White Girl — This model features too many options to list. Low mileage, never wrecked, low maintenance, and much, much more. This hot ride won’t last long. Call today, no special financing needed.


Rent-A-Wreck — Used, comfortable, broken-in, with high-revving tachometer, many miles to go with good tires and stereo. Real clean and road worthy. Never held children or smoke. Seeking female co-pilot.


A Rare Vintage — The complexity and breeding of a fine Bordeaux, the elegance of an exceptional burgundy combined with the youthful exuberance of a Beaujolais Nouveau and the spiciness and depth of a great Zinfandel, attractively bottled, seeking oenophile 24-45.


Bad credit? No credit? Bankruptcy? Who cares? Instant credit when you open your heart! Economy-sized attractive GWM, 6’1”, 350, offers Equal Opportunity. If your interest rate is rising, make the investment. Call today!


Athena Seek Adonis — Fair-haired maiden seeks single WM with the wallet of Trump, a Highlander bod and the genius of Einstein. Renaissance applicants welcome. 35-45, non-smoker/no drugs. Bring your sword.


Cockroaches fascinate me, as do men who scuttle about passionately on thin legs, investigating time, space, thought, food with dogged determination. This sophisticated, striking, 40-ish pseudo-entomologist seeks the perfect specimen: tall, dark, wingless but ready to fly.


Halloween, Margaret with the black dress and painted face. We met at a party in Adams Morgan. I was the Pez Dispenser.


Real man seeks real woman. No Democrats, smokers OK.


Me Good You Bad — Ugg, grunt, lone white male, grrr, seek grunt ugg, mate, grr ugh, ugh 2 grrr evolve with


Free & Single — be the Flashlight in my Disco Inferno! I am a SF, 22, ISO a Dr. Boogie to help me Turn the Beat Around. Not built like a Brick House (Knock on Wood); not looking for any sucker MCs or Superfreaks, just somebody who’s Staying Alive. Let the Music Play.


SBF, mother of 1, seeking certain caliber of man. He must be sane, sober and sincere. He must also be born Oct 25, Oct 29, Nov 2nd, Nov 11, Nov 16 or Nov 20 in the year 1958. No exceptions.


Box 6131 — To the 57 men who answered my ad, I am now a lesbian.


Law Enforcement: Arresting woman seeks Man in Law Enforcement, enjoys lightning storms, undercover work.


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