Strictly Personal

The loneliness of the long-distance advertiser

Oversexed Dude, 29, desires oversexed chick. Let’s meet and see if we groove.

—the Berkeley Barb

Doing Hard Time—want to hear from bitchin’ chicks who dig bikes and high times.


Ore. Lady, 27-single. Wants to hear from intelligent single male, 28-35, with varied interests.

—the National Insider

Independent Man, artist-industrialist, inventor-explorer, recently divorced, several degrees, corporation owner, unusually good looks, in thirties, relaxed, good-humored, interest in enjoying life and in meeting F. with talent and beauty, warmth and humor.

-the New York Review of Books

The above exhibit indicates that I have been reading “personals,” which, as the more observant magazine and tabloid readers know, tend to occupy more and more back-page space. I began to read personals out of idle curiosity after I had read everything else in a particular publication, but before long I was turning to them first, and before much longer I was underlining, and occasionally, when the specimens were rare enough, filing them away. I believe that I have developed a feeling for the cultural and sociological boundaries that structure the world of personals. I am reasonably sure, for instance, that the lady from Oregon would not expect to hear from any one of the above men, whatever his intelligence, versatility, or variety of interests, nor would any of them expect to hear from her. People who place personals in the New York Review generally include stylistic signals designed to discourage response from readers of Easyriders, a monthly directed to the swinging biker.

Not that there isn’t a certain democratic fuzziness about the cultural and sociological boundaries. An NYR personal such as this:

Two married Execs, mid 30s, seek groovy-looking, sophisticated chicks to share fine dining, entertainment, travel, fun and games, private jet, yacht, etc.

sounds as if it belongs in Playboy. But perversely. Playboy carries no personals—quite likely because they’d have to sound more like this:

Mature Unmarked Bunny, 41-24-33, no silicone, Taurus, out-going, fun-loving, versatile, wants sincere relationship with virile broadminded executive types, upper salary range, vasectomy preferred, who dig Andy Warhol, gourmet cooking, Germaine Greer, the Detroit Lions, what have you.

There is nothing especially distinctive, however, in the nonpresence of personals. Many magazines and tabloids, including most of the big-circulation slicks, still have no personals. You will look in vain for them in Rolling Stone, Variety, and Esquire, where they are at least thinkable—as distinguished from the New Yorker and Commentary, say, where they are both nonexistent and unthinkable. On the other hand, the Saturday Review, Nation. Argosy, Atlantic, Outdoor Life, and New Republic feature “Personals” sections in which one rarely finds anything personal. Instead: bumper stickers and lapel buttons, water beds, plans for getting out of debt, exhortations to resist war taxes and abortion laws.

The uncertainty about what is and what is not a personal can result in some strange disagreements about classification. For instance, “Girls from Japan” “seek matrimony” in the “Personals” section of Rampage and the National Insider. However, they seek it in the “ETC.” section of the NYR. where they must keep company with pro-Nader bumper stickers and anti-Nixon posters. One can only conclude (xenophobia and racism being unimaginable in this context) that NYR editors consider a group appeal to be too impersonal to rank with the personals.

No publication has a better record with personals than the NYR. It is about as likely to let a water bed into its “Personals” section as it is to ask Ann Landers for a book review. Consider these typical NYR personals:

Folksinger-Lawyer, Washington, D.C., 25. seeks honorably interested girl, 18-26, to take to movies.

Divorced Gentleman Writer, Fairfield County, past forty, tired of committed-sincere-dedicated woman. Seeks carefree, imaginative, pussy cat lady.

Both of these suggest particular persons in recognizably human predicaments. Here are true personals.

Like the NYR, Easyriders has a purist’s taste in these matters: people are kept segregated from gadgets and services and they are particularized:

I’m still looking for an ol’ lady who’s all together, likes to ball, ride bikes and party. No big mouths or hung-up types. Send photo and letter to. . . .

This seeker has specified both his personality and desires so exactly that he has no need for a dating service—not even of Mind Mates, which boasts of being able to bring together flower children and Wall Street tycoons. Nor is he likely to feel any need for advice from Germaine Greer or Kate Millett. Personals in this publication have a forthright stormtrooper machismo about them. The woman’s place is against the sissy bar.

There is more variety, if less panache, on the National Insider level. Tabloids in this class (the Exploiter, the National Mirror, the National Bulletin, Inside News, the National Informer, etc.) make a major thing of personals. I counted over a hundred in a recent Insider. Here the ritually recurring words are “sincere” and “broadminded.” Personals, on this level (except for “discreet” couples seeking “new friendships”) will very often state that their authors are lonely. Such frankness is rare on other levels.

There is no point to looking for explicit loneliness in the aphrodisiac world of the Berkeley Barb. Its “Adadada” section may contain such wistful oldfashioned appeals as this:

Attractive well-educated female in her forties wants a lasting relationship with a very special kind of guy.

but the general tone is indicated by these:

Warm licentious but sweet, dirty virile man seeks sensual fem, soul mate any race for erotic dates.

Anything Anyplace. B-Guy. Athletic muscular stud. Looks yng, hung big, versatile.

Hung Unbelievably Right. I’m versatile, 5' 10" & 145 lbs. For a completely satisfying time with a clean cut masculine guy call. . . .

The authors of these three personals are apparently very special guys, but it is unlikely that they are what the wistful lady has in mind. She is wasting her time looking for romance in the Barb, which, to judge from its ads, has far more confidence in French ticklers, cordless vibrators, filmed Swedish orgies, assorted rubber goods, and technicians prepared to deliver every conceivable variety of sexual ecstasy.

It is a relief to return to the purer back pages of the New York Review:

Creative Man. 33, Manhattan, seeks lovely lady to share Coltrane’s music, Orton’s theater, Feiffer’s films, Ailey’s dances, Vonnegut’s books, India’s cuisine—and my company.

Man, 55, Manhattan resident, aware and well-traveled, wishes to meet warm and intelligent woman who likes the theater, music, wine and food.

Trilingual Satyr, tall, 58, seeks liberated, intelligent nymph any age. fluent any language besides native. Marriage after procreation, otherwise share expenses. Limited existing progeny acceptable. Prefer recently divorced or bereaved woman having minimal cults, habits, vices who can quarrel without rancor.

Beautiful Man inside and out seeks woman, intelligent, curious, warm, sensitive, vital, graceful, capable of growth, serene in her womanhood, strong enough to love and be loved.

It should be clear from the above quartet that NYR personals are markedly different. Their authors would not be caught dead using “sincere,” or “broadminded,” or “discreet.” For them the favorite honorific term is “warm,” usually in a context where “sensitive,” “vital,” “liberated,” and “relaxed” are stated or implied. Perhaps the warmth in the NYR has something to do with the feminine touch: often half or more of the personals are from women. However, the men tend to be no less warm; indeed, many suggest an engaging vulnerability that is pleasantly in contrast with the tone of other parts of the publication, It is worth noting too that only rarely do swinging couples seek “new friendships” in the NYR. This is not to imply that the NYR is explicitly against swinging, which it might easily enough accommodate as a symbolic strike against the tyranny of the nuclear family. The more likely explanation is that the NYR reader tends to see swinging as a hopelessly middle-class pastime, in a class with bowling. In any event, the authors of NYR personals are predominantly heterosexual and individual, and are often quite frankly interested in marriage, or at least in a “serious, rewarding relationship.”

Also, they sound much more interesting than do the authors of personals in other publications. In fact, their very superiority raises the inevitable question: why do such warm, versatile, sensitive, vital, cosmopolitan, intelligent, and witty people have to advertise for companionship? The “Creative Man” personal above really does not make any sense. One can understand why lonesome bikers and swinging couples have to advertise, but this fellow ought to have the problem of how to secure a little privacy. However, the question overlooks the fact that even the best of us must somehow publish ourselves to the world or perish. There is a strong possibility that many personals in the NYR, though meant truly enough to elicit response, are at the same time what personals in other publications are: reinforcing advertisements for oneself—inexpensive means of objectifying. making a matter of public record, an ideal image of the self. NYR’s Creative Man no less than the Barb’s superstud, “hung unbelievably right.” now have concrete evidence that they really exist “out there” in terms they can accept.

But the terms themselves are the terms of the advertisements that are an integral part of the back-ofthe-book world in which personals are generally found. To assert oneself personally in this environment one has to compete in the marketplace of goods and services. This may not be much of a risk for swinging couples or superstuds, who must be willing to diminish themselves to objects competing in a world of objects. But one might expect that even an occasional reading of the NYR would discourage any tendencies toward this kind of competition. One would, however, be wrong.

I am 32. beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, strong, wise, modest. I have much love to give vital, sensitive, solvent, rich adult male seeking mate.

Perhaps an egalitarian might take comfort here. If the rhetoric of advertising is the real lingua franca of the modern world, so that Dick Gregory is the mirror image of Spiro Agnew. then all men are brothers in a very real sense and life against the sissy bar is not so far removed after all from academe or Elaine’s Manhattan saloon. There is further comfort to be taken as one notes the extent to which, on all cultural levels, the American mind appears in purely personal matters to be trapped in an old-fashioned movie: very special guy wants to meet very special girl in order to redeem the time, and short of that fairy-tale consummation, nothing else matters very much. The unbelievably-hung superstud may appear to have declined from his great original, but he, no less than the Creative Man, derives from Prince Charming, whose destiny it is to wake Sleeping Beauty to a fullness of loving life in which he will himself be fulfilled. And the appropriate decor for this wistful fabulous movie is the world of magic objects and services.

You may catch the Lorelei spirit of this mythic world at both ends of the tabloid spectrum—here, for instance, in the NYR:

Swinging Affectionate Gal in early thirties with features and body of a Hollywood starlet and matching brains and imagination seeks steady relationship with business or professional man in late thirties or early forties who is both cultured and athletic;

or here in the National Bulletin:

N.Y. Candyland, 22. Long hair, flashing eyes, creamy fair compl., desires man who will give secure life, love any race.

These are dream girls, truly enough, fit to inhabit the Bower of Bliss in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Yet even they cannot measure up to the London Love Doll, whom you may find seductively displayed (in what is effectively a meta-personal) in such magazines as Headquarters Detective and World of Man. The London Love Doll is “an amazingly lifelike companion”; her dimensions are 37"-23"-36"; her “soft ‘fleshy’ vinyl skin seems almost real”; as your “personal servant of pleasure” she is guaranteed to cure boredom and loneliness; you may dance and swim with her or take her to bed since she is made “just for love . . . fun, companionship and wild excitement”; she may be ordered for $16.95 from a firm in Van Nuys, California. If, as is likely, she comes with a repair kit she is one answer to the male’s quest for the Eternal Woman.

In the final analysis, however, the London Love Doll may have less to do with Romantic Love than with that promise of endless plenty that tantalizes all of us, whether we spend our idle moments with Rampage or the New York Review. Unfortunately, the image of abundance, whether supplied by the neighborhood shopping center or by the “Talking Shop” section of Esquire, is not the same thing as the experience of abundance. Where there is so much and in such variety, and where what one sees has the poetic power to suggest an abundance extending infinitely beyond the horizon of immediate vision, the effect may be to aggravate one’s sense of privation. Hence our familiar paradox. We may live in the most affluent society ever, yet unless we learn to protect ourselves from the poetry of our environment, we can experience privation with an intensity possible in few other cultures. One of the luxuries of affluence is the increased capacity for impoverished experience.

This painful realization-this sense of having been induced by envious gods to expect too much-haunts the world of the personals. The two married executives seeking the groovy girls, the beautiful man inside and out, the swinging biker, the lady from Oregon, the anything-anyplace B-Guy, the trilingual satyr—all these become legendary figures in a supermarket-wasteland in which nothing much ever happens, despite the fact that anything could happen at any moment; in which whatever has happened was long ago found to be spoiled by its false promises. It is as if the swinging liberated sixties, out of which these appeals and offers come, only intensified our sense of isolation and desolation in the very act of breaking down traditional barriers of reticence and self-denial.

Independence and freedom, it would appear, are the spiritual forms of affluence to which the correlated form of privation is loneliness. Seen in this context, the “Personals” section becomes a branch of American literature in which the most familiar of American dilemmas is posed once more. What if our sissy bars are pure gold; if our young men are hung like bulls and our women have breasts like basketballs; if our cordless vibrators and Swedish movies give us split seconds in eternity; if we swing in new friendships till the cows come home and our hemorrhoids finally cease to be a problem; if we dig Wittgenstein, Sade, Genet, Coltrane, Borges, Vonnegut, Burroughs, Barthelme; if we are creative, versatile, sincere, broadminded, quiet, relaxed, liberal, warm, witty, cosmopolitan, discreet, ecologic, macrobiotic, and astrologic. Is there any point to all this if in the end we are only lonelier than ever? □