Relationships/How to Write a Personal Ad

Examples Edit

Thick glasses, HP calculator, SAT 99th percentile, knows pi to 16 digits. Great job, big house, pool. Better-looking than Bill Gates.

I ran "Revenge of the Nerds" without the swimming pool, and got one response. With the pool I got fifteen responses. Now I know what women want.

I made a mistake running the following personal ad:

Million-dollar Los Gatos home with junk cars in yard. Italian suits, cowboy boots. Likes country music.

I had thought that country songs were made up. I thought that the women in the songs were not real. Then they all called me.

I wrote this personal ad for two dogs that needed a home:

One blonde, other brunette. Fun-loving. Enjoy long walks on the beach, convertible cars, and heavy petting. Loyal, good listeners. Both have four paws and adorable floppy ears.

An alternative newspaper rejected the following personal ad:

Look: tall, thin, pale, black leather. Attitude: dominance. Music: The Damned, Killing Joke, Bach organ fugues. Hobbies: collecting memorabilia from serial killers, laughing maniacally in inappropriate circumstances, putting the "fun" back into "funeral." Can I bite your neck on the first date?

This will date me, but I remember when alternative newspapers did not have decency standards.

Making Personal Ads Work Edit

Less than 1% of married couples met via personal ads (see Where Couples Met). Only 2% of short-term sexual relationships started with a personal ad. Less than one in 500 online personal ad users finds a partner. 23% have not gotten a date in over a year.[1]

Personal ads are, in general, a poor way to find a mate. This is partly because many people write poor ads, and then place them in the wrong venues. The right ad in the right venue can work.

Conversation Starters Edit

Write your personal ad around conversation starters. E.g., writing that you are new in town prompts a variety of questions, such as "Where did you move from?"

In contrast, writing "I love sitting by a fireplace, talking about everything and nothing," prompts no responses.

Imagine that an individual approaches you at a party. Write out a conversation about yourself that fascinates this person. Now condense your responses into two or three sentences.

Imagine saying each sentence to a stranger. What would the person say in response? If you cannot imagine a meaningful response, take out the sentence.

Now highlight every bragging point. Add self-deprecating humor. E.g., one of my ads said that I lived in a million-dollar home. I then added "with junk cars in the yard."

Run your ad through your word processor's spelling checker. Then run it through a grammar checker (in Microsoft Word, the grammar checker is under "Tools"). Now look in your Yellow Pages under "Editorial Services." Pay a professional editor $25 to edit your personal ad. Spelling and grammar errors make you look lazy and stupid. A polished, professional-sounding ad makes you look thirty IQ points smarter.

If you are in a big city, especially in the north or west of the USA, describe your looks and your money in your personal ad. In small cities, especially in Southeast Region of the USA, emphasize emotions and hobbies.[2]

Disclosure Edit

One of my hobbies is reading personal ads from incarcerated women, and then looking up their rap sheets on the World Wide Web. At first this feels like going to the Humane Society to pick out a puppy... then you realize that these are bad puppies.

E.g., one young woman described herself as "honest, intelligent, with a heart of gold." Her rap sheet says that she is serving 25 years for homicide. (She was a waitress, so maybe a rude customer did not leave her a tip. That is justifiable homicide, right?)

I have read hundreds of personal ads from incarcerated women. Not one mentioned her crime, or anything about prison. The women instead describe themselves as enjoying long walks on the beach, romantic evenings by the fireplace, etc.

Hiding something unattractive about yourself might increase the number of responses to your personal ad, but these relationships will end—fast—when the individuals discover the truth. Potential partners will see you as having a bad character in addition to having an unattractive feature.

Present your best qualities, but also disclose your unattractive features. Present your unattractive features positively, as a conversation starter. E.g., an incarcerated woman could write that she committed a crime when she was immature, but prison has helped her grow and now she is sorry for what she had done. This leads to asking about the crime, what prison has taught her, etc. You could talk to her for hours.

Disclose an unattractive feature in a way that shows your good character. Showing that you have a good character will make people love you. People will then ignore your unattractive features. Ironically, pointing out your faults makes your faults less visible, while hiding your faults makes them more visible.

Select the Right Venue Edit

A magazine writer had less-than-great experiences with several big online dating websites. Then he won an eBay auction and paid $550 for a personal ad on a hip New York online women's 'zine. The 'zine did not usually have personal ads (i.e., his ad was a special feature). The result was 60 e-mails and "lots of" dates with interesting women.[3]

Buy an ad in each of the following venues:

  1. A big online dating service or a big local newspaper. Buy a month's membership. If you do not get dates within a month, cancel your membership and try another website. A few big corporations own many personal ad websites, e.g., InterActiveCorp owns,, and, and Love@AOL; Spring Street Networks runs personal ad websites for,, and many others; Lycos owns; owns,, and many others.
  2. Specialized online dating services, e.g., or (for truckers). The best directory I have found of these websites is the Open Directory Project, dmoz:Society/Relationships/Dating/Personals/
  3. A website or publication that does not have personal ads, but attracts the type of person you want to meet (most couples met in "Other"). E.g., if you want to meet men who drive BMW motorcycles, go to the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association website. Ask, beg, and offer a large pile of cash to the website to run your personal ad as a special feature. Suggest that the website run two personal ads (one man, one woman) on Valentine's Day, that they auction the ads on eBay, and that they use the "event" for promotional publicity.

Feedback Ratings Edit

Select an online dating service that has feedback ratings. The only one I know of is

On eBay, buyers and sellers leave each other positive, neutral, or negative feedbacks. When you get ten positive feedbacks, eBay puts a gold star next to your name. Buyers and sellers know at a glance that you are trustworthy. If they want to be sure, they can read each comment written about you.

If personal ad websites had feedback, you could select only individuals with a gold star. Then you could skip the ads and go straight to the reviews.

Other personal ad websites have surreptitious e-mail newsletters reviewing dates. These newsletters are only shared by women, and say only bad things about men.[4] This fosters a negative environment.

Checkboxes and Ideal Partners Edit

I've had some pretty funny experiences with married couples. For the most part they don't match well at all. At one event this woman was berating her husband for having answered the questions wrong. He said, "Yes, dear, yes, dear."[5]
—Michelle McDonald, inventor of the "Matchstick" electronic device which lights up when you're near someone with similar interests

Since the 1960s, computer programmers have tried to find questions that instantly match an individual with his or her perfect mate. This might work for finding friends, but we are hardwired for sexual attraction to our opposites (see "Pheromones" and "Similarity and Dissimilarity").

Your computer was right. Mitzi and I like all the same things: same food, opera, bike-riding, dogs. There was only one thing we didn't like—each other.[6]
—Bernard Murstein, Paths to Marriage (1986)

The endless checkboxes on personal ad websites are worthless. We feel passion for individuals who reflect hidden elements of our personalities (see Anima and Animus). You cannot describe such a partner, because you cannot see the hidden parts of yourself.

Listing intolerable qualities is also useless. E.g., lying is intolerable to you. Ask 100 potential mates whether they lie. Everyone will say that they never lie. Or smoking is intolerable to you. You might reject an individual who wants to quit, but needs a supportive partner.

A better way to describe your ideal partner is to list your favorite celebrities and why you like them.

Photos Edit

Always provide a photo. Not providing a photo will not make people think that you have a beautiful mind.

Spend the money for a professional portrait.

Provide additional photos in different environments. E.g., if the first photo is a studio portrait, provide a second photo playing sports or playing with your nieces and nephews. Provide a full-body photo as well as a head shot.

Lastly, correct the brightness, contrast, and color balance. If you do not know how to do this, pay a camera dealer or Kinko's to prepare high-quality digital files.

Responding to Personal Ads Edit

Women should respond to men's ads. If you wait for men to contact you, you will only hear from the men that no other women want (see Flirting).

A man should place his personal ad in many websites and publications, until he finds a venue in which women contact him.

When responding to an online personal ad, copy your profile and photo into your message. Do not expect the recipient to go to the website and look up your profile.

The Future of Personal Ads Edit

Location-Based Cellphones Edit

The newest cellphones have Global Positioning System (GPS) transponders. These cellphones can tell a 911 operator where you are, within a few feet. In a few years, when you join a singles club your cellphone will alert you when you are near another club member.[7] Your cellphone screen will provide the other person's profile—and send your profile to him or her. If you want to meet each other, your cellphones will guide you to each other.

On your home computer you will select parameters—age, hobbies, etc.—and see a map highlighting where these people are now. E.g., you want to meet older men who enjoy cooking. On Saturday morning your computer may show that they are at the farmer's market, picking out ripe tomatoes.

Reverse Personal Ads Edit

You will see a list of local events. You will check off events you would like to attend. Then you will search for other members who want to attend an event.

E.g., you click on Blues Traveler at the Paramount Theater. You then see all the single men or women who are going to the Blues Traveler concert. Because you both want to attend the event, you are guaranteed a date.

Road Trips Edit

You and other singles fly to a new city each month. Single natives of that city have a weekend of group dates planned. You will see the sights of a new city, and meet new people.

One weekend a month, you and singles in your city host a group of singles flying to your city.

Flying Affinity Class Edit

Where are strangers intimately close for far too long? Prisons and Landmark seminars, yes, but these may not be people you want to meet. Instead, fly!

The Wall Street Journal suggests flying first class to meet the best potential mates.[8]

Airlines should sell affinity class seats. You would fill out a form listing education, hobbies, marital status, etc. Then you would select the affinity class passenger you want to sit next to. A good conversation is better than an in-flight movie.

References Edit

  1. "Surveys Indicate a Recent Shift in Dating Priorities for Singles This Valentine's Season,"
  2. Hendrick, Bill. "Study: Looks, heart tops for single women," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wednesday, May 29, 2002. Refers to study by Kevin McGraw of Cornell University.
  3. Tannenbaum, Rob. "SWM Seeks Sex, " Playboy, March 2002, p.76.
  4. Tannenbaum, Rob. "SWM Seeks Sex, " Playboy, March 2002, p.76.
  5. "Modern Love," To The Best of Our Knowledge, Wisconsin Public Radio, July 20, 2001.
  6. Murstein, Bernard. Paths to Marriage (Sage, 1986, ISBN 0803923821), p. 69.
  7. Bennahum, David S. "Be Here Now," Wired, November 2001 158-163.
  8. Trottman, Melanie. "When Flying Too High With a Guy in the Sky Is Just the Thing to Do," The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2001, p. A1.

Flirting · Dating

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Flirting · Relationships · Dating
About This Book · Q&A · Recommended Books
The Science: The Evolution of the Human Brain · How Women Select Men · How Men Select Women · How Our Ancestors Lived · Monogamy and Polygamy · Hormones · Communication Styles
Life Stages: Childhood – Seeking Unconditional Love · Adolescence – Seeking Romantic Love · Adulthood – Families And Forgiveness · Agape – Altruistic Love
Practical Advice: Where Couples Met · Flirting · How to Write a Personal Ad · Dating · Sex · Becoming a Couple · Conflict In Relationships
Personality Types: Emotional Control Systems · Zeus-Hera · Poseidon-Athena · Apollo-Artemis · Hermes-Hestia · Ares-Hephaestus-Aphrodite · Dionysus-Demeter · Hades-Persephone