How To Answer A Personal Ad

Copyright 1989 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.

An old piece, which must have struck me as funny at the time I wrote it (1989). It's got a couple of funny lines in it, but I'm not surprised that The Weekly (a Seattle-based semi-alternative weekly newspaper) bounced it almost as soon as it arrived.

Your friends may buy into your story about how you get The Weekly for the timely articles and to keep up on what's going on in Seattle, but you and I know better. You buy it for the personal ads, right? Maybe you've even tried answering a few, but with no luck. Is this lack of response caused by some failing in your character? You bet! However, it's not just you. To shed more light on this dim subject, I conducted a highly scientific survey by asking some highly scientific people about dim subjects. This survey showed that, on the average, people who place Weekly ads respond to less than one letter.

Are you tired of being that less than one? Then read on and be more than the less than one. Simply follow this six-step program, and you will have more respondents than a libelous article in the National Enquirer. It's easy! It's non-fattening! It's legal (mostly)!

Step 1: Select an Ad.
Ideally, you want someone of the correct gender, with the right orientation, religion, and smoking habits--which is not to imply that flaming nuns are not fun people. If you are not sure of your gender, ask a friend, or your mother. Personal ads can be divided into two categories: outdoorsy types and real people.

Outdoorsy types like to hike, jog, ski, wrestle bears, camp, live for days at a time without the benefit of indoor plumbing, and generally range all over the landscape. If you are an outdoorsy type, too, then your letter is easy--just write the longitude and latitude of your camp on a piece of tree bark, and drop it in a nearby river.

Okay, on to real people. Real people like to watch TV, hang out, go to movies, eat, and have sex a lot. Of course, they never say this in an actual ad because it might reflect on their moral character. Many people these days consider movies to be a form of devil worship. In fact, if you play Snow White backwards on your VCR, you will not only see satanic messages, you will get a good chuckle.

So bear in mind that a certain amount of fictionalization is going on when these ads are written. Take the phrase, "I enjoy walks on the beach." Hey, I like walks on the beach, too--in California or Hawaii. Let's get focused here! We're in the Northwest. Walking along a beach full of rocks and sharp stones in the wind and rain might be enjoyable to the Marquis De Sade, but not me, boy! So this phrase translates as: "I like to think about walking on the beach in Mexico."

To protect the identity of the advertisers, The Weekly has come up with a clever encryption scheme whereby each person's name is reduced to a series of numbers. Consider the following ad:

SJM seeks world power. Enjoys talking to foreigners. Respond to X981347897.

Applying the reverse encryption to this number yields the name: Henry Kissinger. Warning: Do not attempt this at home.


Step 3: Okay, you've found an ad.
The perfect person (or reasonable facsimile) awaits at the other end of the mail service. Now, what do you do?

Actually, you have a couple of choices. You can hire a skywriter to inscribe your phone number and name in the sky and hope that X99832423 looks up and sees it. Somebody will. And you could get some interesting calls.

Most people, however, realize that in Seattle using a skywriter is a lot like using a paper umbrella, and choose, therefore, to send missives. Although the right-wing types like to send missiles.

Tip one on writing letters: Do not photocopy your last letter, scribble out the salutation, and write X99832423's number at the top. Unless you have very neat penpersonship.

If samples of your handwriting have been studied as examples of Cro-Magnon communication, you should use a typewriter. True, a typewriter is not as romantic as handwriting, but it's lots easier to read and avoids miscommunications (having "well-to-do businessman" interpreted as "well-done-pizzaman" could prove embarrassing).

Okay, now you're ready to actually write the letter. Remember to say something about yourself! You don't have to create an autobiography (who really cares about your car, anyway?), but you want to give some sense of who you are, or at least who you want the other person to think you are.

Don't go overboard. You probably won't get laid just from your letter (and besides, postal sex--although extremely safe--is not very fulfilling), so don't try. Just relax. And lie a little. Remember, they took liberties when they wrote their ad--take a few yourself. It is not, however, recommended that you describe yourself as a world-class sky diver if you are afraid of heights.

An important point that is frequently overlooked: How do they contact you? You don't want to seem too easy ("I'll be waiting in The Weekly offices from 8 to 4 every day"), but you don't want to play too hard to get ("I'll be in front of the Flag Pavilion on Monday from 12:00 to 12:01").

Phone numbers are good. It helps tremendously to give the correct phone number, but you can have some fun by giving them the number for the King County Jail. If they don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't want to meet them anyway.


Step 4: To picture or not to picture.
Some advertisers want to see you, so they can tell if you bear a family resemblance to Charles Manson. Most pictures probably do make you look like Charlie's little brother. One way around this is to make a photocopy of your face. Everybody looks the same on a photocopy machine. Safety tip: wear sunglasses.

On the other hand, you don't have a picture of them. You could be sending a picture of Faye Rae to King Kong. The best solution is to agree to exchange pictures at noon under the Pike Market clock.


Step 5: Send the letter.
You will need postage on it! Ideally, you should mail your responses on Monday, so the postal service will get around to getting it to The Weekly by Wednesday when they turn around and mail the responses to the advertisers, who will get them on Friday. Unless it's a holiday--such as the Samoan Beet Festival--in which case all bets are off.

Of course, it can also be fun to mail them on Tuesday--because then you don't know for sure that they got through and you can delude yourself for another week.


Step 6: Wait.
Waiting is usually best accomplished by pacing back and forth. This can actually make time move more quickly, although you need to pace at approximately 600 million miles an hour for the effect to be noticeable (Household tip: pace at these velocities only on indoor/outdoor carpeting).

That's all there is to it! Simply follow this plan, and you are guaranteed to get responses. If the plan does not work, make sure you are following all the tips presented here--especially those in Step 2, as this is the most important step, and if you skip Step 2, the plan will not work.


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Copyright 1989 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.