You young’uns don’t remember them, but before there was the interwebs, there were personal ads. In every town, an alternative newspaper – of the sort that exist vestigially today, as “The Stranger,” “City Paper,” “The Village Voice,” and so on – ran weekly personals. There was a code, an entire jargon, that evolved to facilitate dating, matchmaking, and, to a lesser extent, hooking up. D, M, and S for divorced, married and single. C, J, O, and NR for Christian, Jewish, orthodox, and non-religious.
In New York’s “Village Voice”, there were sections. As I recall, “Women seeking men” (a small section), “Women seeking women” (a smaller section), “Men seeking men” (a big section), and “Men seeking women” (a huge section). Finally, there were “Multiples” and “Anything goes.” Those sections featured couples seeking…, individuals seeking couples, and everything else.
Ads varied from the straightforward (“SWM, 40, seeks SWF, 20s, for LTR”) to the more specific (“DWNRJM, 42, Leo, seeks S or DWNRJF, 30s, Sagittarius, for ambivalent Shabbat observance”) to the absurd (“SBCM painter (house), 47, seeks SWOJF, painter (figure), 47 for ultimately doomed personal relationship but highly productive professional one”).
Advertisers paid by the word, and had to rent a box, to which replies would be forwarded for some length of time.
High school and college boys (I), horny, would spend hours titillating themselves (myself) ascertaining just what it was women wanted, hunting, desperately, for evidence that one of them, somewhere, might want ME, a SWNRJM, 17, for wordless interactions resulting in loss of virginity. As I recall, boys (I) would circle a few ads every week, intending genuinely to muster up the courage to reply. Sometimes they (I) would even write a reply, a short message intended to communicate… what? I think, simply, that they (or at least, I) desperately hoped to be granted sex. Probably without mentioning sex. I, for one, never actually SENT such a reply. I just noodled over them.
As I recall, a few boys – the preternaturally confident? the clueless? the deceiving? – (reported that they) did answer an ad. Invariably, these boys had tales of what happened next. Tales that bore much in common with those front pages of “Penthouse,” the section called “Forum,” in which letters always began, “I never believed your letters were true, until this happened to me….”
I don’t really have a point to this post – only that it’s a little sad to me that those purely verbal (pictures were not featured) ads have gone the way of the dodo. They were fun to read, excellent fantasy fodder, and far more so than, say, Tinder or OKC profiles today.
Are any of you old enough actually to have met dates through the personals? Got any good stories? I’d love to hear them.