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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 11:44 GMT
How to write the perfect lonely heart
By David Rose

With their abbreviated dialect - WLTM, GSOH, SWF - and cliched appeals, personal ads these days can appear anything but personal. But it doesn't have to be that way.

It's always fun scanning through lonely hearts sections in newspapers and magazines. Whether we're looking for love, or just a little curious, or idling away the time on a train journey, there's something intriguing about small ads. They are windows into other people's lives and many make for compulsive reading.

The first newspaper personal ads started appearing in the 19th Century and many magazines have had thriving columns for decades. Today, lonely hearts are big business.

Agencies that run small ads sections make fortunes by using premium rate phone lines and helping callers to formulate adverts. By asking a couple of choice questions an agency is able to create a brief statement about you that is then used to make your small ad. It's a good way of getting the job done, but is it effective?

Such ads invariably come across as a little formulaic and cold. And to the casual browser, they can be just a bit dull.

David Rose
Rose by name... David Rose says love doesn't have to be a WLTM-word
Readers of the London Review of Books (LRB) - the fortnightly British literary magazine - like to do such things differently.

LRB readers would sooner read the entire back catalogue of Jeffrey Archer novels than place an off-the-peg advert.

    "Safety first. Dignity second. Trousers last. Rubbish wok-cooked foods enthusiast and flammable materials-wearing loon (M) WLTM F to 45 with fire-blanket and no small amount of knowledge regarding the correct batter-frying procedures of tempura. Bicester. Box no. 2006."

Instead of the standard "blonde hair, blue-eyed, likes theatre" formula of other lonely hearts sections, LRB advertisers use their 30 words to create bizarre hiakus of longing.

What is more peculiar is that the ads sometimes work. Admittedly they don't have a huge success rate (a handful of marriages, a couple of children, at least one divorce), but, if nothing else, they are original.

It's hard, for example, to ignore the unexpected presence of the German Reichstag in this typically untypical advert:

    "Woman, 38. WLTM man to 45 who doesn't name his genitals after German chancellors. You know who you are and, no, I don't want to meet either Bismarck, Bethmann Hollweg, or Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, however admirable the independence he gave to secretaries of state may have been. Box no. 2102."

A solo drinking session probably isn't the best time to tell the world you're ready for love
If you're thinking of placing a small ad, you could do worse than to take a leaf out of the LRB readers' book.

Announcing to the world you're single and looking for love is not an easy thing to do and having fun is an important aspect of the dating game. Bear in mind, though, there are several important things you need to take into consideration.

Timing is always important. When is a good time to place your small ad? I often get e-mails time-stamped in the early hours of a Sunday morning. You can almost hear the glug of a wine bottle being emptied in the background.

In my experience, a solo drinking session probably isn't the best time to tell the world you're ready for love.

When you are ready, don't rush into penning your ad. It's a certainty that whatever you think is great about yourself is less impressive to others:

    "The only item you'll find in my fridge is soup. Forty litres of the stuff. Beat that. M, 46. Box no. 7524."

Perversely, this ad got a whole raft of excellent responses but, as a rule, no-one is interested in a failed attempt to enter the Guinness book of records in 1978.

Personal ads are an ever more popular way of finding a soul mate
Many ask their friends to help. It'll do for starters; just be aware that friends make poor romantic partners and will like you for very different reasons than a prospective lover might.

But if you'd rather begin with the help of someone who knows you quite well, try getting them first to write a brief synopsis of your most appealing qualities.

Be careful of breaking the very few protocols of the personals' column. Rule one: don't mention money. In those first lonely hearts back in the 19th Century it wasn't uncommon for gentlemen to specify their annual income.

In those days, the personals were market places for the upper-classes to advertise their business acumen and secure marriages into equally wealthy families. Mercifully, this is no longer the case.

Honesty is a good policy at all times, but when you only have 30 words to sell yourself, it's a good idea not waste valuable wordage reliving your divorce:

    "Save it - anything you've got to say can be said to my lawyer. But if you're not my ex-wife, why not write to box no. 5377. I enjoy vodka, canasta, evenings in, and cold, cold revenge."

My main piece of advice to all lonely hearts is to relax a little. Be prepared for the possibility of not getting any replies. Getting no replies or not getting the right sort or reply is no reflection on your qualities as a person nor is it the end of the world.

Don't be scared to try again. Be positive, be concise, and be bold. Even the ads quoted here struck gold eventually.

David Rose is advertising director of the London Review of Books. The ads in this article are taken from They Call Me Naughty Lola, edited by David Rose (Profile, 2006).

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

This article might have been worthwhile ten years ago, but nowadays it's sadly out-of-date. Nowadays, personal ads are taking a second place to computer dating websites, where you can write as much as you like about yourself, add pictures, and even get computer matching to help you find what you're looking for. Newspaper dating is so twentieth century.
Anon, London

My favourite LRB personal ad: "Misery, seeks company." Almost impossible to improve upon.
Cat, London/UK

What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia. After you do, he'll never phone you. I will. Box 1745. (Seen in the Wokingham Times 1990ish)
Sue, London, UK

I recognise a lot of what has been said in this column. When I was divorcing (whilst in the Army in the 90s) I tried the lonely hearts columns to meet ladies. It was a total failure. All the people I met were as bitter as me about getting divorced! Not a basis for starting a relationship. My nirvana was meeting a lady who explained to me how ladies like a man to be, and the perception of the lady - best advice I have had in my life!! As a result I met my current partner, applied the advice that had been suggested by the good lady, and we have been happily married for 13 years. Marvellous! I think that it does need to be emphasised that using lonely hearts is a sign of either being a predator, or being so low in self esteem that you are unable to socialise normally. The best advice I would recommend is to go out, be happy and smile. You will meet someone compatible in time. It is not a race to 'recommit' if something has gone bad within your life.
Bernie McAndrew, Shrewsbury, UK

Surely the time for personals is gone now that speed dating is here? Most communication is not spoken (or written) but is facial expression, body language etc so speed dating must be the way to go - and you actually get to go out, rather than talk to an empty wine bottle.
Roger, London

40, but could pass for 39 in the dark. On occasion a moderatly competant and unselfish lover. WLTM a wealthy woman with dodgy ticker. But in reality will settle for anyone with low expectations. NOSOH. Please give generously.
Tony, London

I went Speed dating in August and found love. After speaking to the the loveley Michelle i decided I didn't really like her, but it was only in the pub afterwards that I got talking to her. I then lost her number and only managed to get her number from her friend who had given out her business card to all the blokes in the pub. My friend who I went with though has been a further two times without success!!
Andrew , Manchester

More Sean Connery with a touch of Groucho Marx than Sean Penn. Post Suez, just! enjoys punk with a touch of Magic Flute, has adventures. But sadly for all you lasses - already taken.
simon mallett, UK Maidstone

Although not exactly a newspaper personal ad, I met my present wife through an internet dating service to which I (jokingly) advertised "shallow ladies apply within" and "form an orderly queue". She (jokingly) replied accordingly and here we are five years later married with two kids. We're not weirdoes, just two people with odd humour who met whilst poking fun at all the people who are. I heartily recommend having a go at small ads, even if you're just after a laugh.
Richard, Crewe, UK

This article made me think back a few years when I tried answering a few personal ads and I giggled to myself recalling the surreal but highly amusing time I had, as a newly single woman, meeting men this way. The truth is that no matter how witty/clever the ad is, and how lovely a person might sound on the phone, the reality is only revealed when you meet that person for the first time. My 4 most amusing encounters all started from small ads followed by a number of chats on the phone with apparently nice, normal men. But...
1) Turned up in a pale grey nylon blazer with assorted stains and missing teeth. Couldn't grasp the concept that I don't drink alcohol as his whole explanation for the provision of leisure time was that it is there for getting as drunk as possible.
2) Opened the conversation by telling me about his 4 ex-wives, including the one he still goes on holiday with.
3) 30-something and still lived with his Mum. And sneakily engineered for me to meet her on our second date having already notified a bunch of friends and relatives that "we" would be attending their various family get-togethers over the coming months.
4) Big burly police officer who after the first date explained in detail about his bondage fantasies and his longing for me to make them come alive. And did I have any "equipment" ?
I would urge anyone to give it a whirl, if only for the comedy value. And if you're lucky enough to meet the right person then all the better. If not, you'll have perhaps seen aspects of life you wouldn't otherwise be unfortunate enough to encounter and it can only be character-buiding in the end!
AW, South Yorks

Sue, London, UK: It's also a lyric from Burt Bacharach song: I'll never fall in love again. Deacon Blue also sang it.
Kenneth, Sheffield, UK

Met my fiance through an internet dating site - and had a fantastic time meeting some lovely guys in the process! A friend went the newspaper route & met a series of oddballs unable to socialise or communicate with other people...
Beth, Manchester

When I was last single (about 12 years ago) it was the devil's own job trying to meet anyone this way if you were male, as about 80% of the adds were from men wanting to meet women, and all the women were in huge demand. Is that still true? If so, I guess it doesn't much matter what you write in your add if you're a women, but you need to be pretty careful if you're a bloke.
Adam, London, UK

When I tried this years ago, the funniest date I had was with someone who had lied about his height! But having tried internet dating and met someone that way I can recommend it over the papers every time . . .
Wendy, Aldershot

I do not think you can meet your ideal through the ads. I feel the best place you can meet anyone is by joining clubs. you will then be able to see what they (members of the opposite sex) are like without comitting youself to disappointments
norma doyle, rugby, warwickshire

I met a lovely man via a personal advert, and it was the most wonderful relationship, the best, and it lasted 13 years. But you do have to be lucky, it is very hit and miss.
Cathy Cave, Milton Keynes

If you are a man, get yourself some gay mates. I know so many single women, all ages and types, and there seems to be a great lack to straight men. Mind you I do live in Brighton.
carl, Brighton

Who needs real reality when virtual will do? This worked for me: Staff-wielding elf magician seeks demure lady priest for moonlit dinners, long walks on the beach and smiting armies of rampaging orcs.
Zargon the Wizard, UK

Rule #1 about these ads...Men lie about how tall they are! If it says 5'8 he is really 5'6 or less!
Diana Nelson, Haverhill Suffolk

Here is the seven word advert that brought the perfect woman to me fourteen years ago: Fortyish feminist? New man needs new woman.
Terry, Ferryside, Wales

I didn't meet my fiancee on a dating site as such, it was more of a vanity site. I had my picture up on a site that specialises in long haired men for quite some time, and she'd emailed me. I never really intended to meet anyone from there, but I jotted down a quick email reply, with my mobile number, and two years later... we're happily living together and intending to get married in 2008!
Longhaired Guy, Staffordshire

Was single for a number of years and tried internet and speed dating without much success. About 4 months ago I went to a networking "do" and ended up meeting my girlfriend. She was in conversation with one of my colleagues, both of them looked bored so I wandered over to "rescue" him and ended up speaking to her for 3 hours or so. The rest, as they say, is history. Just goes to show that you can bump into your partner anywhere - finding love is not limited to areas, exercises and times specifically set aside for their pursuit.
Kevin, London

I would take issue with the writer's assertion that "friends make poor romantic partners". On the contrary, I have always felt it fairly pointless to start romantic relationships with people before I knew if I could get on with them as a friend. I am now going out with my best friend, and I can assure you that she is an excellent romantic partner!
J.L., London

Kenneth, Sheffield, UK: Yes, I know. We clearly share the same taste in music. How about it?
Sue, London, UK

The thing is, no sensible person would find a partner this way. They would use the internet. Online dating sites allow you to present yourself in a much better way - and to reach a far wider audience too.
Michael Shaw, Sheffield, UK

I always like mixing my abbreviations with personal ads and ones for houses. Therefore GSOH is changed with GCH. The winter nights fly by.
Steve Swords, London

Am always rather perturbed by people referring to their spouse as "my present" wife or husband. Sounds ominously temporary.
Emma, Basingstoke

Woman seeks Man,20-30, who is willing to lie about how we met.
Siobhan, Essex

"I think that it does need to be emphasised that using lonely hearts is a sign of either being a predator, or being so low in self esteem that you are unable to socialise normally." What a load of nonsense. There are predators and those with low self-esteem *anywhere*. It doesn't matter, *how* one meets their beloved, just that they do. Sometimes our social orbits, for whatever reason, just aren't wide enough to find our match, and the lonely heartsadverts and internet dating sites can be a fine way for folks to connect.

Kenneth, Sheffield, UK: (and any other trivia fans out there) so did Elvis Costello.
Nik , Hythe, Kent, UK

Years ago, I bumped into a female friend in the street and we went for a drink. It turned out she was 26 and had only had two boyfriends. She worked as a florist, and never had a chance to meet anyone. I encouraged her to place an ad and helped to write it. I tried to make it honest: she was a large, but very curvy and sexy woman. I also tried to make the ad specific - exactly the kind of person she was and who she wanted, instead of "likes sport and dancing". She got over 120 replies, most of whom were goodlooking lonely guys. After a few dates with different men, she stuck on one. This Christmas she wrote to thank me - they've been together all that time with never a cross word. I found two things interesting that transpired when she started going out with the men. One, after years of going to see dieticians with no change, she started losing weight. Two, as she went about her daily travel, random strangers started to chat to her, sometimes going so far as to ask her out. It's all about confidence: once you see that people find you attractive, you become attractive. (I speak as a guy of 50 who goes out with a lovely 26 year old.)
John Gammon, Brighton, UK

Buy a computer: quicker, cheaper and anonymous. Happy hunting.................
Maurice de Ville,

Back in the days when personals weren't so passe, a friend of mine put this ad into Time Out: "Feminist in stockings seeks man". The magazine staff complained to her, she got so many replies. She's probably still getting them now.
Philip, London

I met my wife 4 years ago through an internet dating agency, it can work. Best £30 investment I ever made.
LM, Hampshire

I met my partner two years ago via internet dating. We are both sociable successful people with plenty of friends and family. I do it find a little odd that people don't put more effort into meeting the right person. I mean, if you wanted to move house you wouldn't only look at homes shown to you by people you knew, would you? It feels just a romantic to meet the perfect partner through a website as it does at a mate's wedding or your brother setting up a blind date. My widowed mother met a nice man the same way a year ago following my success. None of us are ugly, desperate or noticeably tragic: what we DO have in common is that we made an effort to get to where we wanted to be. Brilliant.
Diana , Poole

If you ever want to convince yourself that your own life is no-where as sad and sorry as you think it is, try internet dating.....my own experiences suggest you're better off flirting with the other shoppers in your local supermarket.
Andrew, Wigan

I have met most of my boyfriends through the dating sites I am most happy
Tom, Essex

The lonely hearts ads in the New York Review of Books are by contrast stunningly immodest. Try this: "Passionate, stunning, sassy and dynamic maverick with loving heart. Considered adorable and cute. Combines athletic outdoorsyness with easy sophistication. Accomplished consultant and educator, serves on cultural, educational, environmental boards. Willowy, athletic, very physical with slender dancer's body. Loves entetaining friends, brainstorming, playing with ideas, theater (classical, contemporary, cutting edge), jazz clubs, sailing, skiing, golf, South of France, most of Italy, Australia. Interested in the world - politics, people, the arts, fiance, everything on the forny page and more..."
Tony, Norwich

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