When it comes to online dating, success begins with a well-written personal ad. Here's how to avoid the common pitfalls and land the relationship you're after.
Life in the technological age moves ever faster, but if you're over 30 and single, the dating scene can creep along like Internet access without a cable modem. You've given up on meeting anyone in a bar. Your friends are getting married, having babies and throwing fewer and less exciting parties. You dated a coworker once, but never again. So now what?
Registering with an online dating service begins to soundless crazy, maybe even like a good idea.
And it might be. Plenty of people, normal people, have met on the net. In fact, so many singles have started looking online for love - 22 million use an online dating service each month, according to Online Dating Newsletter.
The good news is 22 million singles are surfing for relationships. The bad news is half of them are your competition. How does one lovelorn pup stand out from the pack?
If you want to hear "you've got mail" let alone "let's move in together," you've got to start by writing an ad that attracts attention.
We talked to four single folks, two men and two women, experienced in looking for love and averting disaster with online personal ads. Here's what they had to say.
What Women Want
"What helps is to read the profiles of your same sex," admits Neil Brecher, a 30-something from Philadelphia. "Most online dating services will let you browse without a membership. You get a feel of what to say and what not to say,' I like to have fun. My friends would say I'm attractive', yawn."
But creative writers beware. David Strauss*, a 40-something bicoastal bachelor who lives in Pittsburgh, PA and San Francisco tried so hard to steer clear of boring, he ran straight into stranger-than-fiction.
"I wanted to sound like a DJ, a little Midnight in Memphis," says Strauss, explaining his first Match.com ad, which included song lyrics like, "I stepped out of Mississippi when I was 10 years old, with a suit cut sharp as a razor" and "no pretty chick is gonna make me crawl."
Nary a B.B. King fan bit.
With zero responses and counting, Strauss decided it was time to get the advice of a woman. He showed the ad to his sister. "Nobody's going to e-mail you," she said. "They'll think you're a psychopath."
Strauss has a new ad now. It talks about his realization that there's more to life than a great job, which incidentally he has. "I'd like to focus on a family and playing music. I'd like to get a big piece of land to roam around on and lots of dogs," he writes.
He got 12 e-mails right away and women he had written to previously began to respond.
"You have to be explicit," says the newly educated bachelor. His current ad tells women he wants kids, a place in the country and that he's less interested in work than he used to be.
"Mention something specific that's going to appeal to the opposite sex," advises Brecher. "A guy might say, 'I enjoy the theater and wandering around antique shows.' "But don't lie, he warns. Eventually you'll meet in person and the jig will be up.
What specifics have worked for Brecher? "I describe myself as a renaissance man. I sing. I woodwork." What woman isn't intrigued by the image of a man with a hammer in his hands, a nail between his teeth and music in his heart? "I got a lot of responses from women who said they liked that I said I made things with wood."
Their advice to women: Avoid being overly negative. Guys want a woman's baggage to fit in the overhead compartment (or better yet, the glove compartment). "Some women rant and rave about what they're looking for," observes Strauss. "They dump onto the page every bad thing a guy has ever done to them. Maybe it's useful, but it's not much of an attraction."
Where the Boys Are
The women we talked to also praised the powers of an ad that is specific, honest and includes something that will appeal to the opposite sex.
"I got a lot of response because I mentioned that I was totally into football and totally into hockey. I knew that would make guys' ears perk up and it did," says Laurie Brookins, a 30-something from New York City.
In a town where some folks frown on inter-league relationships (Brookins is a die-hard Dolphins fan), she thought it best to let love-seeking Jets fans know the truth up front. "I do believe the greatest tragedy in professional sports is Dan Marino's lack of a Super Bowl ring," she wrote. With one line, Brookins showed she had a sense of humor and really does know something about football.
"Find some real things about yourself and share that," advises Colleen Brewer, another 30-something New Yorker. She shares Strauss' mindset that specifics are good and boring is bad, but weird is worse.
"My ad wasn't especially creative, but it was honest," confesses Brewer. "I said I like adventure and that I like all things French: food, wine and films. I didn't do anything over the top. I came across as outgoing, and I think fairly normal."
Their advice to men: Try being honest about why you're using the dating service. If you're looking to get married and have kids, say so. Because if it's a sports buddy men want, it's a family women want. "One thing that catches every woman's eye is a guy who says he's looking to get married, settle down and have a family. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" exclaims Brookins. "Every woman's gonna respond to that!"
While you want to sound good on paper, avoid giving us your resume. You're looking to make love, not a career move.
And never underestimate the sex appeal of normal.
"I was looking for someone down to earth, normal," says Brookins, who has since taken a hiatus from online dating. She was certain she wouldn't find it with the guys who wrote: "I'd like to meet someone for fun in the afternoons." "I was looking for just a regular guy. He didn't have to be a doctor or a lawyer, just someone I'd feel comfortable talking to and having a beer with in a bar with the basketball game on."
Seeing is Believing
Words, my friend, will get you only so far and "photo not yet available" arouses suspicion like a serial divorcee.
"You can write the most witty, insightful ad that says, 'I'm a Nobel Physicist and I think the Jets could still win the SuperBowl' and they'd still want to see a picture," says Brookins.
"The more pictures the better," enthuses Strauss. "With these tiny headshots, you don't know what you're getting."
To avoid feeling like the poster child for the unattached, use the photo as an opportunity to reveal more than how you look. Submit a photo of yourself rock climbing, hiking or doing another activity you love. And if it happens to show off your fab bod, all the better.
Strauss included photos of himself with his grandfather and nephew to complete his profile of a family man in the making. "It shows I have a good relationship with my family that I'm not De Niro in Taxi Driver."
Just Write It
All four singles agreed that when you're ready to put pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard, the worst thing you can do is follow the advice of the dating service. Worse than sounding like 10 million other relationship-seekers, you'll sound as if you lack confidence, passion and a brain.
"I'm not into it, if they have to turn to Match.com for help," admits Strauss. "It's challenging to write a personal ad, but that's what makes it interesting, to see how each person wrestles with the challenge."
*Name has been changed.