How to write a personal ad

by on July 14, 2006 at 5:02 am in Education | Permalink

Megan Non-McArdle, who gives every appearance of being high-quality (she even knows the Coase theorem), places a personal ad.  The question: how should she describe herself? 

I don't have experience with this matter, but I do have theories...which of course I have put beneath the fold...

Here is her reasoning for what she has done, see here too.

My take: The goal is to induce many high-quality men into responding.  That means finding the relevant "bottleneck" for those men and getting them over it.

For instance if you don’t mind lying (or writing lots), promise
that you will respond to all messages, one way or the other.  More
people will write in.  Otherwise men fear they are wasting their time by responding.

What else?  Photos, or at least links to photos,
are key.  (Even better: a link to one’s vlogging.)  The man will judge the woman — as "wife material" — by the
photo.  Of course the woman has to pass "the
looks hurdle" in any case, so this won’t rule out many true eligibles.  If a man doesn’t see a photo, the odds are he thinks the woman doesn’t pass his test.  This is not just adverse selection; the default is that any given woman doesn’t pass the test.

Note: not every man is
looking for a supermodel.  But every man wants a wife who doesn’t look a certain way or set of ways
(When I was single I didn’t want women who wore Prada.)  Posting the photo signals to some men that "you look
right" to them, and again increases the chance they will write.

After that, the rest of the ad should be accurate, signal high intelligence in fairly straightforward fashion, but otherwise be bland.
You can say one or two idiosyncratic things, perhaps to attract a few
ardent admirers, but they should not be too edgy or scare anyone off. 

Don’t let men
rule themselves out because of fears which may or may not be valid.  If a smart searching man likes
how you look, and sees you are smart, he will write to you.

Note that the
male audience is error-prone and self-deceiving, so the self-description
should involve some ambiguity rather than a perfect description of
self.  The woman cannot trust the men to do the proper ex ante sorting.  Had I known I wanted a
Russian Jewish-Armenian lawyer and former linguist with not exactly my political views?

BUT: What if the advertising woman self-deceives about a good partner more than the eligible men do?  In that case the woman might want to be very specific about what she is like.  The number of respondees goes down and the woman hopes that the right man will see through her character and choose her. 

Does that sound like Megan Non-McArdle?  Are highly specific ads an attempt to abdicate responsibility for choice?  A pre-emptive move to avoid rejection?  Or are they a demand for the near-impossible, to seek the most romantic story imaginable, and to request only a man who is infinitely perceptive and full of love from the get go? 

Stay tuned…

Addendum: If a woman writes a blog, and in part uses the blog as an extended (and thus detailed) personal ad, does this mean she is especially difficult to please?  Especially romantic?

Jacqueline July 14, 2006 at 3:44 am

“If a woman writes a blog, and in part uses the blog as an extended (and thus detailed) personal ad, does this mean she is especially difficult to please? Especially romantic?”

Both. ;)

Peter July 14, 2006 at 10:02 am

Based on everything I’ve heard, almost EVERY woman who places a personals ad is guaranteed to get an enormous number of replies, so there’s really no need for women to fret about the proper ways to write their ads. Anything will work.

Ted July 14, 2006 at 10:20 am

The problem with a bland ad is that everyone else is writing bland ads, and you won’t stand out. I didn’t write women who wrote bland ads because I didn’t have any sense that they were anything other than bland, and, indeed, when I did date women who wrote bland ads, I was quickly bored.

Women also have different strategies for posting personal ads than men do, because men are much more likely to write women than vice versa. An attractive woman probably wants her ad to discourage unlikely candidates so as not to be swamped by them.

As for the final question, I agree with Jacqueline’s assessment.

Capella July 14, 2006 at 10:41 am

Megan is looking for a eventual husband, which means a man of extremely high quality. People are not perfect estimators of even subjective quality, and a relationship with a man of high, but not husband-high quality can waste a lot of time. So – assuming the men Megan could happily marry are few as a percentage of all men, but many as an absolute number – it makes sense for her to be as selective as possible, erring on the side of needless elimination of husband-quality men to avoid wasting time on sub-husband-quality men.

Derek Lowe July 14, 2006 at 11:41 am

Jeez, that took a couple of seconds. “Silence of the Lambs”, eh? That’ll bring in an interesting class of responses, reminiscent of P. J. O’Rourke’s comment in “The Bachelor’s Home Companion” about girls who are into motorcycles: “They’ll do anything. No, really, anything you can think up.”

AS July 14, 2006 at 5:10 pm

(When I was single I didn’t want women who wore Prada.)

But why? Do you think such women are spoiled or are high maintenance?

communicatrix July 16, 2006 at 4:44 pm

As a highly successful (i.e., former) user of online personal ads, I can confirm the need for narrowing the field of potential suitors, even though I am quite older (44) than the median age for women posting (32, if you believe what people say) and especially as my goal changed from Suitable Companion for Romps to Suitable Companion for Life, or a large chunk of it.

I’ve written extensively and only half-jokingly about the secret hurdles I made my man-suitors jump, as well as the subtle (and not so subtle) clues men give as to their suitor suitability, but basically, the online portion of the equation comes down to (a) finding someone who is not an illiterate boor (unless you yourself are an illiterate boor-ess, or desire illiterate boors) and (b) finding someone who (intentionlly) makes you laugh.

The rest is chemistry, both the sexual kind and the kind that sends the hairs on the back of your neck straight up to indicate potential axe murderers. This can *only* be sorted out in person, so if you’re looking for a mate (as opposed to a dalliance), you’re better off doing less ruling out up front and casting a wider net.

The exceptions to this are, of course, if you are a very young woman, a very young and attractive woman or a woman who has gotten extremely good at vetting men via their profiles and initial contact. These ladies can and should opt to narrow the field up front.

Regarding that last item (about lady-blogs), I am not especially romantic nor (according to my boyfriend, whom I met online, particularly difficult to please), I am just an oddball who needed to find the other, perfectly complementary oddball for me. The blog made this muuuuuuch easier.

Hillary July 31, 2006 at 8:36 pm
sadas August 7, 2006 at 8:50 am
Paul August 15, 2006 at 12:13 am

Jeff:
I’d say that her chances of finding men who share her interest in the Zohar and in real Kabalah (it’s one of Kabalah’s most important texts) are fairly good if she moves in the right circles, so there’s little chance that she’ll go back to you because she can’t find anyone who shares her interest in it. Good thing for her.

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