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The Personals Touch

A "love doctor's" prescription for perfect pairings


  • Matthew Thorsen

How can 30 precisely chosen words make the difference between a life of hellish loneliness and scoring a soul mate? Some people read personal ads looking for humorous infotainment, others hope it will lead to the long-awaited LTR. Whether it’s a long-term relationship, sex or friendship you are seeking, be advised that every word counts.

Dr. Personals is here to help. For three decades, as a practitioner of Personalogy, I’ve been helping clients choose just the right words to attract the person of their dreams, while minimizing responses from those who’d more likely appear in their nightmares.

Some have made it all the way to the altar — conveniently, I’m a justice of the peace, too. And I’ve seen some spectacular failures, like the man who, after a decade of placing ads to no avail, finally shaved his head and became a celibate Buddhist monk.

I know what you’re thinking — what qualifies Dr. Personals to help total strangers banish loneliness and connect them, through a few words on newsprint, with their mystery love? Personal experience, of course. When I read my first ad at age 18, I was amused and excited by the possibility of finding the girlfriend I had yet to meet in the flesh. Not finding an ad to which I wanted to respond, I promptly placed my own. I’ll share it with you now, then pick the miserable thing apart:

GENTLE MAN, SWM, earthy, spiritual, creative, loves people, animals, nature, gardening, mountains and travel. Seeking NSSF to share hiking, biking, deep conversations, strolling through autumn leaves, play and watching sunsets.

With this first ad, I didn’t yet know the Greatest Commandment of personal ad formulation: Instead of trying to find the right person, be the right person. I’m not saying “Don’t look.” I am saying get going with your life, do what you love, press the start button on your dream realization machinery. Too many people place a personal ad to find someone to make them happy — or, in my case, to end the humiliation of being the only virgin in an all-male dorm.

My ad was a personal lie — a sorry manifestation of my neediness. I wasn’t actually partaking in most of the activities listed. Did I garden? No, unless shower mold counts. Did I do anything creative? No, unless squandering hundreds of parental dollars at poker is creative. I watched one sunset during my first two years of college — to capture it for photography class. I wasn’t really doing anything, but I told myself I would if I had a girlfriend to do things with. Then I’d be happy, fulfilled and confident to pursue my dream — being an oil man and governor of Texas.

My first suggestion for clients is: Tell the truth. If you “love” making snow angels in your undies, but only did it once 30 years ago, don’t mention it. If you channel poetry from dead masters and you write it down, say so. If your only writing is 4000 pages of journal whining, forget it.

Next, be specific. Unless you want every reader who understands English to contact you, aim for what you really want. My ad said I loved people, animals and nature. Who doesn’t like people and animals, at least some people and some animals? And is there really anyone who doesn’t like nature, at least in small doses? My loves were loves of the masses. I also neglected to state my age, or an age range for respondents. If you don’t narrow it down, prepare to receive replies from people born during nearly any decade of the 20th century.

Other common examples of too-general words or phrases used in personals include: movies, outdoors, music, eating out, shopping, sports, travel, reading, etc. More specific is better: sail boating, Phish head, Asian cuisine, shopping at big-box stores, exploring Vermont on a Harley.

I’ve come up with several broad categories you may wish to consider in composing your ad, in no particular order. Some categories will be more important in your life, so you’ll want to emphasize them. This info is equally pertinent if you’re considering responding to an ad.

Life Philosophies

The first category may be one of the most important, yet one of the hardest to articulate. My dog calls it “slerpp” — sniff, lick, eat, run, pee and poop. I call it life-view, or philosophy of life. In my first personal ad, the words spiritual, creative and deep conversations fell under this rubric. But I could have chosen better words. “Spiritual” is ambiguous — a thousand readers could have a thousand interpretations. As for “creative,” who isn’t in one way or another? And most people want deep conversations with their significant other — at least once a decade. The type and content of deep conversation might speak to your life-view. “I like deep Catholic theological conversation” — now that says something!

Here’s a list of key words that I believe provide a glimpse into the writer’s philosophy of life:

  • would love living in cabin on Walden Pond

  • vegetarian

  • forgive me God, for I have sinned

  • into progressive politics

  • passion for dance essential

  • love all extreme sports

  • social justice

  • Ayn Rand’s my hero

  • commerce Luddite

  • raising my children is my biggest joy

  • making money is my only God

  • free love is my only God

  • not into $, new cars, past lives, couch-potatoism

  • take-Vermont-forward attitude

  • I believe in hard work and making it on one’s own

  • reborn superman, 1925 model, on ginkgo and Viagra seeks superwoman for spontaneous sex and companionship.

Note that some of the above concern political leanings and values. Important. What will your match think about abortion, taxes, welfare, who really won the election, environmental protection or gun control? Imagine you’re on your first date and he starts ranting about those evil civil-union supporters — but you’re a Progressive and your best friends are gay. Unless both people have no interest in anything political, having different political persuasions can be a major turn off.

Before I move on, just a quick mention of other words and phrases that are too vague:

  • open-minded

  • must have values

  • meaningful conversation

  • enjoys what life has to offer

  • peaceful

  • must be considerate

  • successful

  • attractive

  • sense of humor

  • honesty

  • nice

  • secure

  • fun

“Fun” to my neighbor Bill is shooting stray cats with his BB gun. “Fun” to my neighbor Fran is taking schoolchildren to the Animal Rescue Sanctuary.


“Spirituality,” which includes religion, values and morality, definitely overlaps with life philosophies. If your spirituality, religion or moral views — or those of a potential mate — aren’t important to you, don’t mention it in your ad. I would, though. Using this category to your advantage will weed out a lot of folks you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with.

The following may be too open to interpretation:

  • family values

  • conscious

  • must have morals

  • religious

  • church-goer

  • ethical

  • spiritual life

  • truth-seeker

If religion is important, enlighten the readership to your faith. Christian is OK, but there are so many types of Christians that I’d elaborate. If you say you’re Jewish, Buddhist, Moslem, Unitarian, atheist, etc., you’ll likely turn many away, but will attract fellow believers.

Some good expressions of spiritual views:

  • life-long pagan

  • have Buddhist-Taoist leanings

  • Native American spirituality

  • practicing Catholic

  • Jesus lives in my TV and we love channel surfing together

  • conservative values

  • my religion is loving kindness and communing with nature


In my ad I mentioned hiking and biking. These words suggested that I was healthy — a complete fabrication. Personal ad writers often describe the physical activities they enjoy or participate in, but they may also want to communicate important factoids about health, sexuality, body image, etc.

Probably the most ubiquitous health indicator is NS — non-smoking. This is important. Most non-smokers would rather kiss a cormorant’s hiney than a smoker, let alone be near them puffing away. On the other hand, one useful “cleverism” is “non-tobacco user,” which usually means smoking grass is OK.

If you don’t do alcohol or drugs and don’t want to be with a user, say it now and forego future grief. I’m not hot about “casual user” or “occasional drinker.” Occasional to you might be a couple of Long Trails per month. To some, it could mean seven or eight pints per day.

Sexuality? Not much needs to be said here. Virtually everyone whose heart still beats likes and wants sex. If, however, you definitely don’t want sex until your string of dates grows into a LTR, then eliminate misunderstanding with the old stand-by — “friends first.” If you’re open to sex — and want a truckload of responses — try “does anyone like sex as much as I do?”

Body image. People like hinting that they don’t look like a model in Cosmopolitan. If you think you’re overweight, you may cringe at alluding to it and assume nobody will contact you. Frankly, many people will write you off the list, but my experience suggests there are men and women out there who can look beyond physical appearance. Hey, they may be carrying around a few extra pounds themselves. Save yourself some grief now with “Rubenesque,” “full-figured,” “not model-thin” or “attractive tattoos over 90 percent of body, but not skinny.”

Need I say anything about inner versus outer beauty? Just remember: Searching for “ideal” physical specimens can blind you to more important, and longer-lasting, attributes.

Shared Interests

When it comes to activities and interests, ambiguity will get you nowhere. Mention activities or hobbies that convey what you really like. My ad listed gardening, hiking, biking, travel, strolling through autumn leaves and watching sunsets. All together, these words did paint a picture of me — just not a very unique or intriguing one.

One reward of Personalogy is helping clients come up with more precise and revealing words to describe their interests. Here’s a sampling of imprecise words and more specific choices:

  • sports NASCAR racing

  • walking mall-walking (hey, he’s 87!)

  • writing passionate poet

  • playing music harmonies around campfire

  • dancing contra dancing

  • creativity accidental potter,

  • deliberate painter

  • animals raise pit bulls and

  • love cock fights

  • the outdoors rock climbing

  • cooking making hearty German meals

  • eating in so much junk food,

  • so little time

  • travel exploring Latin America

  • on a shoestring

  • fun times “The Simpsons” at Three Needs

  • movies foreign film buff

  • exercising loves yoga, running and

  • kayaking

  • time in nature hunting and fishing

  • gardening raising orchids

  • the arts crazy for theater

  • competitive yodeling champion

  • animals my horse, Pearl

  • hanging out dancing naked in the

  • living room

  • cultural events Bread and Puppet

  • winter sports snowshoeing

  • adventure panning for gold in Stowe

  • reading TheWall Street Journal


The category of “personality” includes communication and relationships. The first rule is almost too obvious, but some people need to hear it: Never let on you’re needy or lonely. If you are, determine how much. If you’re truly desperate, hold off on the personals until you enjoy yourself more than week-old pizza.

Many people placing personals are experiencing some degree of neediness or loneliness. This is normal and assumed by readers, but if you actually expect a response, avoid “I don’t like me,” “I’m so lonely” or “Won’t you be my only friend?”

Expressing your anger is another surefire way to keep people away in droves. Personal-ad venom usually begins with “No…” followed by anything from bigots, bullies and bureaucrats to dirty old men, ex-cons or hairy backs.

Most “No” statements come from women, many of whom, no doubt, are describing their last boyfriend. Still, bitter finger-pointing will keep everyone away. A better way to meet “nice guy” instead of “jerk guy” is to confidently exude your resplendent good qualities. This will frighten away most of the “undesirables” who, believe me, suffer from low self-esteem. And remember, when you place an ad and someone responds, you control whether they get your number, address or a date.

Here are more dead-end descriptions in the “personality” category:

  • reliable, responsible

  • yummy

  • yearning yuppie

  • intelligent

  • fresh and inviting

  • easy-going

  • mentally healthy

  • the colors of my universe are few, but at least I know how to wear them

  • patient

  • sense of humor

  • romantic

  • people person

  • happy

  • motivated

  • classy

  • assertive

  • I draw crowds wherever I go

  • sensuous

  • thoughtful, caring

  • well-adjusted sex-toy technician

  • Portray yourself more accurately with phrases like these:

  • nurturing physician seeks…

  • messy life, kind heart, sloppy kisses and clean mind

  • relaxed and content with minor bumps along my path

  • laugh and cry with ease

  • Life’s a love’n oven, I be fresh-baked bread

  • it’s a rare day without silly play

  • curious and imaginative people-watcher

  • visionary and lackadaisical Vermont mayor seeks new voters

  • must love children and actively sharing your feelings

In the end, saying you’re emotionally secure, happy or funny is for you to know and them to experience. Often people say what they wish they were. Who doesn’t want to be funny, secure or happy? The reader can’t really know what you mean, or whether to believe you, until you meet face to face.

There it is: Personalogy. It’s not complicated — just be aware of your intentions in placing or responding to an ad, and be specific when you do. Some of my clients have come to the conclusion that they’re not yet ready to find a partner; they have some personal work to do first. Some just go to the Humane Society and adopt. I’ve found, however, that most people who listen to their intuition and carefully consider each word can have success through the personals.

Luckily, no one responded to my first ad, as I was depressed, scarcely attempting to enjoy life, and craving the happiness of a female savior. Now, I’ve utterly given up and found brothers in robes to love me and take care of me. I leave for India tomorrow with begging bowl in hand.

Just kidding. Actually, I met the first love of my life through the personals five years ago. I hope my little discourse will help you, too.