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Dating Challenge: Writing a Personal Ad

Twenty years ago, personal ads were sleazy, sexual, and sometimes perverted — a backstairs way for people to manage what they were ashamed to admit to. These days, personals are one of the most common and accepted ways for people to meet one another. (They are also the parent of chat rooms and online dating.) By spending a couple of hours reading through the dating ads in whatever newspaper or magazine you normally read anyway, you can get a really good idea of who's looking for what.

Are personal ads completely accurate? Can they be useful? Good questions. If you believed everything that was written, you'd believe that all women are blonde, svelte, emerald-eyed owners of their own antiques importing businesses and all men are handsome, chisel-chinned CEOs looking to settle down with a wife and kids after taking long romantic walks on the beach on their private islands.

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If you're already feeling outclassed, if you're not skinny, or if you don't own your own business, don't worry. Be assured that people are not necessarily very accurate in their self-descriptions. Many seemingly normal, happy, fun people are out there looking. When you're ready, you can hop right on out there and answer — or even write — an ad if you wish.

Know who you are

Stop sweating. You're not going to send the ad anywhere, but writing a personal ad does a bunch of cool things for you:

  • Makes you admit that you're really ready to start looking to date
  • Enables you to be specific about who you're looking for
  • Forces you to look at who you are, and that's really, really important

When you write your personal ad, think about the following:

  • Who you are
  • Your assets and your liabilities
  • What your mom or dad loves about you
  • What your friends criticize
  • Your favorite thing to do (no, don't put that in the ad just yet, thank you very much; list your favorite thing to do vertically, with your clothes on ... in public)

When you describe your perfect companion, try to get beyond the physical description and age to the person's soul and consider these qualities:

  • What is the person like?
  • What do the two of you enjoy together?
  • What do you talk about when you're alone?

Other things that you might think about are the following:

  • Sex (come on now, no giggling) — your sex and the preferred option for your date to be (in other words, are you straight or gay?)
  • Age range
  • Race, if it's an issue
  • Educational background
  • Work
  • Geographic proximity (don't start with long distance unless its preferred, and then you need to think about why you opted for distance rather than closeness)
  • Height and weight
  • Religion
  • Smoking preference

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You should also think about what you're looking for:

  • Friendship and whatever else
  • A mate
  • A date
  • A discreet nooner
  • Commitment
  • Kids
  • Marriage
  • A prom escort
  • Permanence

These lists are only the beginning of sorting through who you are and what you want, and writing a personal ad is a cool shortcut. In writing your practice ad, allow yourself to be honest and creative (not with the facts, with your thoughts) and specific, as well as flexible. This exercise should be fun and really helpful.

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The major distinction between a real personal ad and this exercise is that real ads are limited in number of words and just focus on the tip of the iceberg. Without these restrictions, you can look well below the water level.

Know what you want

One of the quickest ways to make sure that what you're advertising for and what you want are the same is to dummy up a personal ad. A personal ad can tell you very quickly if what you want and how you're advertising are out of whack. If you're looking for someone with whom to settle down, for example, then looks should be less important to you than stability, sincerity, and fertility. If you love to travel, you shouldn't be trolling for a homebody. Look at what you said you wanted in your mate (your fantasy) and what you said about yourself (your reality). What you're looking for is compatible or complementary traits. If in the About Me section, for example, you listed that you want stability and commitment but you listed adventurous risk-taker in the About Him/Her section of the ad, you have some work to do in order to get these two lists compatible.

In determining if the lists are compatible, look for overlap in words or ideas. If you see "fun-loving" in your list, you probably want to see "fun-loving" — or a concept like it — in the fantasy date's list, too; be careful if your fantasy date's list includes "down to earth and serious." You may be saying to yourself, "Hey look, I'm only talking about a date." But going off in a direction that makes no sense — why date someone of another faith if you would never allow yourself to fall in love with that person or marry out of the faith? Why date someone who smokes if you hate smoking? — unless you simply want a diversion, which is expensive in terms of time and energy and emotion. Of course, if you want to do that, it's fine. Just make sure that you make your intentions clear up front to all parties concerned, including yourself.

Excerpted from Dating For Dummies™, published by Wiley Publishing Inc.

For more information on "Dating For Dummies®", or other books, visit Dummies.com.

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