Behind the Personals

MATING

"SWM ISO SWF. Want mate for French films and fine wine. Seeking mate who seeks same. " What does this personal ad say about the man who wrote it?

More than the fact that he likes Truffaut, says Douglas Raybeck, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Hamilton College in New York, who recently examined a group of personal ads to see how people used tiny spaces to convey a full portrait of themselves. "People employed their ads as meta-statements about the kind of person they are," he says. For example, many ad placers wrote that they enjoyed walks by the beach though their Utica, New York, town is 170 miles from the Atlantic. "They are likely suggesting they are the kind of person who is in touch with nature," he says, rather than literally meaning that they stroll the shore daily. Similarly, twice as many men as women described themselves as honest. "Men could be more honest, but more likely, they are simply registering that this quality is attractive to women," says Raybeck.

Personals placers aren't exactly defying defined cultural roles; most women wrote ads seeking economic security, while men sought younger, attractive partners. Only when it comes to physical expectations do personal ads seem to be flouting convention. Despite today's thin beauty ideal, a number of women declared themselves "full-figured, noted Raybeck--and virtually the same number of men said they were seeking the same.

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