Believe it or not, there aren't a lot of guidelines out there for the aspiring romantic advice professional. My background includes a criminology degree, a stint at the stoner bible, High Times, loads of therapy, thousands of bad dates, and three years spent following junkies around for an anthropological study of heroin use.
Which is why I get so excited when I find someone similarly clueless advising the lovelorn. I'm speaking specifically of This American Life correspondent Michael Beaumier's wildly entertaining new book, I Know You're Out There (Three Rivers Press).
In it, Beaumier describes his job working as the personals editor at the Chicago Reader while living through the dissolution of a nine-year relationship. His qualifications for the job: "I was the least crazy of everybody else they interviewed," he writes. Totally charmed, I decided to track down the author and get his take on the hows and—more importantly— the how-not-tos of personal-ad writing. Pay attention.
His No. 1 pet peeve: "The people who have an entire list of negative things that they don't want," he sighs. "It ends up being this supernegative black-hole pit of doom. Unless it's something hugely important, people should skip the negatives."
I wanted to ask Beaumier about fibbing. In the book, he claims that lying is inevitable. I happen to agree, though I've narrowed it down and decided that while women will inevitably lie about their weight, men lie about their height. "Why would a guy lie about his height?" he laughed. "Is your intention to never meet in the real world?"
We both agreed that everyone lies about their age. "No matter how unpleasant you may find it to be to state your age, you have to do that," he advises. "You shouldn't think of all the people you're cutting off—you don't want every woman to call you, you want the right woman to call you."
Looking for something a little kinky? Apparently you pervs out there don't need much help. "Fetish people don't need a lot of advice; they tend to be very efficient," he notes. "But they have to be sure to inject a little personality into their ads. It's great that you want ball torture, but have a little bit of wit and humor about it."
The book's title comes from one of the myriad clichés that get overused in the ads. "If you can't avoid the clichés, embrace them wholeheartedly," Beaumier advises with a laugh. "Just throw yourself in completely—you're looking for a partner in crime, you like long walks on the beach . . . and be prepared for no one to answer your ad."
Naturally, Beaumier had some ideas on the dreaded first date, as well. "Women do this a lot," he tells me, with a cringe I can practically hear over the phone. "They'd tell me, 'I contacted this guy, and we're going to have dinner.'" Oooh, ouch.
"What if he's a creep or boring?!" Beaumier yelps. "You're setting yourself up for a horrible time. I'd rather be killed quickly than have to sit across from someone I had nothing to say to for 45 minutes." Instead of making such a big time commitment, Beaumier suggests meeting for coffee or drinks instead.
In the book, Beaumier describes composing his own personal ad but doesn't tell how it worked out. "I was getting ready to place the ad on Craigslist but hadn't worked up the guts to actually do it," he says. "Then one day I was on the subway, and there was this guy sitting across from me with this big suitcase. He'd smile and look away, and I'd smile and look away.
"I thought of all the people who'd placed these ads, and decided to stay on until his stop." The two exchanged names, and Beaumier found out his beliked was on his way back to Seattle. "I walked him out of the subway, and he grabbed me and planted this great big kiss on me and said, 'This is what happens when you're brave enough.' He was right.
"So I placed the ad and lots of people responded, but after that I had the guts to introduce myself to people and not be the dork that I am. So I can't say the ads didn't help with moving my life forward."
Don't you just love a happy ending?
Be brave: Write Dategirl at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Seattle Weekly, 1008 Western Ave., Ste. 300, Seattle, WA 98104.