Noting that this is " the era of self-promotion," Michael Block, a 34-year-old, single advertising sales executive, placed the following advertisement for himself in Grand Central Station, as well as 11 East Side subway stations in 1977:

"SINGLES BARS ARE GREAT IF YOU WANT TO STAY SINGLE. I don't. And I want a lady who doesn't either. So if you'd like to meet and get together, just send a picture and a short note."

He received more than 8,000 answers from women who wanted to meet him, to marry him, or to offer him their daughters, neices or granddaughters. Most of the letters characterized him as "sincere" and "courageous" for taking out the advertisement, for the look in his eyes in an accompanying photograph, and for rejecting singles bars, which they invariably described as "meat markets" (although one would imagine that few of the letter writers have seen meat offered for sale except in plastic packages).

Perhaps still demonstrating his understanding of his era, Block has put a selection of the responses together into a non-book called "Letters to Michael." He seems to have derived no insights from the experience and no wife, either, because he notes in an afterword that "the chemistry hasn't been quite right yet with any of the women I met through my ad campaign.

But the sheer repetition of these letters from around the country and the world, all basically alike (including the brave little joke, "Congratulations, you won first prize -- me!") says something that Block fails to about modern relations between the sexes.

In an era of unprecedented social freedom, why can't eligible people meet suitable mates?

Most of the letter writers are young, some even teen-age, many are salaried and a few claim to be rich. Nearly all report that their friends consider them attractive. No one asks for "chemistry," but only for a man who wants her for more than one sexual encounter. They call the desire for marriage, children and simple kindness "old fashioned values" and are amazed that any man might want these, too, although reason must surely tell them that as many men marry as women.

Was it for this that the sexual revolution was so bitterly fought?

Presuming that the women represent themselve correctly -- as they presume Michael Block represents himself -- why should an attractive and independent young woman who can go any place she chooses, including places especially designed for the sexes to meet, be eager to commit herself to a man she has never met?

Family, friends and community or religious organizations once threw young people together, but in an incidental and often poky way, and no matter how love-starved one was, one had to pretend to be interested in the nonsexual activities and relationships of the traditional social network. Having impatiently abolished this hypocritical system, these people are, by their own admission, left with only the purely sexually oriented resource of the single bar, by comparison to which a subway advertisement strikes them as "honest" and "meaningful."

Their plight suggest that mating, like happiness, most eludes those who persue it single-mindedly. Or at least that those who dislike the feeling of being in a meat market should take, without complaint, a proper portion of social vegetables.