You have one minute to convince this 30-year-old female that you are the one! I park in fire lanes; I shop where there's no line; I sit in the first row at concerts; I'm most comfortable in cords; I'm superintelligent but not an intellectual. I don't mind wine but love is the drug I'm interested in. Aggressive, silly, frightened and lonely -- one from whom you never know what to expect seeks same -- to share ups and downs, sillies and nons--a man who is independent and doesn't need me to entertain him. Call for a chance to meet a most interesting and unusual woman . . .
Before the magazine containing this "personal" even hit the stands, the typesetter called to ask for a date. Once the ad was published, the author had to change her answering machine tape four times a day. Within a month, thousands of Cleveland-area men had bared their souls to her recorder in hopes of winning a date with the mysterious, "unusual woman," with responses like these:
"Let me put it this way: I'm 32 years old, single, 6 feet tall, change my clothes in a telephone booth and leap tall buildings in a single bound."
"Sorry you didn't answer this, dear . . . This is Robert Redford, and I don't make second calls . . ."
"Depending on what your exact demands and specifications are, I could be exactly what you're looking for. If you want to have fun and make tax-free money, call me . . ."
"My phone was still ringing nine months later," says Sherri Foxman, a secretary-turned-corporate executive, who netted nearly 20,000 calls in response to this 1980 ad in Cleveland Magazine. "But I wrote it after I had some experience with classified love. My first attempts didn't cause such a sensation. They were sincere but boring; average response, 25."
Foxman honed her ad expertise from June to December 1980 when she placed a total of 60 ads -- 10 for herself and 50 for friends -- as part of research for a book about advertising for love with the proper stranger.
"Actually," she admits, "I really wanted to place an ad for myself, but I thought people who did it were sick, hard up and lonely. It seemed like announcing a defect to the world. But I figured that if I was advertising because I was working on a book, it'd be okay."
Thrice engaged -- "I always backed out" -- Foxman read her first personals in April 1980 while vacationing in Florida, recovering from a broken romance. "I picked up a paper on the beach and saw these crazy ads I'd been hearing about. I couldn't believe people were doing this. I never laughed so hard."
When she returned home, she confessed to a friend her desire to advertise, but her dilemma over describing herself. Since she was "feeling pretty low" and hadn't eaten her vegetables during dinner, they penned this: STEPPED-ON GIRL (30), bright, witty and special, looking for sincere relationship. Please, no vegetables.
The ad earned a "fairly good response," she says. "I got 71 letters. But most were painstakingly boring." Some respondents related to her plight:
"I am a special man who has been folded and spindled much too often."
"I also have a size 7 1/2 stamped in the middle of my back."
Some took her literally:
"Do green beans and carrots really answer these ads?"
Others showed their own lack of confidence:
"I am 5 feet 10 inches tall, on the heavy side and below average in appearance."
"I am . . . 170 lbs., possibly, reasonably attractive looking."
And a few, she says, "were those understanding individuals one never meets in real life":
"I was attracted to your ad because you were honest enough to admit an occurrence of a traumatic relationship . . . Meat and Potatoely Yours."
"I am sorry that some guy hurt you but, keep in mind, we're not all that bad."
From this experience Foxman learned two things: "If you're stepped on, keep it to yourself" and "It's easy, fun and rewarding to place a personal." Over the next six months she spent nearly $3,000 on ads (at $40 to $75 each) for herself and friends, and dated about 60 of her respondents.
"After about three letters," she says, "I got the hang of it. Toward the end I wound up liking almost everyone I met through an ad. I made a lot of friends, met a few people I never want to see again and had a couple of relationships that lasted five or six months. Three of the people I wrote ads for are living with people they met."
Foxman excerpted the thousands of letters her ads attracted and spent four months trying to convince editors to publish her book. As a beginning author whose college experience consisted of "two quarters at Ohio State majoring in water fights, it was tough." But in October 1981 McGraw-Hill purchased Classified Love, and she quit her job in February of 1982. In March CBS-TV bought the movie rights. She recently sold her second book, a parody of sexual self-help guides called How Not to Make Love to a Man, a Woman or Each Other.
The stigma is gone, Foxman declares, for those who pursue classified love. One reason "is that you'll find every kind of person doing it -- from doctors to sex fiends, from prison inmates to businessmen, from clergy to perverts." Her examples:
Poets: DAMN, this sounds trite. Should I say I'm bright? I'm a special man, but try as I might, there's no other way. You'll just have to write.
Animals: DOG, 4, tired of seeing owner, 26, pretty, college-educated East Sider, with same old people. Looking for single male.
Comedians: DON RICKLES THINK-ALIKE, insincere (40), seeks like-minded woman for part-time, no promises fun.
Medievalists: DIRTY OLD Elizabethan DWMCP -- wants a bright and attractive wench to age 45 for fun, fights and frolic.
Personals are popular, Foxman says, because "unlike singles bars and other meat markets they are anonymous. They can save you time and money because you list your requirements and only go out with people you choose. And there's an ego-massaging factor in a 'personal' date because each person picked the other out from among the competition."
Of the estimated 300 ads Foxman has written in her classified career, the single biggest response -- 20,000 phone calls in the first month -- came from this ad she placed for a friend:
MARRIED WOMAN (early 30s) looking for discreet playmate (attached or un) for adventurous romping and total fulfillment. NO STRINGS.
"You wouldn't believe how indiscreet the people who responded were," she says. "They sent business cards, letter heads. I knew a lot of the people. If I was into blackmail I'd be rich."
The ad that gleaned Foxman her own best crop of dates:
FEMALE (30) SEEKS SUPERIOR, Professional, intelligent, strong-willed, obviously conceited and obnoxious, marriage-minded male with a sense of humor, wit and originality that surpasses the average bore for usual courtship.
"I've always liked men who liked themselves," Foxman asserts. "This ad brought out the best in people and described my Mr. Right to a T. Egoists may be screwed up, but they tend to be creative and intelligent."
To be successful, she says, an ad needs a gimmick. "Most start with male or female, but I say keep 'em guessing. Try grabbers like SIREN or NEED A TAX SHELTER? Focus on what your interests are and what is important to you."
Concerning "minor flaws like age and weight," she says, "don't lie. When you eventually meet it'll be a letdown. But you don't have to say you're fat and ugly. Be creatively honest. I never say I'm attractive in my ads. But when you make contact by phone, appearance will come up, and that's when you can say you're not exactly thin or young or whatever."
To screen out weirdos, "use private box numbers provided by the magazine and always make the first date short -- for lunch or drinks -- in a public place. That way if the person is awful, you've only shot an hour."
Be wary, she warns, of strange addresses and private phone numbers -- "probably means married or attached"--and corporate stationery marked "office of the president."
And "most important, don't look at it too seriously. Don't expect everyone you meet to be a 10. Deal with it on a networking level. One person whose ad I wrote went out with a few of the guys who responded and one took her to a birthday party. She wound up meeting a man she started dating.
"The ad got her out of the house and, indirectly, into the arms of someone she liked."