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Masculin Feminin

This weekend I flipped through the Personals in the New York Review of Books. They’ve always been good for entertainment, with very literately phrased ads for people seeking people. I remember seeing one years ago that said simply “Wife of Bath seeks il miglior fabri.” I recognized the allusion to the bawdy Wife of Bath, but I later learned by chance that “il miglior fabri,” a better craftsman, was the dedication by T.S. Eliot to Ezra Pound at the front of The Wasteland.

Well, this weekend I scanned through a few of the current ones. What I noticed was that to a good approximation the ads by men seeking women were quite simple and to the point, and didn’t ask for too much.

For example: ARCHITECT, 60s, 5’11”, 190, nonsmoker. Loves good music, movies, cats, puns, and crosswords. Seeking Manhattan lady for museums, concerts, and more. NYR Box xxxxx.

But the ads by women seeking men often drowned the reader in details. Two examples:

BEAUTIFUL WITH DEVILISH TWINKLE, a great way of connecting, and generous loving persona. Exudes poise, grace, and readiness for life. Divorced, Jewish?characterized by male colleagues as ?vivacious, smart, and full of fun with terrific sexy, slender figure?adds light and laughter wherever she goes.? Contemporary, hip, insightful, philanthropic, and very present, with an eye for beauty. Beguiled by excitement of travel, adores stepping into unknown cultures, yet believes New England beaches trump C?te d?Azur, Italian Riviera. Reads New Yorker cartoons weekly, works toward social justice, stays fit with biking, yoga. Loves literature, Mozart, Italy anywhere, Wyoming, Kenyan safari, the warm ambiance of meals with friends, lattes, London theater, Ansel Adams. Seeks educated, professionally and personally secure, fit man?50s?65.

SMART AND BEAUTIFUL. Intellectually curious, tall, thin, and blue-eyed, with natural radiance. Adventurous with a touch of idealism, calm, warm demeanor, genuineness of character. Expressive, affectionate, divorced, professional. Laughs a lot, thinks deeply, politically liberal. Likes skiing, hiking, sipping coffee in Paris, theater in London, trekking in Nepal, snuggling at home, enjoying Sunday NY Times. Midwestern roots, international outlook, lived abroad. Interested in literature, psychology, classical music, nature, beauty. Seeks honest, educated, professional, healthy/active man (50s?68) with an intellectual bent?Boston area.

These two ads have a sort of uncertainty-principle flavor: the more they try to make themselves appealing, the less — I think — appealing they become.

The things they seem to like — nature, beauty, classical music, the Sunday NY Times — well, almost everyone likes them, so why specify it so much?

{Can you imagine writing ‘likes artificiality, ugliness, loud nasty music and the weekday NY Post?”

And the less common things, like trekking in Nepal, sipping coffee in Paris, theater in London, Kenyan safaris — well, nice work if you can get it. Why not just write a short ad that says “Fabulous person (IMHO) seeks ditto to enjoy expensive and leisurely lifestyle”?

Why is there such a difference in the way the men and women describe both themselves and what they’re looking for?

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