The Straight FAQ LinkExchange Member I first began using online personal ads, mostly on the Usenet, back in early January '95. I had just a few months earlier ended a devastating relationship with a very nasty person, and I thought I would try this as a new way of meeting people. I made a number of mistakes, and had a lot of experiences good and bad. I've also traded mail or talked to a lot of other people who used this method of meeting others. I noticed how certain questions (most especially, "Do any women use personal ads?") got asked over and over and over again. In the hopes of helping others find happiness, and to help cut down on all the noise and nay-saying, this list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions was born, and dubbed "The Straight FAQ" because its primary emphasis, especially in the earliest versions, was on answering those questions that seemed to be most often asked by men looking for women. As the FAQ grew, more and more items were added that might be of interest to a general audience. Complaints cropped up that I was "excluding" gay people, so I publicly asked for any gay person interested to come forward and help me create a special version for them. Gay men may want to check out "The Not-So-Straight FAQ"; unfortunately, at this time we still do not have a FAQ for other groups looking for online relationships, but we're open to anyone who wants our assistance in creating one. Any suggestions, criticisms, comments, or questions about The Straight FAQ should be sent to me via e-mail at If you're interested in learning more about me, please feel free to drop by my home page. So anyway, let's get started, shall we? Where the hell are all the women?!?!?!? They're out there! You just can't see them! Seriously, there are a whole LOT of women using personals here on the 'net. You just don't hear much from them. Here's what's going on: Right now, there are a whole lot more men than women online. The last I personally heard, the number just for the U.S.A. was something like four men for every one woman, at least on the commercial services. The last I read of AOL's statistics, about 78% of their users were male. Other published figures claim that only 10% of all internet users are women (Article: _A Woman's Place? in Cyberspace_ by Kris Jensen, Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 8, 1995). On the other hand, Nielson Media Research announced in 1995 that 66% of internet users are male, but that these males account for 77% of internet usage (, while in January of 1996, Emerging Technologies Research Group said that 39% of those accessing the internet are female, but that men are much more likely to use things like Usenet and the World Wide Web--but with twice as many women as men saying they plan on trying things like the Web in the future; see for more information. How accurate these or any other numbers are, or how exactly they can be applied to users of personal ads I cannot say. But clearly, there are significantly more men hanging out online than women right now. Compounding this aggravation seems to be that, for whatever reason, women tend to be less comfortable posting ads than responding to them. There are many theories as to why this is, and you can pick any or all that appeal to you. Whatever your favorite explanation, the fact still remains that for the most part, men post, and women respond. But make no mistake: despite all this, there are still an awful lot of women out there. No question about it.   Does anyone ever meet anyone like this? Is this for real or what? In January '95, when I posted my first ad, I received several responses, and within a couple of weeks I met a lovely woman who was my lover for about six weeks. We're still friends. After the romantic part of that relationship ended, I started re-posting my ad every two weeks or so. During that time, I had email correspondence with dozens of women, talked on the phone with ten or fifteen, and had actual face-to-face encounters with a total of seven. In May, a woman named Rosemary answered my ad and, while I still kept looking, something about her kept drawing me closer. After a while I realized I'd found the most beautiful girl in the world, so I went off the market again. On August 1, 1995 I asked Rosemary to marry me, and she agreed. We were married on 15 December, 1995. My long-term goal was to find a lifelong partner, though I suspected I'd never find one (how lucky I was to be wrong--sorry boys, she's all mine now!). But I was happy just to meet and get to know new women, and this method worked very well; between January and July I had dates with about eleven women, four of whom I met through traditional methods (chance encounters, friends, bars) and about seven who I met online. Meeting women online was always interesting because you could so quickly find things you had in common. And now, even though I would have been content to stay single, instead I found my bride. Having met or corresponded with other people who've found romance this way, I can also say definitively that I'm not unique. So yes, it really does happen, and it's not tough, as long as you're patient. I'm not rich, I'm not a bodybuilder, and I don't have Mel Gibson's looks, yet I've met some terrific women this way. And I know I'm not alone, because I've heard success stories from all sorts of other folks. Yes, it does work, and much of this FAQ is devoted to helping you figure out how to make it happen for you.   Are all the women who use personals desperate, unattractive, psychotic, or nerds? From personal experience, I can give you a definite "no" to this one. There are many reasons for a woman to use personal ads. It may be that she can't meet guys any other way. But it may also be that she's really gorgeous and wants a chance to meet a guy who'll get to know her before finding out what she looks like. It may be that she's just shy. It may be that she has a busy career and has no other good way of meeting people. It may be that she's got kids and doesn't have much chance to get out. It may be that she is highly intelligent and has a hard time finding intelligent men in her everyday life. It may be that she's stuck in the middle of nowhere with few men around. Maybe she's just trying this for the fun of it. Or maybe she just likes computers. There are many good reasons to use personals ads. There's nothing at all weird about a woman doing something like this.   Are all the men who use online personals desperate, unattractive, psychotic, or nerds? I've personally known two other guys who've done this and they're okay guys. And I don't think I'm all that bad myself. For example, how many "nerds" or "losers" do you know who practice karate, skydive, ride horses, and own their own businesses? As for "desperate," well there have been times when I've been desperate for company, but I've had a number of lovers in my lifetime. I've even turned down women who wanted to be with me. I'm a little shy but I've usually done okay. There are many reasons for a guy to use personal ads. It may be that he can't meet girls any other way. But it may also be that he's really gorgeous and wants a chance to meet a woman who'll get to know him before finding out what he looks like. It may be that he's shy. It may be that he has a busy career and has no other good way of meeting people. It may be that he's got kids and doesn't have much chance to get out. It may be that he has a hard time finding intelligent women in his everyday life. Or it may be that he's just trying something like this for the hell of it, just to see what happens. Basically, there are many good reasons to use personal ads. There's nothing at all weird about a man using something like this. It's just one more way of meeting people, and a pretty good one if you do things right!   Okay, You say there are lots more men than women. That's great if you're a woman, but what if you're a man? Are you screwed or what? Absolutely not. You do have a challenge here, but it's not hard to overcome if you're intelligent and put a little effort into it. The real secret for you is to make sure to post your ad, but there are other things you can do. Don't worry, man, you can do it. The world expects us to do the pursuing most of the time, and that's true for ads as it is anywhere else, but we can manage.   Okay, but I'm a woman, and I want to post an ad anyway! Please do! Posting an ad can be a really good idea for a woman. You'll probably get lots of responses. But there is a pitfall there: because there are so many more men, and men are more used to approaching women than vice-versa, you may be deluged with responses. I'll have some advice for women on how to post an effective ad later in this FAQ, but rest assured, no matter who you are, what your age, what you look like, or what you do, if you are female and you post an ad, you almost certainly will get responses. Your main problem will be getting responses that you actually want.   Okay, You've made me curious. Where can I go to check out personal ads on the 'Net? Your two biggest options right now are the Usenet news groups, and one of the many Web based services out there. There are also some local bbs' available, though my experience with them is so limited I hesitate to talk much about them. Of personals news groups on the Usenet, I am currently aware of the groups listed below. But please don't write me to ask how to post ads to these groups. If you don't know, ask your system administrators how to post messages to Usenet groups--the method is always the same regardless of the group's purpose. soc.personals (Probably the best place to post ads--but be sure to read the FAQ for the group before trying, as any ad not formatted properly is rejected!) alt.personals (general place for personal ads and discussing personals) (for personal ads only) alt.personals.aliens (extraterrestrials) (bisexuals) alt.personals.big-folks (big people) alt.personals.bondage (bondage lovers) alt.personals.fat (fat folks) alt.personals.fetish (people with sex fetishes) alt.personals.intercultural (intercultural/foreign relations) alt.personals.jewish (Jews) alt.personals.misc (Seems to be the same as alt.personals.motss (Members Of The Same Sex. Gay/Lesbian ads) (telephone relationships wanted) alt.personals.poly (Polyamory, people with/wanting multiple partners) alt.personals.spanking (People into spanking) alt.personals.spanking.punishment (People into mean spanking I guess) alt.personals.tall (Tall people) alt.personals.herpes (People with Herpes) In addition to these, there are a number of region-specific personals groups. The ones I am currently aware of include: alt.nv.personals* (Nevada (bogus))* (Las Vegas (bogus)) aus.personals (Australia (not Austin!)) ba.personals (San Francisco Bay Area of California) chi.personals (Chicago) dfw.personals (Dallas-Fort Worth) houston.personals (Houston) la.personals (Los Angeles) nyc.personals (New York City) sat.personals (San Antonio) (Sacramento) sdnet.personals (San Diego) slo.personals (San Luis Obispo California) torfree.personals (Toronto Freenet Personals) nv.personals (The real Nevada group) (Portland, Oregon) pnw.personals (Pacific Northwest U.S.-- OR, ID, WA) uk.adverts.personals (United Kingdom) vegas.personals (The real Las Vegas group) uiuc.classifieds.personals (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) * - alt.nv.personals and are not supported and should not be used. The official sites for Nevada and Las Vegas are vegas.personals and nv.personals. Also, I repeat, please do not write me to ask how to post ads to these or any groups! There are also, by the way, a number of interesting "singles" news groups. These are not the place to post personal ads (in fact, if you post personal ads there you're likely to get flamed), but they might be a good place to meet others and get advice on the dating scene. Such groups that I'm aware of include: alt.romance There are also region-specific singles groups, which you might look for on your news server. But remember, don't post personal ads to "singles" or "romance" groups -- you'll just get in trouble if you do. Note: if your internet provider doesn't carry any of these news groups, write to them to ask about having them added. PLEASE DON'T WRITE ME ABOUT THIS, WRITE TO YOUR OWN SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS! Now, as for World Wide Web sites, there are a ton. The best place to find a list of such services is probably in Yahoo, at the following URL:

Unfortunately, the majority of what Yahoo lists are either scam services -- 900 numbers, "foreign correspondance" (a.k.a. "mail order brides"), and services which charge a lot of money for a lot of big promises. On the other hand, there are a number of fairly good services there, including some that are both very good and completey free. Two I can recommend without hesitation are: Web Personals The Internet Personals Both are, at least as of this writing, completely free and operated in a very classy manner. However, there may be others as nice or better, so don't take my recommendations as prescriptive. Finally, I myself am in the process of creating a Web based personals service. It can be found at By the way, some peaple might also be interested in the following web sites: Dating resources for people with herpes. The Shy Man's Guide to Relationships   Okay, I've looked through a bunch of personal ads and it seems like there's tons of ads for sex. What's the deal? Is that all anyone is really looking for? Some people post ads looking for sex, extra-marital affairs, or pornographic email. If that's what you're looking for, that's your business, but I have no advice for you other than "be careful." However, the fact is that there are tons of people who are looking for much more than that. It is for those of us who are looking for something more meaningful that this FAQ is dedicated. Don't let all the sex ads fool you; such people aren't really the majority, though sometimes it may appear that way.   What do all these goofy abbreviations like "ISO" and "SWM" and "G*M" and "SWCF" mean? Not everyone uses these abbreviations, but, they are a common shorthand for indicating marital status, race, sex, religion, and a few other common things. The most prominently used ones include:   S = Single D = Divorced M = Married (rare) W = Widowed (rare)   J = Jewish C = Christian   W = White B = Black A = Asian (oriental person) H = Hispanic   M = Male F = Female   G = Gay Bi = Bisexual Bi-Curious = Someone curious about bisexuality and thinking about giving it a try. * = Any The positioning works as follows: First marital status, then religion (if any given), then race, then sex. Usually what you get is three, such as: SWM - "Single White Male." SWF - "Single White Female." An M or a W are, VERY RARELY, used to indicate marital status. In this case they are always in the first position: MHM - Married Hispanic Male WWF - Widowed White Female Religious affiliation is fairly rare, but when you do see it, it usually comes just before or after racial type, such as: SCWF - Single Christian White Female SWCF - Single White Christian Female For whatever reason, Judaism and Christianity are the only religions commonly abbreviated at this time; if you're of another religion, I suggest not trying to abbreviate, as you'll probably just confuse people. Sometimes you'll just see "SF" or "SM" for Single Male or Single Female. This means the person doesn't want to indicate race. You may also see something like "S*F" or "S*M". This is just another way of saying race is irrelevent to the person. Other abbreviations you might see include: ISO = In Search Of FTA = Fun, Travel, and Adventure   Soulmate = Someone I can be completely intimate with who will be with me forever and ever, my perfect mate, my special lover and friend for life. So. Here's common things you'll see: GWM ISO G*M for FTA (Gay White Male In Search Of Fun/Travel/Adventure with Gay Male of any race.) WWF seeks soulmate. (Widowed White Female seeks special mate-for-life.) Finally, all of these are often concatenated with age and/or location. Such as: BOSTON DWM, 42, ISO SWF, 25-40 (Divorced White Male, 42 years old, living in Boston and In Search Of a Single White Female, age 25 to 40.) Not everyone uses these abbreviations, but a lot of people do, because they make it easy for people to spot you and know if you're at least in the ballpark of what they're looking for. You may see variations on these abbreviations that you don't recognize, but usually you can figure it out from context once you get the trick of it.   Okay, I've spotted an ad I'm intrigued by. What should I do? The first thing to remember is that a response to an ad is a kind of advertisement in and of itself. You need to say hi, say that you saw the ad and thought it was interesting. A good idea is to say what you found interesting about it. Then you'd be wise to tell a little about yourself, to make you sound interesting enough to respond to. It's all a matter of putting your best foot forward. The main thing is to remember not to be bashful; after all, you are responding to someone who has posted an ad. You therefore already know that this person is looking for email responses. You've certainly got nothing to be embarrassed about.   I want to write my own ad. What do I write? Ah, there's a whole lot to be said here, and the advice can vary a lot from person to person. I'll concentrate on general advice for the moment, and on what I personally think: There is nothing more frustrating for the personals user than to spend ten minutes reading an ad that sounds very interesting, only to find out near the end that the person wants someone of a different age, or body type, or that the person lives much too far away to think about a relationship with. So, do yourself and everyone else a favor and START EVERY AD WITH THE BASICS ABOUT YOURSELF. The basics include: Your Sex Your Age Where you Live Your Race What you are Basically Looking For And the best place to put all this is in your subject line. It saves an enormous amount of time for everybody. Some people are big fans of cute and creative subject line. For example: MUTANT SEEKS MUTANT. LET'S TAKE OVER THE UNIVERSE! Now this is pretty funny, and pretty clever. Unfortunately, if this was from a Gay White Male, aged 42, who only wanted gay black men in their 40s in Boston, I'd waste a lot of time reading this ad, because I'm not gay, I'm not black, I'm under 40, and I don't live anywhere near Boston. Why not make it easy on me and start with: Bostonian GWM, 42, ISO GBM, 40-50, for romance Then make the first line of your ad say: "I'm a mutant looking for another mutant, so we can take over the universe!" Another example might be: Bostonion Mutant seeks Mutant (GWM, 42, ISO GBM 40-50) Now some of this advice is less necessary on Web services that automatically categorize you by your sex and so on. But the point still remains that your subject line should still communicate as much as possible about who you are and what you're looking for. By making sure it does, you will not only be doing everyone who would not be interested in you a favor, but you will increase the likelihood of someone who does want to meet you of actually reading your ad. All right, you've given a nice, concise, descriptive title to your message. Now you need to put some thought into the ad itself. The general advice I can give there is: DON'T RUSH. You have plenty of time to write this. Make it good. Put some effort into spelling and punctuation, and try not to ramble. You want to make a good impression. Be clear about what you want and what you don't want. If you're picky about something, it's better to say so in your ad than to let someone down later. "Please, if you're overweight, don't respond" may seem cruel or thoughtless, but if that's the way it is for you, say so. It is much, much kinder than developing a relationship with someone who you have to shoot down later than just telling it like it is up front. What's better, disappointing someone before they waste their time getting to know you, or after they've gotten their hopes up? Be as honest as possible. Lies will only get you in trouble later. Do your best to be totally sincere. Insincerity frequently shows, even if you're not aware of it. True sincerity usually shines through and is much more attractive to most people. Be honest about your own shortcomings.. Don't harp on them, but man, avoid discomfort for yourself and others and just let 'em know up front who and what you are and are not. Saying you don't want long-term committment, or that you're overweight, or that you have kids, or that you have bad skin, or that you have no fashion sense, or that you WANT marriage and kids, will be lots better than getting close to someone who finds out later and wishes they hadn't bothered with you. Take as much space as you need. This last is an issue on which there is some disagreement. The general FAQ for alt.personals advises posters to keep messages short and to the point, and to try to keep them to one screenful. Baloney! These days, most people have very cheap internet access. Avoid rambling, but remember, space is cheap, and the one way in which online personals are usually much better than newspapers is that you can take as much space as you need. There is no better way to give an impression of who you are and what you're like than by taking your time and trying to write something that really tells who you are, what you want out of life, and what you're looking for. Your writing style will tell people a lot about you, too. I have had dozens of responses and a good number of positive face-to-face meetings, and I always take a lot of space to describe both myself and what I'm looking for. I've also found that long ads are a good way to sift out people of low intelligence or short attention spans. On the other hand (heheh!) you want to try not to be too long either. If you ramble too much, or make a huge shopping list of everything you want and don't want, you're going to bore people. It's a fine line to tread; if your ad is too short, it doesn't say enough and you're ignored; if it's too long, you bore people and are ignored. So, you have to do your best to avoid both extremes. If you want a general rule of thumb, shoot for a length of 2-5 screenfuls. But if you want the real rule, it's this: write just exactly as much as you think you need to say everything you need to say, but not one word more than you need.   I have a problem with weight. What do I do about this? Men especially need to be aware one thing regarding weight: it is an unfortunate fact that the majority of women (in the U.S. and Canada at least) believe they are overweight. Weight is a very touchy subject for both sexes, but for women it is especially bad. For men: don't ever say you want a slim woman unless you're positive you want a stick woman, and are willing to exclude about 95% of the female population. The simple fact is that most women believe they are overweight. If you want to avoid obese women, say something like you're looking for someone "Not obese" or "physically fit" or "weight proportional to height." For women: The above advice also goes for you, but men are a bit less touchy on this subject, so you're more likely to be able to get away with demanding thinness. For everyone: if you are obese, male or female, just say so in your ad. Don't be afraid of this. You're preparing yourself and whoever you meet for a letdown if you're not blunt on this subject. If you're fat, just say, "Hey, I'm queen sized" or "I'm John Goodman sized" or something "I'm a rubenesque woman" or something like that. Or just say "I'm fat." The point is, BE HONEST! We live in a culture that values thinness, but there are a lot, and I mean a whole lot, of people out there who genuinely do not carre about weight. There are even a good number of people out there who like fatness and find it very attractive. Don't be timid about it. If you're overweight, be forthright and don't weasel around the subject, unless you look forward to the prospect of being embarrassed, disappointed, and hurt. Lots and lots of people will love you if you're fat, and you're not giving them a chance if you don't tell them you're fat right up front. Say it over and over again: Honesty, honesty, honesty!   What about age? I may be too old to find anyone. Relax; your attitude is more important than your age. Age can be a limiting factor, but it's hardly a crippling problem. From what I've seen, most of the women who frequent personals areas online are in their 20s and 30s, but I've seen many in their 40s, 50s, and even older. The age range of men seems to be bigger, but there're an awful lot of men out there who don't mind an older woman, and vice versa. Besides, in America and Canada, divorce is common, so you'll frequently find a man or woman in middle age or later looking for new love. Keep this in mind: the people who seem to have the most trouble finding anyone are the young twenty-something males looking for someone in their own age range or younger. They have the biggest challenge by far. For just about any other age group, the pickings are good, so long as you are patient and persevere.   Okay, brother, That's all well and good. But how about specific tips for men? Glad you asked. Okay boys, we have a problem. We outnumber the women, and most of the ones out there don't like to post. So we have to overcome those odds. How? First off, if you're going to answer ads, remember one thing: responses which offer no information do not prompt most women to write back. If a woman gets a response that says nothing but, "Hi I'm interested write me," she will most likely toss it out; not only does such a response make you sound dull and uninteresting, but she's probably got a half-dozen other letters to answer. If your response doesn't communicate clearly who you are, what kind of guy you are, and why you're interested in her, why should she bother with you? Keep in mind: women who post ads usually get a bunch of responses. To get the lady's attention, you're going to have to work hard to sound interesting. Now, the fact is that I've heard from guys who've written and told me they had success answering ads. I heard from at least one guy who answered just one ad, and subsequently wound up getting engaged to the lady. But the fact of the matter is that your odds are an order of magnitude better if you actually post an ad. Remember, most women don't post ads! So the most wonderful woman in the world may be out there scanning for ads looking for someone just like you, but because you never advertised, she will never find you. Most women don't post ads, and the girl of your dreams may be one of them. If you want her to find you, post an ad! And when you do post an ad, try to keep the following in mind: Follow all the advice I have given so far. It's all very important. Don't sound desperate. This actually goes for both sexes, but especially for men. The old rule is very true: the harder you look for a girlfriend, the harder one will be to find. Be patient, and avoid sounding pathetic, excessively horny, or desperate. It will not help. Be patient. One ad may net you no responses at all. If you're extremely lucky as a man, you may get as many as a dozen responses. More likely, you will get from one to three. Post in more than one place. There are many venues out there on the Usenet and on the World Wide Web which are free and easy to use. Use as many of them as possible! If you post your ad to the Usenet, be sure to post it in every group that might apply -- for straights, I recommand posting in alt.personals,, alt.personals.misc, and any regional news group nearby. And if you post an ad on the Web, be sure to place it in more than one service. Remember, the more coverage you have, the more likely is that your special someone will see it: you are, on average, ten times more likely to get good responses if you place an ad in ten places than if you place it in just one. Be prepared to post your ad repeatedly. Do NOT expect one ad to get you lots of responses. Instead, prepare yourself for a bit of a wait. Post your ad in several places, and then wait see what happens. Wait a couple of weeks, and post it again. You may want to "tweak" or fine tune it each time you re-post it. If you aren't getting many responses, you may want to re-write it. But in any case, keep posting it until you get a response. When you do get a response, don't stop posting your ad. Remember, one response means nothing. Until you've gotten to the point where you're seeing each other regularly, or at least writing to each other daily and talking on the phone a lot, you should keep posting your ad. Never invest too much in any one person until you have a good reason to believe that it's going somewhere. Don't post your ad too often in the same place. This may seem a contradiction, but it's not. If people see ad after ad from you, you may look desperate or stupid, or at least annoying. Also, if you're using the Usenet, it can take as long as two weeks for a message to be completely distributed to all Usenet sites, so don't post much more often than that. Posting a new ad once every ten to fourteen days seems the most reasonable schedule. Ultimately, you need to remember that the audience for personal ads is not static, and no one response to an ad means much. An enormous number of women read personal ads, but some only do it once in a while. Even those who read regularly might not notice your ad the first few times it appears. A woman may be interested in your ad but not be able to work up the courage to answer it -- but if she sees your it enough times, she may finally work up the courage to respond. If she does answer, she may lose interest. This is just like any other way of meeting people -- keep exploring your options and trying, patiently and persistently, until you hook the right lady. TO SUM IT ALL UP: write a good, creative, intelligent, and thoughtful ad that's specific about what you do and don't want. Take all the space you need to get it right, but don't ramble; remember that too long is as bad as too short. Post it every couple of weeks in several different places, tweaking it now and then, and trying various experiments to see what works and doesn't. Keep posting ads until you are positive you've got a serious relationship going with someone. And most of all, just be patient, with yourself and others.   I posted my ad over and over again and never got much response. What gives? There are several things to look at. First off, your ad may not be very good. Consider re-writing it. Ask friends, or others in alt.personals, if they have any criticisms or can help you improve it. On the other hand, if you live somewhere that isn't in or near a large population center, you may have real trouble. On the gripping hand, you're no worse off in alt.personals than anywhere; if you live somewhere without a lot of people, then you're going to have trouble anyway. Just be patient and do your best.   She wrote me! She wrote me! She wrote Me!!! OMIGOD! What do I do? Simmer down. All the lady did was decide your ad was interesting and send you some e-mail. She's not ready to jump into your arms and have your baby. She's just given you a nibble. It's up to you to make it work from here. And remember, if this doesn't work out, there will be others, if you have a good ad and are just patient! Here are some important things to keep in mind: Don't question it: She is interested in you, or she wouldn't have answered your ad. So, get over your insecurities. She's a woman looking for a man, and you sound interesting to her. Now you just have to see whether you're interested in her, and whether there's enough of what she wants in you to sustain her interest. But here's the important thing: Be patient. Yeah, once you get a response, you have to be patient again. Don't push to get her phone number. Don't push for a face-to-face meeting. Don't whine to her about your personal problems with women. Don't talk about sex or anything of that nature. Instead, be friendly, and be polite. Ask her about herself, and tell a bit more about yourself. Ask her questions. Encourage her to ask you about anything she might be curious about. Find out about her without being nosy -- don't ask for her address, or where she works (but asking what town she lives in is probably okay). Don't pester her with lots of e-mail. Let her explore who you are at her own pace. If she takes a couple of days to respond to one of your letters, sit on your fingers and wait. If it's been more than three or four days, you might try one letter to the effect of "hey, where'd you go?" but that's IT. If you don't hear anything more, either she doesn't want to talk to you, or she's not reading her e-mail anymore, or she's just busy. Keep this in mind: it's scary for a woman to go away for a few days and to come back and find a dozen plaintive, "Oh, where oh where did you go?" letters. It just makes you look desperate and weird. All in all, the most important thing to remember in this situation is that it is easy to scare a woman away. If she thinks you're a weirdo, or a psychotic, or a pathetic, lonely loser, she's going to walk away. (And by the way, if you ARE a pathetic, lonely loser, STOP IT. Find something else to do with your time and realize that the only way you're going to get a woman is if you stop assuming you'll never get one.) Now, besides all this, you need to remember something even more important: you BOTH need time for a relationship to develop, so you actually have something to talk about when finally you do meet. Rushing to meet someone and suddenly finding you have nothing to talk about can be very uncomfortable. If you are an impatient man, you might as well not bother advertising. You'll get nowhere.   Anything I should look out for? Anybody, male or female, needs to be cautious. Placing or answering an ad might get you a psychotic, or someone who's dishonest with you. The single biggest hazard is probably those strange creatures out there who post messages pretending to be what they aren't. Especially common these days seem to be "MorFs" (Male or Females) who are usually men pretending to be women, who are often provocative teases. All in all, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't get your heart crushed by a liar; use caution, and don't buy too much of anything until you actually meet the person face-to-face, or at least by phone call. Watch for the warning signs of someone yanking your chain, or wrapped up in their own fantasies and not really paying attention to who you are. Don't fall in love or get your heart ripped out by someone who may just be a fantasy-woman (or man). Don't be paranoid, but make sure you don't expect too much until you actually meet the other person face-to-face -- and remember that you can meet someone nasty, sociopathic, or criminal anywhere, not just online. Don't be paranoid, but do use common sense!   How much should I worry about meeting someone dangerous this way? You shouldn't worry all that much about it. Most people aren't really dangerous, after all. Still, while I hesitate to put it this way, let's be blunt: we're all going to be very depressed the first time we hear about someone who gets raped or killed by some psychopath who posted (or answered) a personal ad on the internet. I think we'd both prefer YOU not be that person. Now, don't let that make you paranoid! Remember, you can meet hurtful, malicious, or just plain evil people anywhere : in a bar, on the streets, even through friends. There's no way you can get through life without some risk of meeting someone who will hurt you. However, in every situation, there are ways to minimize your risks, and online personals are no exception. Use common sense in any of your dealings with anyone you meet through the 'net, but probably the most important thing to remember is this: Before you meet, or even give your phone number or address to, ANYONE, make sure that person is willing to give you the same information. Especially if you are dealing with someone using an anonymous email address! Also, be sure to check with your system administrators to see if they keep your personal information in WAIS or Ph or other publicly-accessible forms so that others can find out about your address or other info through your mail address. Most systems are far more secure than that these days, especially the big commercial services like AOL, GEnie, CIS, etc., but some systems, especially some colleges, are more careless about these things. Be sure your info is not publicly available when you begin posting (and that's for posting anywhere, not just personals groups!).   How can I assure someone that I'm not crazy or dangerous? An unfortunate reality is that women usually have to be more worried about this than men. A lot of women may be very skittish about meeting a man. Sometimes, a woman will initially be excited about the romantic nature of an email relationship, but then will get spooked when the reality hits that she actually has to meet this guy in person. The tips I have for men are as follows: Don't press her for a meeting. Be patient, trade mail with her a while, and allow the relationship to develop before you try to meet. Don't press her for her phone number. If she offers it to you, great, but don't ask her for it. Instead, after you've traded mail for a while, you should offer her your number. If she doesn't call, or offer you hers in return, that should tell you something. At some point, whenever it feels appropriate, offer her some references, preferably female references. #3 is a particularly interesting one, and is an option not many people think of. What better way of assuring a woman that you're okay than to have her talk to women who know you? Ask several women you know (at least two I would think) if they will be willing to serve as personal references for you. You'll probably be surprised at how many women will be delighted at the prospect of checking references on you. The very fact that you're willing to offer up this kind of reference to a woman will also tell her you're a gentleman. (By the way, don't be a dork about this. Don't post your references publicly, and go handing them to just anyone who writes you. Offer them only to women you've been talking to for a while who you've decided you'd really like to meet, and be sure that the people you use as references are actually willing to act in this capacity for you.) By the way, it's not a bad idea for women to offer references to a man either. How does a man know a woman's not a psycho, or that she's not actually a man pretending to be a woman? References are one of the very best ways to assure someone that you're for real. For everyone: chances are very good that nothing worse than disappointment will ever happen to you as a result of using personal ads, so don't get paranoid. Just remember, everything in life carries risk; the healthy way to react to risk is with common sense and reasonable precautions, not paranoia.   Okay, stud-boy. You've given lots of advice to men but haven't given us women much direct attention. What have you got to tell us? Well, not being a woman, I can't say as much, but here are a few things you should know: First off, most of the advice above that I give to men applies to you as well. In addition to that, remember that there are a ton of men out there, and men are used to pursuing women. This means that if you post an ad, it will be very easy for you to get a lot of responses. As such, the most important thing you can remember is: BE VERY SPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT AND DON'T WANT. You ladies are in the very lucky position of knowing that if you post, you are almost certainly going to get responses. But that's a two-edged sword, because if you're not careful, you will get buried in far more responses than you can reasonably handle. You may even miss out on the man of your dreams because he's buried in a ton of letters from guys you don't give a damn about. Be very specific about what you want, and drive the point home clearly and distinctly. It saves everyone time and aggravation. If you post just say you're a woman who'd like to meet a man... well, Honey, you are going to be buried with e-mail, and from around the world, too. Be specific! Be very specific! And furthermore, a lot of guys are dumb or desperate, so you have to hit them over the head with a two-by-four and be more specific! It may seem crass and crude, and it won't always work, but it should at least help you cut down on unwanted e-mail (you'll still get some, but you should get less this way). Beyond all that, most of the advice for men counts for you, too. Watch out for weirdos and criminals, watch out for liars, try not to sound desperate, and do your best to be honest about yourself -- both your positive and your negative traits.   We've traded mail and talked on the phone and things are going really well!! What do I do when we meet?? First off, calm down. I've been through this and talked to others who've been through it, and the first, most important thing to remember is, don't go building up big hopes and dreams until you meet! Until you actually meet someone, it's very easy to build up big fantasies in your head about how the person looks, stands, walks, etc. You can't help doing just a little of this, but try not to, and keep in mind that what you do visualize will probably be very different from reality. It's also very easy to think you've fallen hard for someone you haven't even met. Don't do this! Meet first! Don't go thinking that just because you've exchanged a lot of email and talked on the phone that you've found your dream love. Most especially don't go throwing your heart in and confessing True Love until you've actually met. Many online relationships happen very quickly and very fast, and it's easy to sucker the other person, or yourself, into believing you have something there that you don't. Take your time and realize that when you do meet, it may not be there for you, or it may not be there for the other person. On the other hand, if you meet and things don't go well, I also advise not immediately giving up. Sometimes it takes time to adjust to meeting this person "in real life" that you've gotten to know so well in email. Remember, that person you got to know online IS still in there, but may not be visible at first. So again, what's the thing to have, everyone? That's it, you've got it: PATIENCE!   Okay, how do we plan a first meeting? I recommend picking a safe, neutral spot, and just sitting down over coffee, or perhaps a light lunch at a casual restaurant. Emphasize that your first meeting will be for just that: meeting. Don't expect much more than that you'll sit down, get used to what the other person looks like, maybe have a bite to eat, then go home. For guys, you may want to invite her to bring along a friend. This will make her feel safer. The point is, make it somewhere public, safe, and neutral, and done in such a way that either one of you can bow out gracefully if things aren't going well. And if it doesn't work out, or the other person decides at the last minute not to meet you, hey, that's okay! It happens to practically everyone. And who on Earth said you're the perfect someone for everyone you meet anyway? Who said that everyone you meet is the perfect someone for you? At minimum, you should have made a new friend this way; maybe more will develop, or maybe it won't. Stay calm, don't expect much, but be open to whatever might happen. And, enjoy your new friend!   Other General/Miscellaneous Questions Why aren't there separate USENET groups for straights and for gays, men looking for women, men looking for men, women looking for women, etc.? This comes up periodically. Frankly, it strikes me as a fine idea. However, some people are against it, even downright hostile to the notion. The basic thinking against it comes to three points: 1) Separating gays from straights would amount to forcing gay people "to the back of the bus" and into a "ghetto." 2) You can just use a kill file to get rid of the posts you don't want. 3) Some sites would not carry groups for gay people, leaving them with nowhere to post. I don't really buy into #1 myself. #2 is specious, because so many people are inconsiderate and refuse to use subject lines that are easily identified by a kill file. #3 is a pretty good point. Ultimately I'm not sure exactly where I stand, but if you're really interested in seeing something like this happen, write up a proposal and bring it to the alt.config news group for discussion. Arguing about it anywhere else is pointless.   Some people keep talking about using "Kill" files to avoid seeing personal ads you don't care about. What the heck is a "kill" file anyway? This really just applies to Usenet, not the Web. It is a feature in some news reading software to filter out unwanted articles. You tell it not to show you articles containing certain words or phrases or posted by certain people. It can be helpful in some places, but until more people start using simple, easily identifiable titles to their personal ads, this will remain a mostly-useless feature for personal ad readers on the Usenet.   What's the deal with all these messages from "Anon." Mail Addresses? Anonymous users. This feature is most common to Usenet, but you do see it in some of the Web services. It allows someone to create messages without having their actual email address on it. Instead they use the anonymous address, and when you write to that anonymous address, it forwards your letter to the person's real address, which you never see unless he decides to tell you. There are several "anonymous name servers" out there that allow people to post on Usenet anonymously. Use some of the popular search engines to find them. Please do not write me to ask me how to find them or how to use them. All such mail to me will be ignored.   Why would anyone post anonymously? Are they weirdos or what? Some may be weirdos, but for the most part, they're just people who'd prefer not to be publicly identified at this time. There are several very good reasons for this: You may be uncomfortable letting someone know your real e-mail address until you know more about that person, since it may be possible to track you down this way through Finger, Ph, or whatever. Some people get e-mail addresses from work, and would rather not have their company name affiliated publicly with their personal ad. Some may just be private people who are shy or don't want their friends to know they're using personal ads. (I don't think they should be embarrassed, because this is a fun and easy way to meet people, but hey, I'm not going to pass judgement.) Some people seem to think that using an anonymous name server means you want to hide so you can play tricks on people. I must admit, it does seem that a lot of the more rude or dishonest people use anonymous e-mail addresses to hide themselves. But for the most part, there are all kinds of very interesting and worthwhile people, male and female, who use these services. So my advice here is that you may want to be a tad more cautious in approaching an anonymous person, but otherwise, I wouldn't read too much into it. One tip though: DO NOT give your phone number or address to, or agree to meet with, anyone who won't provide you with his own name, address, and phone number. You may want to wait until you've exchanged mail for a while before asking for this information, but you're going to have to have it eventually if the relationship is to get past the email stage. It's okay to be patient if the other person seems shy or wary, but eventually you're going to have to have this information. Don't involve yourself with anyone who insists on maintaining secrecy beyond a reasonable point.   Some person has posted something really rude in response to me, or is picking on me. What do I do? There is a certain type of being that's all too common in the online world. I call them "Energy Creatures," a term I first heard on one of the commercial services. Energy Creatures are a bizarre lifeform which grow and feed off of the negative energy generated by others. Energy Creatures' favorite feeding tactic is to try to hurt people's feelings or get them angry. Then they can feed off the pain and anger they've generated. Their second favorite tactic is to hurt one person or group's feelings while gathering the sympathy of others. That way, when the injured party lashes back, others will jump to the Energy Creature's defense. Then the Energy Creature need do nothing except feed off the attention and the negative energy generated by the people fighting. We'll never be completely rid of these noxious beings, but we can do a lot to keep the herds under control by remembering this simple formula: DNFTEC. This stands for Do Not Feed The Energy Creature. If you encounter such a beast, your best bet is usually to say absolutely nothing. No matter how hard it is, sitting on your fingers and posting nothing in response is usually the best bet. Remember, if you fight them, they just get stronger. If you ignore them, eventually they weaken, wither, and go away. This may be hard to remember, but in the long run, that's exactly what you need to do. The temptation to fight back is incredible, but remember, fighting them only makes them stronger. Believe it. Always keep in mind that your goal here is to meet other people, not to feed energy creatures.   I got some really nasty, crude, rude, or threatening E-Mail. What do I do? DNFTEC! DNFTEC! DNFTEC! Some pathetic Energy Creatures don't even have the balls to start fights in public, so they just do it in e-mail. They may say rude, hurtful, or disgusting things just to get your goat. Typical comments might be sexual ("hey baby spread your legs I wanna fuck you!"), bigoted ("hey faggot why don't you go fuck yourself!") or simply rude and hateful ("hey you loser what kind of pathetic loser needs to post a personal ad, what kind of sick pathetic weirdo are you?"). Ignore all of this. It's a load of ignorant crap, and all it's designed to do is get you upset and make you waste time and energy responding. Mind you, if you receive legitimate-sounding threats from someone who you think may actually be able to carry them out, contact your system administrator. Another good thing to do would be to send a copy of the threat to "postmaster" at the domain name of the person who sent you the email (so if you get a letter from "", you send email to ""). Another good contact would be the police; threatening people is illegal in many places,and the police might be able to help. Contact any or all of the above and just say, "I've received some threatening email, which I can provide you with a copy of. Please help me figure out what to do." Do this immediately. Otherwise, simply ignore any rude, crude, or harassing mail you get. Responding merely feeds the Energy Creature and makes it grow stronger. Remember this: anyone, male or female, can get mail from Energy Creatures. Really. It's almost certainly nothing special about you, and no piece of e-mail from someone you've never met and who has no chance of ever meeting you is worth expending even one second of your energy on. Throw it in the trash and move on. Keep in mind that your goal here is to meet new people, not feed energy creatures.   Okay, I didn't get any vicious or threatening mail, but I did get something just plain weird. What about that?   There are some very odd people out there, no question about it. There are people out there who are ready to move in with you based on your ad and a couple of emails alone, or who just want you to fly across country to suck their toes. Keep a cool distance from such people, but don't freak out about it. The world is full of weirdness--and wouldn't it be boring if it weren't? Just smile and move on, and keep looking for the right someone for you.   Anything else you want to tell me? Yeah. Once in a while in various personals groups, you'll see discussion start on certain topics that aren't really personal ads. People might discuss their dating experiences or argue the finer points of this, that, or the other thing related to personal ads. This may seem kind of pointless if all you want to do is answer ads, but in my experience, these discussions might be worth it, and here's why: I have heard from a number of people that they met someone special NOT by answering an ad, but instead, by replying to something someone said in a discussion in alt.personals. I met my good friend Carla that way, and I have even heard of at least one couple who got married after meeting in alt.personals, even though neither of them ever actually posted an ad. Yes, dating on the 'Net really does work. Good luck to you all! Dean Esmay This entire document is Copyright © 1995 and 1996 by Dean Esmay. 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