I was looking at the personal ads recently, and I'm pleasantly surprised at some of the changes I've seen. Back in my big personal ad days, women tended to emphasize their looks in the ad: petite, blond, brunette, fiery redhead, slim, pretty and so on. Women, it seemed, felt a need to play up their physical attractiveness in the limited word count most papers allow, believing that was their best chance to stand out among the crowd of ads and get a date.

Male ads tended to focus on that throwback of what makes a man appealing: his ability to make money. Whether black or white, straight or gay, that tell-tale "P" for professional graced every ad. Often the actual profession was mentioned: doctor, lawyer, musician, teacher. The male ads often said less about the subjects than what they were looking for in a dating partner, as if male and professional was descriptive enough. Now let me tell you what I want. Delightfully mysterious, yes, but omission is as sinful as false advertising.

Oh, how the times have changed. Now I smile when I see under "women seeking men" words like hardworking, ambitious, daring, health-conscious and — my recent favorite — "20 extra pounds but athletic." Women know that what makes them appealing goes way beyond the vital stats they print on your driver's license. The key is to be out there, original.

If your good looks are your strongest feature then, by all means, tout your striking green eyes or your uncanny resemblance to the current supermodel. But if you have other characteristics like a love of Eastern philosophy or a penchant for late nights in coffee shops these are the things you need to express.

Men have got it going on, too. My favorite ad in recent weeks starts, "DWM, 39, with two beautiful kids ..." He didn't go on about superficial things and mention the kids at the end. He put it out front, so any potential mate knows he loves his children and they are important. He says more with his intro than a whole paragraph of adjectives would have. Other telling phrases I'm seeing more of are "adaptable," "organic grower," "Korean War vet," "civically engaged" and "30 pounds overweight but not unactive." Hey, that last guy needs to read women seeking men! In the years since I scanned the personals actually looking for dates, the fellas have improved greatly in describing themselves and being more open-minded about what they are really looking for in a mate.

There will always be ads like the one that begins "Super Stud" seeking a gorgeous supermodel. Or the vacuous chick who can't see past her mirror to describe her true self. Hey, variety is what makes it interesting. But it is a crowded field out there. It isn't necessary to lie or even embellish. What is necessary is to be clear about who you are and what you are seeking. Even if you are a self-described super stud just looking for another pretty face.

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