Category: Non-Fiction/Humour – Hardcover: 179 pages – Publisher: GvH-MacMillan – Imprint: Picador – Source: My own shelves
First Published: 2010
My advert comes in the form of interpretive dance. Man, 62. Box no 4458.
Sexually I’m More of a Switzerland is an anthology of personal ads from The London Review of Books. LRB readers are a smart, funny, very English-ly eccentric bunch of folks and their ads were often startlingly funny and searingly honest – something you just don’t expect from a lonely hearts ad.
The column began, in 1998, at a time when many newspapers were cutting their personal ads and internet dating was just beginning to move into mainstream culture. The idea of postal only lonely heart ads was rather deliberately old-fashioned and forced respondents to send carefully thought-out letters rather than leave voicemails or send emails. It gave the column a retrospective feel and a subversive attitude, which those placing the ads soon began playing with, pushing the form of the traditional personal ad to see how far it could go:
Everyone. My life is a mind-numbing cesspit of despair and self-loathing. Just f**k off. Or else write back and we’ll make love. Gentleman, 37. Box no. 5369.
The first collection of ads, They Call Me Naughty Lola, was published in 2006 and this follow up came out in 2010. Since then the ads have dwindled to just a handful of rather staid offerings each issue but these two books offer a wonderful snapshot of the column in its heyday. All the examples in this post are from Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland which is brimming with timeless classics such as:
I’m no Victoria’s Secret model. Man, 62. Box no. 3280.
Or how about:
I sense a lot of sadness behind most of these ads. Not this one though – I’m double-dosed until next spring’s repeat prescription review. Happy woman, 34. This dainty, girlish laugh isn’t forever, and I’ll blame you when it ends, but by then we’ll have a mortgage and massive debt and you won’t ever be able to escape. Box no. 9911.
Or this one:
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Malteser! Be the sweetie worth ploughing my way through love’s harshest Revel’s bag for. Man, 36. Box no. 8361.
Did you just look at that other advert? Don’t lie, I saw you. Paranoid, jealous and often scary woman, 42. Do you want this marriage to work or not? You don’t know the meaning of love. London – so why does your credit card receipt say ‘Birmingham’? Box no. 1118.
In case you’re not sure what Revel sweets are there’s even footnotes to explain the specific brands and obscure film/book/music references included in amongst the ads. Sometimes the footnotes themselves are mini-jokes. I do love a good footnote. :)
As you can see, LRB ads never settled for just the simple formula of ‘I am a 49 year old man, my friends say I am <adjective> <adjective>, I like walks on the beach and log fires’. No. That wouldn’t have been playing the game and dating was very definitely a game of skill to those placing the ads. Rose, who handled all the ads and edited this collection, says:
‘For LRB readers, the personal ads aren’t cris de coeur as much as they are bucolic tests of wit and audacity – poissons d’avril pinned to the back of the unsuspecting literary establishment.’
I have been crying with laughter reading through these this week, the mix of footnotes, abrasive anti-ads, just-plain-weird ads and the nerdily sweet ads that reference obscure sci-fi films and French literature has made me sorely miss the days when I subscribed to LRB and laughed over these ads in a coffee shop that’s now closed. I’m very, very glad they put out these two anthologies of a very British art-form even if one of the advertisers didn’t seem so thrilled at the prospect:
When I inevitably read this ad again in a ‘laugh-out loud’ follow-up volume of ‘hilarious’, ‘quirky’ and ‘endearing’ lonely heart ads, it will be like opening a time capsule of despair on the emptiest period of my pathetic existence. Unless you write now and agree to marry me. No pressure from ‘winning’, ‘charming’, ‘best loo-read’ F, 38. Box no. 8563.
I wonder if she got any replies?
Rating: 9/10 (Book Review Scale)