MIDWAY : Lonely heart ads

How do you find love? That is the question I have been asking myself, as I simultaneously flick through the lonely hearts column in the London Review of Books, and surf internet listings for people who enjoy S&M.

Somebody sent me an advance copy of They Call Me Naughty Lola, an absorbing compendium of classified ads from the LRB, published on November 2. It is a delicious read. ‘My finger on the pulse of culture, my ear to the ground of philosophy, my hip in the medical waste bin of Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Box no. 7648.’

Meanwhile, a court case brought me to a bondage website where men are masters and women are sexual slaves. I logged on to a few ‘BDSM’ (bondage, domination, sadomasochism) sites, to see what the lonely hearts were like on there. And the answer is, of course, very specific. ‘I am a Master... ‘Forced oral gratification sought, along with tart-dressing... ‘My major interest is teasing and orgasm denial.’

But these really are lonely hearts. Although some hopefuls are just trying to make contact for one night’s kinky entertainment, the majority are seeking long-term love. I realised that, although the worlds of LRB and BDSM may appear to be very different, the principle is just the same. All of these people are advertising for someone similar to themselves, for the purposes of life-sharing — and that is exactly where lonely hearts go wrong.

Organised blind-dating may be undergoing a new surge of popular respectability, since the birth of the internet, but the underlying principle has two fatal flaws. The first is that it gives us ‘option paralysis’. Unlike many decades or centuries ago, the greater choice of today breeds restless dissatisfaction. Urbanisation brought abundant crowds; affairs and divorces were bound to follow. And with globalisation, we have millions of partners to choose from. So we end up waiting for an even more congruent soul mate in the next personal column.

I can’t help suspecting that ‘similarity’ works best as a series of serendipitous realisations. New popularity or not, I remain stubborn in my suspicion that detailed classified ads are an excellent way to buy a car, and a terrible way to find a lover.