Excerpts from Lonely Hearts


Author’s Preface to letters

I lost my baby. I cried. A lot. Real tears. I am not

A friend said, “Misery is a life of choice.” He suggested I
use a dating service. That’s how he found his wife. I had
not known that.

So I called MatchMaker. “How much?” I said.

Jane was on the other end of the line. Nice voice. “We
don’t discuss fees over the telephone,” she said. “We’d like
you to come in for an interview. No charge.” She asked
me about myself, and I told her everything. “You sound in-
teresting,” she said, with a hint of breathlessness.

“Would you like to come up and spend a
weekend?” I asked. “We could do the in-
terview here."

“Ha! Ha!” she said, without offense. She
went on to explain the operation — a little.
“This is a personal service,” she said. “We
don’t use videotape; we don’t use computers.”

What is wrong with videos and computers,
I thought? What are they for? But I was
hopeful, and optimistic, and needful, and gen-
erous to a fault. I let her talk.

I live in the boondocks. My “personal
interview” required a 100-mile trip, one way,
to a city I rarely visited, either on business or

shopping. But I made an appointment, and
I kept it. Jane was less alluring in person, a
little more businesslike. But I was not after
her alone. I was shopping.

I filled out some forms – name, age, height,
weight, hair color, eye color, race, occupation,
likes, dislikes, etc. “How much?” I said, exci-

“A six-month membership is $885,” Jane
said. “Twelve months is $1,185. And we
guarantee you at least one introduction a

Gulp (hope she didn’t notice that). “I’d
like to think about it,” I said. “Can I go ahead

and fill out the application, and send you a
check if I decide to do it?”

“Yes,” she said. “But you’ll have to come
back for a final interview when you do that.”

“Why can’t we do that now?”

“We can.”

“If I pay you now.”

“Uh huh.”

On the way home I thought about it. I
thought, first, I did not like the business end of

the process. And I thought I was not sure I
would want to meet a woman who would pay
$885 to meet me. Not that I am not worth
$885. I’m worth $8,885. But there was no
guarantee; and, I thought, I could be had a lot
cheaper. By the time I got home, I had deci-
ded: Not to send the check, not to go back.
I was lonesome again.

I took my friend’s second suggestion: Scan
the personals classifieds. I found an ad pla-
ced by a woman named Sara, saying she was
looking for a man who realized that a sense of
humor was a vital living skill. I sent her a very
funny book, that I had written myself. No re-

But I noticed also, in scanning the ads, that
most of them seemed to be not from individu-
als, but from listing services, e.g.:

At the Gate. Meet singles sharing values on peace,
ecology, personal growth, and human rights. Free
details. . . .

Cultured singles nationwide. Older women / young-
er men; younger women / older men. LSASE to . . . .

Scandinavia, Poland, USSR, South America: World-
wide correspondence for sincere, unattached, educa-
ted members. . . .

I do not do anything halfway. On May 14,
1990, I queried nearly two dozen services, by
mail and telephone. And I sent my own per-

sonal ads for publication in the classifieds of
Harper’s magazine and Mother Earth News.
I wound up subscribing to nine of the services.
What followed, and is presented in this book,
is an amazing adventure in communication and
seduction. This book does not pretend to be
a survey of lonely hearts clubs. It is but one
man’s (and 138 women’s) experience.

The whole deal cost $480.95 – $262 for the
subscriptions, $34 in forwarding fees (to servi-
ces that did not publish names and addresses,
but mediated the replies through codes), and
$184.95 for the advertising. A bargain, con-
sidering the results, and compared to the price
of the one dating service I visited (dating servi-

ces generate more immediate results, but work
best in metropolitan areas, which did me no
good. But, still, $885?). The average sub-
scription cost $29. And one service is e-
nough, if you find a good one, and the right
one for you.

By June 25, more than a month before the
ads were to be published, I had established
regular correspondence with a dozen women I
had met through the listings. The time and en-
ergy I was devoting to this correspondence
were overwhelming. I called the magazines
to cancel the ads.

“Too late,” they said. Well, that’s fate.

For the result, read the chapter titled “Terry”
(but don’t read it first).

These services work. They are not new.
They are not, by and large, computerized mat-
ching services, but merely time-honored listings
of lonely hearts. You pick and choose your
own. You know (ideally) what you want, and
so does the party on the other end of the line.
You know that the other party wants to meet
someone. You have an idea of whom you
are about to meet before you attempt contact.
These services are not singles bars or church
socials, but they are largely more efficient.

I wrote 55 letters to women whose listings

caught my interest; 14 others wrote to me from
my listings, and two telephoned. I received
three letters and one telephone call in response
to the Harper’s ad, 38 letters and 25 telephone
calls in response to the Mother Earth ad (not
counting a threatening “good luck” chain
letter over the name “St. Jude,” and a tele-
phone call from a guy looking for a place for
his girl friend to crash). That’s 138 initial
contacts (not counting St. Jude and the guy
with the girl friend).

I received replies to 24 of my initiating let-
ters, and wound up corresponding regularly
with 12 of the writers. Of the 55 ladies who
wrote me first, I invited further correspon-

dence from five, and got it from three. I
corresponded also with a woman who con-
tacted me initially by telephone (and married
her). Thus I wound up with 16 new pen pals
(including a bride).

Six of the 24 replies to my initiating letters
were polite “No, thank you” notes, some with
words of kindness and wisdom. I replied to
all but three of the 55 ladies who wrote me

I made all my initial contacts (not counting
the ads) by letter, none by telephone. I re-
gard personal telephone calls, even among
established friends in many instances, as rude.

But some of the women used the telephone i-
nitially, and it worked. I can’t knock it.

Some of the women I met said they had en-
countered only two or three men through the
lonely hearts listings, even after the better part
of a year. But the ones who said that said al-
so that they waited for the men to make the

initial contact.

All these ladies were, all the correspondence
was, well worth my time and energy. I was
enjoying the shopping so much that I had deci-
ded to delay the purchase. But one of the
138 got me back on the first track.

Excerpt from Chapter 2: Mary

1381-FL: 39, 5', D, Insurance Agent: Pretty and fun, blue eyes, auburn hair. Enjoys books, movies, art and travel. Very affectionate. Seeking a good man to share today and tomorrow with. If you are honest and caring, let’s communicate. To share with someone is to see twice the beauty. Personality is more important than looks.

May 19, 1990

Dear Ms. 1381-FL:

I’m pretty and fun, too, and blue-eyed, but
not auburn-haired. More like sandy brown.
And a gray beard.

I hate Florida, and the people I live among
are so ignorant they take their Florida vaca-
tions in the summer. . . .

I’m 4755-KY, I reckon, and code-named
“Pudd’n’head.” I’m shy but not bashful, so
you’ve got my real name and address on the
letterhead (and please forgive me the use of

business stationery and word processor;
they’re what I use to write letters). Don’t
know if you got me on a list, too; so my résu-
mé: I live and work in an energy efficient
house (3 levels, 10 rooms) and office (sepa-
rate structure) I built in the woods, atop a
steep hill about a mile outside the smallest
town in the world. My son, 6, and my neph-
ew, 16, live with me; they’re good boys. I’m
a country lawyer, and I do a lot of writing and
some publishing (I’ve had articles in Esquire
and Rolling Stone and one book published
commercially. I’ve published two books by
myself and one by my cat, and have four on
the way, which I’ll publish myself if no one else
thinks they’re good enough). I’m not weal-

thy, but I have no material needs. I play the
banjo and guitar (folk and country), and I love
all music, from opera to Opry. I’m a photog-
rapher. I’m a homebody. I smoke like a
chimney, drink like a fish, and play cards with
a passion. I love films and good books (but
don’t read a whole lot; Henry Miller said he
regretted having read so much) . . . . I’m
fearless and a bit mad. Age 49 (50 in a few
weeks); 5'8", 160 pounds. . . .

If you’re curious, write, and I’ll send you a


Natty Bumppo

June 9, 1990

Dear Natty,

OK, I’m curious. Besides, you’re pretty,
fun and blue eyed too! I may let your really
low remarks about Florida pass. No — I
can’t stand it! I bet you’re one of those types
that comes down here, drives funny, complains
about everything, and then tells us how they do
it back home!

I couldn’t resist because I’m crazy about
shy men. You’re literate, you play the banjo
and guitar, you love films and good books, and
your cat wrote a book! I’m very impressed
with your résumé! I had a brief stint as an

elementary ed major until a professor insisted
that I rewrite a story because anthropomor-
phism was dead and realism was in. Have
you ever heard of anything so absurd? The
dean asked me why I was changing majors
and I said: “Because she won’t let my
grasshopper talk.” . . .

I went back to school a month ago . . . . I
plan to start a nursing program in January. . . .
Now I’m in the class from hell, Human Anat-
omy & Physiology. . . . The second day the
professor introduced me to my dead cat that I
am now dissecting. . . . I think they do it for
shock value. “You want to be a nurse? Ha!
Skin this cat!” They made me do it – I was-

n’t happy.

I was married for 15 years and have been
divorced for 2 . . . . I have no children but
I’m close to my five nephews and one niece.
I have the best parents in the world. My Dad
is 75 years old and he’s in a third career as a
security guard. My Mom is a kindergarten
teacher and makes the best chocolate chip
cookies in the world. . . .

I like men who are conservative (not polit-
ically). I don’t like men who run around on
women. I’d deck him, rip his heart out etc.
I’ve met several men who have been hurt so
much that they’re afraid to love anyone again.

The strangest things about me are that I hate
ice cream and popcorn and I have never been
camping (I was once told I was un-American).
. . .
I enjoy hiking except for going to the
bathroom in the woods.

I discovered country music this year. It was
all due to my car battery going dead. I lost
the programming on my radio and the mechan-
ic had the radio tuned to a country music sta-
tion. I’m so unmechanical I couldn’t figure
out how to reprogram the radio. By the end
of the week I was hooked on country music.
It’s so unstressful. I understand the lyrics. . . .

This is turning out to be a long letter – some

men might be intimidated, but as a writer you, I
trust, will understand.

Since you live outside a small town, I’m
worried about you – do they have a decent
library, bookstore and movie theatre? I bet
there’s no McDonald’s. How about a con-
venience store? Are the people laid back and
easygoing? Are there traffic jams? . . .

Natty, I enjoyed your letter and I hope
you’ll write again.

Mary Houston

P.S. What do you mean, you’re fearless?

Surely you’re afraid of something. Does that
mean you’d go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?

June 13, 1990

Dear Mary,

No need to apologize about the length of
your letter. I don’t get enough letters, and I
think I would still say that if I were Santa

I wouldn’t go over Niagara Falls in a barrel
unless it was necessary (like camping). . . .


[and, that’s how it begins . . . . ]

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