The idea of a personals section in a literary journal is not new: The New York Review of Books has run such ads since 1965. Given the readership of the NYRB, however, they tend to be slightly older-skewing (“Foxy, slender, green-eyed woman passionate about … the smell of freshly ground coffee & chocolate seeks 60- to 75-year-old man”), leaving a hole in the marketplace for a service that caters to those who both read Gogol (1) and listen to Gogol Bordello (2). Unto that breach stepped Kaitlin Phillips, an intern for n+1, the bohemiaphilic intellectual journal started seven years ago by a crew of ambitious young academic types. In August, Phillips took it upon herself to execute an idea long bantered over in n+1’s Dumbo offices and launched npluspersonals.com. Most of her colleagues figured the idea would, like a tubercular poet, flash brightly and die quickly, but the ads have been rolling in. On good weeks the site draws 4,000-plus romance-seeking visitors.
“I could have met anyone I would meet on npluspersonals in college, but now we’re out of college,” Phillips explains, then pauses. “Except for I’m not.” Now-ex-intern Phillips is a Barnard junior studying Brecht at the University of Edinburgh for the semester; her momentarily misidentified life status perhaps emphasizes that there is no real-life campus as refined as the ones in the site’s patrons’ minds. “Debord (3) seeks Lebovici, (4)” reads one ad in its entirety. Not all are so starkly obscure: Others try to impress with exacting standards—“Swimmer’s body and/or ability to quote Eliot (T.S., George) at length a plus”—or vivid imagery: “I am lacquered in the oily film my 23-year-old body releases in high spirits, prone on a bed of bed-fungus, beneath a cross of street-purchased incense sticks lit at three ends.” Although I have yet to find takers for the ad I submitted (“Mary McCarthy type seeks a Philip Rahv for immoderate conversation, drinking, and flowering of passion”), npluspersonals boasted a 68 percent response rate for the month of December. One woman got so many inquiries that she pulled her ad. Phillips can’t remember exactly what that date-seeker wrote but describes her as a type with obvious appeal: “this cute Brooklyn girl who likes pie.”
The ability to write a highly articulate summary of one’s desires still doesn’t guarantee a successful date, of course. “I ordered olives; he ordered the grad programs he was applying to according to average GRE score,” read the account that one npluspersonal user posted on the Brokelyn blog. But the site has produced at least one couple, who introduced themselves to n+1 editor Chad Harbach at a signing of his celebrated novel The Art of Fielding. (They were “really attractive,” Phillips says.) And npluspersonals notched another milestone with the recent announcement of a partnership with the NYRB personals. Look for some really excellent, nonlinear memoirs of May-December relationships coming soon to an independent bookstore near you.
(1) Russian novelist and dramatist
(2) “Gypsy-punk” band
(3) French Marxist filmmaker
(4) French film producer