Before there was swiping right, singles found love the old-fashioned way … in the personals section of the local paper.
I met my husband-to-be when I answered a City Paper ad he placed in the “In Search of …” section in August 1995. For those too young to remember, “In Search of” ads were witty, short classified ads describing yourself and your ideal date.
Initially, reading the weekly ads was a form of entertainment but, after a long-term relationship unexpectedly ended, I started perusing the ads to see if anyone sounded mildly appealing. I never intended to answer one, but when I spied the ad that started, “Been accused of being a nice guy,” I was intrigued. The ad went on to mention two of my favorite activities—beer brewing and bike riding. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
Instead of simply swiping right, I had to call an answering machine and leave a message for the person who placed the ad. Then I had to wait and see if he would call me back to arrange a date. Before OKCupid, Match and Tinder, finding a date took a bit more creativity and legwork.
Perhaps there was also a bit more mystery back then. You didn’t know what the person looked like or even their first name because the ads were identified by a randomly assigned number. And because the ads were short—just a few lines longer than a tweet—there was seldom any information about their background, education or financial information.
My husband-to-be did mention in his ad that he worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That little detail gave me another interesting tidbit to mention in my phone message for him. I talked about my love of beer, the 100-mile bike ride I completed in Salisbury, Maryland, the previous year and that I once got lost in the maze of offices at EPA’s headquarters in southwest DC.
Whatever I said must have struck a chord because he called me back to arrange a date. I learned his name was Wayne and he grew up 22 miles from where I grew up, in one of the Long Island suburbs in New York.
Wayne and I arranged to meet at the Dupont Circle Starbucks. I told him that I’d be easy to find because I’d be reading the book, Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson. In retrospect, that was not the best choice of books to use to flag my presence because the title on the book cover is microscopic. We still joke about how he had to walk around the Starbucks stealthily reading the book covers of every woman in the coffee shop, which back in the pre-smartphone days of 1995 were more than just a few people.
Somehow, Wayne found me. We talked for an hour or more and then decided to grab dinner across the street at Zorba’s Cafe. From there we moved onto beers at The Big Hunt. Years later, Wayne told me that he knew I was potentially “the one” when I ordered a Newcastle Brown Ale. While that beer doesn’t sound too exotic, in 1995 it was one of the few dark beers on the market.
It took me a bit longer to realize our destiny. It wasn’t until months later, when we returned from a weekend trip with friends and he dropped me off at my apartment, that I realized I was sad that we wouldn’t see each other again until midweek.
Meanwhile, very few of our friends knew how we had met. Back then, meeting through a City Paper ad seemed so bizarre, we decided not to tell people our origin story. Instead, we told people we met through work. Not too far-fetched because he worked for EPA and I worked for the National Solid Waste Management Association. So, it was plausible that our paths might have crossed during a conference.
In reality, it’s surprising that we never did run into each other. The longer we dated, the more we realized that I knew a handful of the people he worked with at EPA. We also discovered we went to many of the same bars and restaurants. We even realized that two months before our first date we were both at the premiere for the movie Apollo 13 at the Uptown Theater. A German TV station had interviewed my friend Randy and Wayne’s friend David while we waited in line for the movie with our respective group of friends, not knowing our future spouse was also standing in line.
Today, with so many couples meeting through online sites and dating apps, the stigma of meeting through a newspaper ad is gone. When people ask, we no longer hesitate to tell them how we met. Even our 17-year-old daughter knows how we met, but I don’t think our parents know the true story.
This post originally appeared in our January 2020 issue. For more on the dating scene in Northern Virginia, check out our cover story, Northern Virginia is for Lovers. To have more local coverage sent straight to your inbox, subscribe to our e-newsletters.