But while the erotic is no longer taboo or feared, in matters of intimate relationships the order-disorder dichotomy lives on. Older married women fear the single young girls who might seduce—sometimes unwittingly—their aging husbands. Libertine men have to fight to affirm their theories. Libertine women have to live with their “reputation,” or be thought of as unresolved. And as one ages and couples are formed, a single life becomes increasingly lonely, available partners are fewer, and the pressure to live in a couple escalates. There is thus a major difference between the “Facebooked” search for sexual entertainment and the multimillion-dollar business of programmed “dating” whose stated aim is to assist clients in finding a mate via online tools or computerized marriage agencies. The former is not necessarly intimate—in fact, its purpose can be precisely to keep intimacy and emotional entanglement at bay—and partakes of no order other than the human need to engage in erotic play. The latter participates in the old need to channel sexuality into the ordered family unit.
And so the personal ad of the latter kind is contradictory in form. For to place an ad is to participate in a self-styled market by advertising a product without showing it: its qualities alone are meant to shine, and it would take a talented novelistic hand indeed for the brief ad to give a sense of the being behind it. One can always read between the lines, but in the very act of describing oneself and announcing the search for someone, one forgoes the beauty of meeting by chance. A spontaneous attraction cannot be planned or willed; one does not fall in love with a list of qualities, a CV, a statement of purpose. Love usually arrives unexpected. Reason may construct an image, and psyche a fantasy; but a lasting romance—marriage, in a word—is about neither. Yet the ad industry is not about the unexpected. An ad controls both the one posting it—naming qualities and requirements—and the unknown, unmet person for whom it is intended. Of course people do meet via the words they post; after all, the filtering mechanism these regulated websites provide is an expanded version of the filtering and control once provided by tight social networks. The search for a mate remains as much a market today as it ever was, and we continue to believe we can control what we least wish to control. But one must submit to this control in order to engage in the ad game, which is at once transparent and anonymous, safe and risky, rigidly ordered and entirely disordered. Just as there is an art to writing a personal ad, there is an art to finding love; and no dating market will ever change that.