Are you lonely? Does that hole in your heart need stuffing with the landfill of companionship? Are you under the impression that the best way to form and then maintain a loving and fulfilling relationship is to place a small advertisement in your local paper? Yes? In 35 words or less? I can help you. Talk to me.
I was 18, had just started university, and needed money fast. At the Job Centre I was asked if I liked people.
"Not all people," I said. Fairly, I felt. For example, I was pretty sure I wouldn't like a lot of the people currently making their way through the British prison system. This seemed relevant. Maybe they were planning on offering me a job as a prison warden. It would never have worked.
The next day I sat in an office as drab and sterile as Tupperware, being interviewed for a role in a call centre.
"Do you know what we do?" said the man.
"No," I said.
"Do you like people?" he said. I'd seen enough to convince me that this wasn't a prison. But only just.
"I love them," I said. He pushed a newspaper towards me and opened it on the "Lonely Hearts" pages.
"This is what we do," he said. I started a few days later.
Writing your own Lonely Hearts advert is a difficult thing to do. Human evolution hasn't catered for a mating ritual that involves summarising our most attractive qualities in print. My job was to answer the telephone to people who felt that they couldn't compose an advert themselves. This would result in agonizingly awkward conversations I'd routinely struggle to reach the end of. I often felt like a man trying to swallow a bone.
The majority of the callers were simply shy, so uncomfortable with new and strange experiences that they basically shut down. These people would always list their interests, when asked, as "staying in and going out." Some people would resent the fact that they were having to advertise for romance and take out that frustration on me. I discovered that the best way of putting these people at ease would be to blame wider society for their single status.
"I shouldn't even have to do this," they would say.
"No you shouldn't. But you're overworked so you don't have time to meet people. And all people in bars are stupid," I would say.
"Yes," they would say. "That is right." Some people were just plain weird.
But they all wanted the same thing. Love. They were humans, not adverts, after all.