In 1991, Henry Maury decided that he had been a bachelor long enough. He was in his early forties, and he didn’t want to grow old alone. So Maury placed an “in search of” ad in the May 1991 issue of The Washingtonian:
“Very Intelligent Lady Sought—with warmth, energy, and understated care for looks (hyperachievement not required)—for long-term relationship. I’m SWM, 5'6", 43, GS-13 bureaucrat, occasionally talkative, usually a good listener. Love skiing, snorkeling, cycling, travel, extended families. Like historical novels and SF, work, politics, Jagger, Baez, Chopin, dogs.”
Linda Hannick had read that it takes five years to recover from a divorce. She had just passed the five-year mark, and a friend persuaded her to dip a toe into the dating pool. She began reading the “in search of” ads, or ISOs.
Hannick looked at a lot of ads before she responded to Maury’s. Most had a laundry list of what they were looking for but told very little about themselves, she recalls.
She figured that her PhD in science qualified her as a “very intelligent lady.” “Everything else he mentioned, I loved,” Hannick says. It helped that Maury loved extended family—Hannick had five daughters.
Hannick and Maury did not get together right away. “First I had coffee with three other ladies,” Maury recalls.
“I answered four ads and went out with three people,” Hannick says. Two were self-absorbed. The third was Maury.
Before their first date they spent more than four hours on the phone. On July 21, 1991, Hannick and Maury agreed to meet at 6 pm at Roasters coffee shop in Hannick’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
There was only one problem—when they arrived they discovered that Roasters closed at 6. They headed for a restaurant across the street, intending to stay only long enough to have a beer. Then a summer thunderstorm struck and they couldn’t leave. Drinks led to dinner. “I kind of think it was arranged for us,” Hannick says.
After their second date, Hannick was scheduled to leave for a three-week bicycle trip. Maury brought her two bon-voyage gifts—a rose from his garden and a bicycle-chain tool. When she returned from her trip, Maury was waiting with a welcome-home note and a bouquet.
“I knew I had a good one,” she says.
They were married on October 24, 1992. Hannick made her own wedding dress, and Maury helped with the fitting.
For more than 30 years, many Washingtonians looking for love or a reasonable facsimile turned to the pages of The Washingtonian and the personal ads.
The magazine stopped publishing the ISO ads last October. Such sites as Match.com and eHarmony have taken over the matchmaking world, offering instant gratification, not to mention lots of photos. But in their heyday these ISO ads produced about six marriages a year—probably more, but not every couple wanted to reveal that they’d met through an ad. The year Hannick and Maury got married was a banner year; the magazine congratulated 11 couples on their weddings in 1992.
As recently as the early ’90s, advertising that you were in the market for a special someone still seemed daring. It required some audacity and optimism for the men and women who placed ads and those who responded to them.
For area residents, The Washingtonian often felt safer than other publications offering personal ads. “I knew The Washingtonian attracted a certain clientele, people who were interested in the culture of the city,” Maury says. “It was at the right place in the food chain,” explains another advertiser, who met his wife when he answered an ad in the October 1983 issue. Washingtonian ISOs attracted a more educated, affluent audience, the man says, than the “just-graduated-from-college, sleeping-on-a-futon crowd.”
Ads placed by men outnumbered those placed by women in the ISO pages. Men tended to advertise to meet younger women. Some, like Blaine Readler, felt ISOs were a way into a wider social world than they found in their daily lives. “I was an engineer, so I didn’t have many opportunities to meet women,” Readler says. He had spent a few years in Germany, married a German woman, returned to the States, gotten divorced, and found himself foundering socially.
He wrote an ISO ad for his ex-wife. After she met someone, he decided to write one himself. In February 1990, he placed this ad in The Washingtonian:
“A KIND HEART—DWM, 36, 5'10", educated professional. Not much for pretentious sophistication but appreciates simple elegance and honest quality.”
Readler got dozens of responses. A colleague who had had a falling-out with his girlfriend was bunking down in Readler’s house in Sterling. Every Friday, a thick envelope of letters from women arrived for Readler. “It was our Friday ritual,” Readler recalls. “I separated the letters into three piles: call right away, second string, and not a chance.”
Monica Sexty, 30, had just broken up with a boyfriend who had announced that he wasn’t giving her a Valentine’s gift because he didn’t want to give her false hope. On Valentine’s Day, instead of arranging her nonexistent sweetheart roses, Sexty responded to three ads in The Washingtonian.