Some ambitious -- or just manic -- men and women play the services as if they were video games or eBays-for-daters, where the goal is not so much acquiring the goods as simply playing to win.
Winning is defined in many ways. ''It could be just getting someone to write back to you, to meet or to fall in love with you, or it could be getting someone to go home with you on a particular night,'' [a 26-year-old lawyer they interviewed] said.
Where older Americans are likely to see perusing the personals as a solo -- or downright lonely -- experience, people in their 20's are likely to make it a social event, like going to the mall.
''We call it 'man shopping,' '' said a 28-year-old publicist from Queens, who recently placed her first ad. ''We order sushi and sit there ranking guys.''
One of the things people realize when they post their ads is that a lot of other people have posted ads, too. The problem quickly becomes finding a way to shine through.
''It's the same as eBay,'' said a 28-year-old online personals user from Manhattan. ''If I look for a Pottery Barn quilt, by the time I get to Page 11, they all blend together.''
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