First Person

Free n+1 personals: long-lost lit-nerd love or just another missed connection?

All the sad young psuedo intellectuals. Image via New Yorker.

I was intrigued immediately upon reading the Brokelyn headline, “A free way to date the BK intelligentsia.” Why? I’m single. I started reading n+1 after devouring co-editor Keith Gessen’s novel about All the Sad Young Literary Men and kept reading when I discovered that each issue’s 200 pages were filled with even more sad young literary men’s critical-theory informed ramblings. I was sick of giving my number to boys in bars who seemed smart in person and used all the wrong conjugations of “your” via text. But how good could a free personals site that appeals to shy bookish types actually be? I sent in my post and received an unsurprisingly lengthy e-mail reply seeking a “cunning lit-cougar” a few days later.

My ad positioned me as someone not looking for love but possibly something thrilling, with a penchant for balancing Kundera with Alan Moore and maybe Kanye. Once I got a response, we planned a date via rapid fire Gmail: What do you do? Where’d you go to school? How many classes on post-structuralism did you take? Would our identical reading lists be enough to ward off our mutual hesitance to actually decide on a time, place, and activity? I was ready for us to gaze into each others’ eyes while indulgently debating whether post-post-modernism was even a thing. This boy read Barthes in the subway! Our compatibility was guaranteed.

But reality hit me when we shook hands at a West Village wine bar. It became clear I would be doing a lot of nodding and while he did a lot of eulogizing about the economy. I braced myself as he told me why obscure liberal arts schools like his own were superior to both Ivy Leagues and large state schools like mine. I ordered olives; he ordered the grad programs he was applying to according to average GRE score.

Is this what I should have expected? Yes. The average n+1 reader may be able to craft a mean personals ad, but behind the glasses, he’s still just a guy looking for someone to read his undergraduate thesis. My hopes were dashed: I didn’t want to date a real person with real malaise and real elitism; I wanted to date the CliffsNotes version. But it did reinforce my faith in Brooklyn. Any borough with a publication that affords me the opportunity to imagine, just for a second, that I could live out some sort of scene straight out of Manhattan, all black and white and bittersweet, is worth taking the G train for.

Mr. n+1 who, as it turned out, had never even read said publication. He followed the interns on Twitter and had just newly moved to New York but didn’t know how to get home to Bushwick. I walked him to the train. When he asked, “So should we do this again?” I nodded out of that customary fake politeness that’s part of the argot of dating, then ran down the steps to the Brooklyn-bound side. I never heard from him again.

Maybe the lesson here is that it’s better to look for someone reading n+1 on the train than it is to hope for the allure of a mysterious bookish suitor behind the veil of anonymous online personals. Because here in NYC, even the most literary types are forced to go out in public while attempting to hide their shyness behind a book on the subway. And I’ll be ready for them this time.

Follow Kelly: @iamkellymurphy.


  1. Great piece, Kelly! But why on earth would you look for a fling based on literary credentials? You can talk about books with anyone, but if you’re looking for something “thrilling,” as you say, go for the sexy ones. If you’re lucky, the brains will follow. If not, at least it was more fun than a semiotics class.

  2. Kelly, I apologize that my tone in the original N+1 post did not snark your senses enough to avoid attempting to date someone on the site.

    Also: I just bet my coworker a bottle of Colt 45 that it was HE who ordered the Chardonnay. (Caps emphasis mine.) Could you let me know, please?

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