Spring is coming and San Franciscans are in amorous mood. This is evidenced not by the sight of couples strolling in Golden Gate Park, but rather by a run on the personal columns - the mating method of choice in the city.

There are two reasons for this. First, these are men and women born and bred to order what they want from a "double latte, demi, decaff" to a new, true love. Second, there's a surplus of thirtysomethings with sixtysomething salaries who can't hack anything they can't control - the idea of a chance encounter, for example. They even prefer to date during their lunch hour, "So's not to waste an evening if it doesn't work out," says Andrew, who has been placing ads and meeting (interviewing, in fact) women near his downtown office. He knows what he wants, down to the make of car she drives and her salary bracket. A fit, good-looking 37 year-old, he is mysteriously still single.

Negotiating the personal ads is a tricky business. For "personals" virgins the Bay Area Guardian (the hippest place to sell yourself) actually runs "teach-ins" at Julies' Heart & Soul, a jazz club on Polk. I go along incognito with my husband, who is pretending to be someone else for the purposes of the evening. Well, what to do? Our teacher is an extraordinary man called Anderson. Anderson is a motivational speaker by day only. "Call me Dr Love!" he chimes. At night he is a performer with a show he describes as a "blend of RuPaul, M Butterfly and Woody Allen." This is much more interesting than trying to sum myself up in 40 words. But Anderson is here to teach and shows us his own ad. "Know what you want?" it runs, "I do."

First, we learn to master the abbreviations used to reveal basic but essential information: race, marital status, sexuality, wealth. Beginning with the basic SWF (or SBF, or SAF) you start building. You're a lawyer with an ex-husband: PDWF. If you are religious add a C for Christ as in: PDWCF. You'll want to make it clear if you are straight, G, or Bi. Anderson, who is Latino and Chinese warns us that Bi means "biracial" in most of the daily papers, but not in the Guardian. Anderson, who is a Bi Bi (so to speak), avoids confusion by sticking to one paper. This is clearly important stuff. Someone confesses to me that for years he thought ISO meant "in shape only," and steered away from hundreds of ads as a result. Today, he discovered it merely stood for "in search of". Meanwhile, the man next to me is cooking with gas. His ad reads: "PSWJM, NS ND, HIV, STD free ISO PSGM for LTR. Likes movies."

Anderson says we must be upbeat and positive to attract somebody. But I like best an ad I saw in a just-published collection drawn from the personal columns. It reads: "Bitter, unsuccessful, middle-aged loser, wallowing in an unending sea of inert, drooping loneliness looking for a 24-year-old needy, leech-like, hanger-on to abuse with dull stories, tired sex and Herb Alpert." I wonder if it worked for him.