By Anna Hogeland
I read Craigslist’s Missed Connections to see how people go about getting laid and finding love. On this free and anonymous site, anyone and everyone can write a hail-Mary message to any stranger they find attractive. It’s entertaining, heartwarming and heartbreaking, creepy with a touch of sweet and sweet with a touch of creepy, and my go-to means of procrastination.
It’s not Okcupid or Match.com, where you advertise the image of your most date-able self. Rather, MC is the Salvation Army of courtship; what you see is gritty, vulgar, and blatantly authentic. Uninhibited by the potential of face-to-face rejection, posters can say whatever they want without consequence—and (often) without reward either. These posts reveal honest American thoughts. They show how we simultaneously expose ourselves and hide from vulnerability and reciprocated affection.
Among the posts by hopeless horn dogs and hopeless romantics (slash amateur poets), I see a testimony to the primal craving we all have—and rarely fulfill—to be seen, heard, touched and connected. With that craving comes the barriers that block intimacy. In the case of MC, the yearning for connection is in the expression of attraction; the barrier is in the anonymity of the poster and unaccountability for the content. These posters retroactively catcall and hide behind the curtain of encrypted email addresses, often making it difficult for the recipient (if s/he sees it) to return the crush. MC makes this all more apparent and accessible; it provides both the forum and the disguise.
Think of the Central Relational Paradox. This psychobabble idea names a fundamental human social dilemma: desiring connection and putting up walls to keep intimacy at bay—a push-pull, approach-avoidance to love. We want to feel understood and close to others. But to achieve this requires exposure, vulnerability to rejection and, most intolerable, isolation. This is terrifying. So we put up the walls we want to crumble.
Take this G-rated post, M4W, titled “Working together”: has been tough since that night. I want to talk to you more, spend more time with you, but I can't for many reasons. I just wish that there was a way to get past all of those hurdles and really get to know you, outside of work, without being so obvious at work.
Virtually any woman of any age this half of Colorado could be the target of this message. Presumably, the writer often sees this woman at the office, yet he chose to reveal his crush here. I imagine in his fantasy, the woman reads the message and schedules a rendezvous that leads to sex and maybe even going steady. But he neglects to give details of the woman and himself that could enable the connection he desires, likely due to fear of rejection and an awkward water-cooler conversation. Hence, the Paradox.
This man joins the club of male posters, which has far more members than other groups. I conduct a small sampling of MC posts on the Denver page over the course of one week. I find:
m4t (men for trans): 0 posts
Clearly, straight and not-so-straight men dominate the site, while queer women and transgender senders and recipients are virtually zilch (maybe even disproportionately so). In the LGBT community, online dating and using MC as a way to reach someone is arguably more normalized than for heteros, since these individuals are a less-than-visible minority. (Anecdotally, I know of two gay men who have had dates follow MC postings.) But what’s with the straight men?
Women likely project their fantasies as much as men--but what prompts these men to take the next step online? Do they have more regrets about not making a move in person? Are they brave or cowardly? Perhaps the question should be, why don’t women write more posts? Is MC telling us that, contrary to what we want to and may truly believe, many women still play the role of passive objects of desire, and men the proactive seekers?
Perhaps so, or maybe (to grossly generalize) men feel the Paradox more acutely than women, as their masculine pride is stake if/when rejected. The risk of shame is lower online, even if the chances for connection are also slimmer than asking her out in person. This could also be telling of a sense of power women may have over men in this arena: men are stereotyped to be “easier” than women, therefore women are the ones pursued. By this logic, men don’t need to be courted; they’re already game. So, most often, men are the writers, women the readers.
The more posts I read, my empathy for the writers grows. The anonymity on MC lessens the risk of rejection, but posting is a vulnerable act even if it’s one for the wishing well; a what-have-I-got-to-lose long-shot. And, sometimes—against all the odds and the barriers—they reply.
Anna Hogeland is a clinical social worker and writer living in Boulder, Colorado. She hopes to one day be the subject of a missed connections posting.