craigslist > about > press > closeencounters

from Time Out New York, January 30-February 6, 2003

Close Encounters
By Vanessa Wruble

If you missed your chance to chat up that cute stranger on the train, don't fret. Craigslist makes finding your soul mate a virtual reality.

One recent Sunday evening, Carolyn was walking along Fifth Avenue toward Washington Square Park when she slipped on a patch of ice. As she was about to fall headfirst into the path of an oncoming truck, a muscled arm grabbed the 51-year-old writer around the waist and snatched her out of harm's way. She found herself in the grasp of her dream man: a tall, dark, dreadlocked stranger with deep brown eyes. She was near tears. "Calm down," he said, putting his lit cigarette to her lips. She took a drag. "Thanks, I needed that," she told him. He grinned, reclaimed his Salem and walked off into the night, the tails of his black leather trench coat fluttering in the winter wind.

Carolyn, who was too dumbfounded to get his name, much less his number, says she's still wondering: Who was that? "I would have died if he hadn't shown up, " she says. "I would love to see him again and ask, 'Who are you? Where did you come from?'"

The odds of locating her mystery man may be remote, but Carolyn has found hope on the online bulletin board Craigslist, where the Missed Connections page (www.newyork.craigslist.org/mis) serves as a lost-and-found for lonely hearts.

The postings tell similar tales: Boy sees cute girl on subway, girl gets off, boy posts a plea and waits for an answer. Such romantic near misses occur every day - in restaurants, on street corners, in coffeeshops. Signals are overlooked; opportunities are lost. "We were scrunched up yesterday on the train and despite being bummed about the situation I thought how nice it would be if you were my girlfriend and the ride home would be one big hug all the way to Brooklyn." Another romantic, a shy airline passenger, writes boldly: "You were the guy wearing blue sweatpants [and] white pullover shirt. (I gave you the extra airline pillow.) I sat across the aisle from you [and] stole glances while you slept. You were so beautiful and peaceful I could barely breathe. I can't stop thinking about you."

Craigslist has been a nationwide cyber-swap meet since San Franciscan Craig Newmark launched it in 1995 - a place to sell your Volkswagen or hawk your secondhand sofa. It wasn't until 2000 that Newmark added Missed Connections, where those who choked the first time around seek the love that might otherwise be lost forever. These days, the New York page (there are boards for 20 cities) grows more popular every month: It will register about 1.5 million page views in January, ten times the number tallied for the same period in 2002.

Many log on not to find people but to read the digital mash notes, which range from the comical ("Blonde girl with star tattoo in my bed this morning: Where did you come from? Did we have sex?") to the desperate ("I don't care who you are, only that you respond. Be the girl I didn't say hello to, even if you're not her....Act. Act right now."). The list's "did you feel it too?" motif has even spawned parodies, like the note to "Broken Assed Girl: You slipped in the snow and screamed "I think I broke my fuckin' ass' and then you threw up on yourself. I asked you if you needed help and you said "eat me.' But still, I think there was some sort of moment between us."

While the board's vast audience is due in part to convenience and cost (it's free to post and browse), Newmark, 50, says the site is a service to wallflowers, who now have a second chance at romance. "I'm a reformed nerd," he confesses. "I used to wear a plastic pocket proector, I had my glasses taped together. People who have marginal social skills crave a way to connect with people [they find attractive], and this site gives them the opportunity."

Can you really find love on Craigslist - or at least some good, clean lust? The site doesn't keep track of reconnections, but people do get together. Gina, a 30-year-old graphic artist, went looking for a guy she'd met at a club. "When I got home, I was like, 'Fuck, I should have gotten his number!" She sent out an SOS for the indie-rocker type withn tattoos. He e-mailed her; they became friends and eventually graduated to "friends with privileges."

Of course, in romance there are no guarantees. A friend alerted John, a Columbia University medical student, that a woman he'd chatted up in an East Village bar was looking for him on Craigslist. They got together, but lacked sufficient chemistry to pursue a relationship. Not that the evening was a total loss. "She gave me a consolation hand job, then sent me home," John says.

A couple of hours after her near-death experience, Carolyn sent her virtual message-in-a-bottle, seeking the man with "bottomless brown eyes...I think I'm in love. I know I'm alive because of you." She hasn't heard from him yet, but she's checking her email often.

"He might be married," she says. "He might have ten kids. I just want to meet him to say thanks. He saved my life. The fact that he's six-foot-six and gorgeous - that's just a bonus."