“Do Craigslist’s ‘Missed Connection’ ads really work?”
Craigslist seems a lot like the much cooler but less wholesome older brother of Gumtree, a fraternal relationship beneath the stern parents of eBay and Amazon who keep chiding them not to talk to strangers. Originally localized to America, Craigslist now covers 27 separate areas of the UK and acts as a locale for the glib sales of vacuum cleaners and virginities side by side, all posted anonymously so as not to compromise any sort of professional identity.
Most conceivable goods and services can be found offered up somewhere on Craigslist, however there is one section which stands alone as by far the most strange, addictive and hauntingly beautiful. Reading it has become something of a slight personal obsession; as opposed to staid product descriptions it’s more akin to a fractured soap opera, people almost selling scraps of their souls rather than chintzy tat or an opportunity to listen to a terrible band.
This is namely the Missed Connections zone of Craigslist, an esoteric form of personal ad for anyone who has fallen in love with someone they’ve glimpsed on the bus or passed in the street or any such scenario where they’ve lacked the time, opportunity or backbone to approach, make conversation and ask for a contact number. The average Missed Connection comes with the specific time and place of the encounter, description of this beloved person, and the suggestion of some form of tryst. Here is an example posted just today to illustrate the concept:
Now let us consider the conditions that have to be met and the planets that have to align for such an enterprise to be successful. First, the love interest in question has to be aware of and regularly check these Missed Connection listings, already quite a niche and unknown Internet tidbit to find yourself browsing. Then they need to recognize themselves from the description, some of which are phenomenally vague – “you have blonde hair”, “you’re medium height”, “you were wearing shoes”, etc. The person also has to be single, and in addition not freaked out that someone treated the brief eye contact shared on the number 8 bus as an unbreakable bond of affection and lust so strong they were forced to track them down online, indeed that needs to be a quality they’d look for in a partner. Only if somehow against infinitesimal odds this chain of coincidences runs unbroken are we at the stage where two people are aware of one other, the same as two people first meeting at a bar for instance – they still need to find eachother mutually interesting and attractive and only then might a relationship bloom.
It seems an absurdly unlikely wherewithal to start dating someone you were probably only admiring to prevent yourself having to look at piss-streaked public transport floors or the big, sad, bloodshot eyes of buskers. This whole concept of coolly-connecting-instantly-with-a-stranger-in-a-public-place-and-falling-in-love is galvanized by Hollywood with uplifting arty films like ‘Before Sunrise’ where an innocuous conversation between a guy and a girl on a train begins some hopelessly poignant romance.
I’m sure Missed Connections’ existence does help people cope with their monotonous daily routines by imagining maybe they’re in a romcom, and falling for a randomer who shares their commute seems the sort of thing that’d set the film’s kooky, quixotic, life-affirming adventures off. Maybe they’re not just twice-divorced Darryl Thomas from I.T, maybe actually they’re Hugh Grant or Paul Rudd and actually everything’s going to be OK. When of course everyone else on the tube or bus aren’t necessarily deuteragonists awaiting recognition in the sitcom script that is your life, they’re trying to get to work and ignore the guy that keeps staring at them.
Advertisements on the tube hardly discourage this either, with plugs for Match.com over-exciting the imagination of travelling singletons.
The ingrained notion that buses and trains are really just loud, moving single clubs seems to have clouded just how improbable Craigslist’s Missed Connections really are, so much so that various other sites have originated to provide the same service – MissedConnections.com, ISawYou.com and LoveinLondon.net are all designed to help Londoners track down the one that almost accidentally brushed against them once in a smelly tube carriage.
London newspaper ‘Metro’, distributed free every weekday to be listlessly read on the way to work and trodden into station floors as a tabloid pulp come evening, even has a section titled ‘Rush Hour Crush’ where people can mail in to have their commuting romances published and hopefully read and reciprocated.
Missed Connections, then, are clearly quite a popular concept and some people obviously take them very seriously. I even found one woman whose search for a suited man she’d shared a smile with was so desperate she’d posted on every Missed Connection site available:
But do these Missed Connections ever work? I asked the woman above, who’d been pretty comprehensive in tracking down her man, and she reported back to say that in her case no, “I don’t think that the person who messaged me back was the one I meant in my text.” Are these even designed to work, or do they just act as an outlet for the shy and beta to appease themselves by saying “well, at least I tried!” Whilst there is the odd reported case of a relationship spawning, either by Metro submission or Craigslist post, it’s such a rare and incredulous event that it usually makes the news, and if a dating method creates a couple so infrequently that whenever it does it makes headlines can it really be classed as functional?
To determine the success rate, if any, of Missed Connections, I decided to run a series of tests. I could find no evidence of any other documented studies of this sort so as far as I’m aware these are unique in that respect.
Firstly, for a better insight into the minds of the people who post such ads I decided to reply to some pretending to be the elusive missed romance described. Statistically, in America it least, the vast majority of Missed Connection posts are men searching for women (m4w) at 59%, followed by m4m at 27%, w4m at 13% and w4w filling the final 1%, so to increase my chances of getting a response I created a coquettish female alter-ego by the name of Abbey Davies and replied to some Missed Connections.
It was hard to find any common denominator in the responses I received. On one hand an Indian gentleman called Naz offered to rape me after replying to his ad, stating “get yourself dressed up and meet me tomorrow to let me have my way with you… Central line… tomorrow afternoon, Liverpool Street”, whereas the discourse generated from replying to Trevor’s ad was cringingly charming:
I wanted to gauge the personality of those who wrote such adverts to help when it came to writing my own Missed Connections ad, but with no one character type defining the average poster I reasoned I’d just have to improvise. My plan was to have a meander around London and surreptitiously photograph one male and one female, then splash them across every possible online platform associated with tracking down Missed Connections to see if I had any success whatsoever in finding them. Here are the pair in question; most likely I will never really know who you are but I’m afraid you have been exposed to an extensive unwilling media assault, so sorry about that.
The respective Craigslist ads I posted looked like this:
In addition to hunting them online I also submitted their descriptions to the Metro’s ‘Rush Hour Crush’. I did this over the course of a weekend, and as neither appeared in Monday’s copy I assumed they’d been discarded as not interesting or soppy enough to be featured. So imagine my surprise when Tuesday’s copy had both my ads, and not just that, but I’d won a toothbrush!
I allowed these various posts to germinate for a while but my search for the blonde girl, taking the form of a ten-a-penny m4w listing, seemed to blend into obscurity and produced not a single response. However my w4m pursuit of the Muttley man happily produced a more lucrative return – I wordlessly received this picture from one Michael B:
and one unnamed conversationalist went along with some exquisitely odd sexual arrangements:
Most promising of all was the message from ‘fun85’, who wrote:
I tried desperately to follow this lead up but after his inaugural mail I was never to hear from him again, and the anonymity Craigslist offers means I couldn’t even track him down via his e-mail address. I fear I scared him off like a nerdy deer.
I realize of course he could be bullshitting; the only fact I have to work with is that his distinctive T-shirt is allegedly from M&S, and my thorough research into this claim has come up inconclusive – the only thing I have learned is that it actually reads “The Mutt’s Nuts” rather than “The Mutt’s Mutt” as I originally thought. However I want to believe that the sender really was the paunched Hanna-Barbera fan I saw on the train, and he stopped replying simply as he found the situation too weird, particularly when I sent him a picture of the inside page of Tuesday’s Metro where Abbey’d offered to be his human pitstop.
It seems apparent then that for Missed Connections to work the person written about has to be flattered or excited or have some semblance of positivity about the experience, or instead of a relationship there’s going to be at best confusion and at worst a court order. Muttley-shirt, were it really him, seemed to devolve from happy surprise to the gnawing realization that this was all a bit strange, so I wanted to see if this was the usual reaction; if so, this million-to-one matchmaking method is surely doomed from the get-go.
To find the specific people referenced in Missed Connections and inform them that someone had written about them online proved an interesting but not impossible task, as some posts refer not to strangers bumped into on random commutes but actually at the love interest’s place of work. These ones sort of puzzle me – if you know where they work, then you can go and ask them out; that’s not a missed connection, that’s a known connection, a fear-of-potentially-unreciprocated-affections connection.
So I collated some of the London Missed Connections posted within the last month that specify where the target was employed, printed them out and aimed to physically hand them to the love objects described. I intended to find their reaction and contact the original posters to let them know how it went, and I maintain this was a nice thing to do – the anxiety in finding out exam results is always worse than the actual knowledge of them, and likewise it’d be better to put these Craiglisters out of their misery rather than them checking their emails every half hour and getting crushed by disappointment every time there’s no response. I was going to force these people into facing up to their possible romances whether they liked it or not, as some glum, administrative cupid in a hoodie.
The day started poorly. I intended to begin with this ad, posted by a woman who’d been served by a guy at a red food stall on Golborne Road whom she wanted to get to know. Seeing as the odds of him searching for himself on MissedConnections.com were extremely minimal I thought I could be the middle man here, but having walked the entire length of the road in question the only food stall I could find was blue and even that was unmanned.
Likewise I couldn’t be sure I was in the same Lloyd’s Pharmacy branch as described in this m4m ad, so I just shelved it next to some tampons for someone to find.
My third attempt though I was feeling more confident about. The ad, which has since been removed, read simply:
To the lovely male barista at AMT Balham – w4m – 25
You will never read this anyway, so I can be crude.
I would do you like a truck.
What’s up with the ring on your finger though?
I headed to Balham station and the AMT was easy to find.
I love that as a photo, so much chaos hanging in potential, I think I might submit it to a gallery of some sort.
I ordered a coffee and as the female worker pottered about making it I asked if she usually had a male co-worker with her. She reported she did, a man called Tom who wasn’t in that day. I explained the situation and she promised she’d pass the Missed Connection on to him, seemingly very enthused.
I was on quite a high from this positive interaction as I worked my way to Dulwich Village, my last port of call for the day. This ad has also been removed since I told its creator it’d been personally delivered, but it originally read:
i want to kiss you once! You are so cute – m4w
you work at Gail’s Bakery – I know I am too old for you but you would be amazed of how good a kisser I am
This one I was slightly more reserved in handing over due to its paedophilic overtones, but regardless I marched into the exorbitant artisan bakery clutching the sheet confidently.
There was only one conceivable worker the post could have been aimed at, a young brunette with a ponytail whom I made a beeline for. I handed the note over with some flustered explanations and her face was a picture of perplexed nausea. Upon my asking if I could snap a photo of her holding it to send to this mystery older guy her response was unequivocal, pushing the paper back into my hands and firmly stating “no, no one here wants this, not me, not anybody. Please just take it and leave.”
So it was a mixed bag of emotions I faced when informing people they were someone’s Missed Connection. When I returned home I messaged the original posters to tell them I’d printed out their respective ads and handed them to the people they’d referenced, and our Balham AMT mothertrucker replied with surprising good cheer.
I’ve played around a lot with Missed Connections over the last couple weeks, both responding to them and creating them, and it’s hard to come to any definitive conclusion as to whether or not they work. The girl at Gail’s Bakery reacted to her personal ad as if I were trying to thrust a dead dog into her arms, and there are clearly a lot of pretty unpleasant people who seem to have misread the topic as Missed Copulations.
However if there really did exist an Abbey Davies with a craving for man-children in tight ‘Wacky Races’ tops, then on a surface level that Missed Connection worked, and he’d simply been spooked off by my incessant demands that he send a facial photo to certify it was really him. Even if he hadn’t replied, Abbey’s Inbox was plenty full of suitors claiming although they weren’t the male in question they’d love to get to know her more, and as proven by portrait artist Trev some of them are clearly decent people willing to go to quite admirable lengths for girls they don’t even know.
When I began work for this article I was all ready to trash Missed Connections as useless, but weirdly the success rate seems to be slightly higher than you might expect. I think it tends to strike a chord with both wan romantics and incredible perverts, the two extreme ends of the dating spectrum separated by the normal people who ask each other out in real life, and considering males and females in both camps religiously check Craigslist and also post every time they make eye contact or brush someone’s arm on a busy tube, finding likeminded soulmates via the site makes statistical sense.
I don’t think there’s any fear of this replacing conventional asking out, be that through text or spoken word or uneasy tacit assumption after a night of drunk sex, but it’s not quite the hopeless love lottery I once thought. From the feelers I put out there, even if you transpire to not be the original person described it still creates a discourse between two people presumably single, London-based and sufficiently desperate for a relationship to be looking on Craigslist for one, and I’m sure there exist regular couples that work with even less in common than that.