The strange poetry of searching for romance online

Candy Crushed.
Candy Crushed.
Image: Reuters/Jim Bourg
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I’ve always been fascinated by the missed connections section on Craigslist. Nestled away amongst all the apartment listings and gently used IKEA couches are posts from would-be lovers, searching for the alluring strangers glimpsed in subways and diners. Reading the section is the ultimate voyeuristic act—a way to eavesdrop on the intimacy and romantic hopes of others.

It was my love of missed connections that led me to start writing fake ones after my first marriage ended. I was not yet 30, in the process of completing a degree in poetry, newly single and living alone in a small Brooklyn studio apartment. My wife had cheated on me. I wasn’t just nursing my wounds; I was obsessing over them. I was bored and lonely, and the missed connections section made me feel a little less cut off from the world. So I began posting my own:

There is so much to dread / m4w / 27 / Manhattan

My friends tell me it is too soon or that the grass is growing tall beneath my feet. There is so much to dread. I’ve never traded flirtatious texts after midnight. What is the difference between “seeing,” “hanging out with,” and “dating” someone? I can’t even maintain eye contact with women walking on the street. I’m shy, I’m insecure, I fear rejection and the possibility my male gaze (I’ve taken one survey class on feminism in college) is offensive and an objectifying intrusion. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my advances, silent eyeballs or otherwise. I won’t let my eyes linger on a sheer shirt and black bra. I watch the eyes of other men; watch them turn around halfway up the block to look at an ass in short shorts. I’m satisfied smelling perfume as a woman passes.

Snowy McNally Jackson / m4w / 26 / New York

I want to say something about the certain slant of snow from the window of an office building or I wanted to mention how your gloved hand caught my attention as you held the door and I paused to brush the snow off my coat. I wanted to follow you around the bookstore but I knew that would seem like I didn’t need a book. The book that I ended up looking at wasn’t what I came in for—it was about trees in the Northwest where I haven’t been. I’ve thought about taking a trip there, who hasn’t? You seemed like you would like Northwestern trees, a sense of time which cannot be explained by traffic lights, the mess of weather, etc. I know this is the snow talking now, but I would like to sit by the window with you and discuss typography, Jon Stewart, or the sad rendition of snow men made by adults. I hope you noticed me. Some people say I look just like Justin Bieber if they squint (or was it if I squint?). I can’t remember, I think it is the hair, which my hat was covering.

In hindsight, you could say these posts were an effort to create a kind of fellowship amongst lonely and longing individuals. They were also a kind of writing exercise—prose poems sent out into the world, immediately after I wrote them. But at bottom, I think they were an agglomeration of my fears, anxieties and expectations—along with the usual dating clichés and demographic markers of what it means to be single, online and looking for love.

Lots of people are cynical about romance in the digital age. While online dating has gained an increasingly positive reputation, there are still plenty of pitfalls. For one thing, online daters are prone to bending the truth: 81% of people lie about their height, weight or age in online dating profiles, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study reported by Mental Floss. Such fibs are relatively harmless, but there’s also the danger of running into someone who lies about their relationship status or even getting ensnared in an online romance scam.

It can also be surprisingly difficult to meet your potential soulmate in person. One-third of online daters have yet to meet up with someone they met through a dating site in real life, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. And even if we do manage to grab a drink with a person who’s exactly who they say they are, most veteran online daters can testify to any number of disappointments. Friends have told me about encountering first dates who wanted to talk dirty over artisanal sandwiches–or worse, people who don’t even know who Indiana Jones is.

Yet even as we steel ourselves to deal with liars, ghosts and more ordinary romantic let-downs, many of us still entertain a wistful desire to believe in the possibility that love awaits us on the other side of the screen. One of my fake missed connections posts speaks to these emotional contradictions:

Stories like that don’t happen, though, do they? / m4w / 28 (Union Square)

Tell me they do.

I’m no different from anyone else. I look here daily. I look here to kill time at work. I look to imagine the scenarios and moments of others. I also look for someone looking for me, though secretly I don’t believe I will find myself, and also I hold the belief that once you have found your missed connection, it is all downhill from there. I want to find faith in others looking for each other–and not just the “you bought me and my friends a drink at an anonymous bar” types, but, you know, something a little more romantic, or something uncanny in how, in a city of millions of characters, there is bound to be a story starting somewhere.

Tell me there is.

This ad received several responses, all from people who were similarly invested in missed connections:

I look every day, wondering if someone feels like I got away :) Oh well…we can’t all be the “cute hipster girl reading pride and prejudice and zombies on the G train.” But sometimes I’d like to think when I catch a guy stealing glances that the universe is setting up a moment that will ensure that I will stick in his mind for at least an hour ;)

Married Older Thinking about an affair.

I agree with every word you said.  Faith in humanity is a strange thing isn’t it? How in a city, like you said, of millions can it be so difficult to holdonto that faith?I can’t promise you that stories like that exist but I can assure you that I exist.

i reconnected with someone on here that i spoke to once, because i too looked to kill time at work. i thought i would go for it – the one written about me. the guy ended up being tragically boring. what a cliché. “romance is dead”


i still read them.

I still read missed connections too—even though I’m now happily remarried. (I met my wife online, in fact, though not on Craigslist.) These days I’m not looking to the posts to reassure me that the love is still alive, or to make me feel less alone. I just feel like a lifelong member of the tribe. Once I was one of those people reaching out into the internet abyss, wondering if someone was reading. It made me feel better knowing that someone else was on the receiving end of those missives—even if it wasn’t the one I was looking for.