Fleeting interactions are a part of daily life, from transactions at a store counter to changing lanes on a highway. We express our desires outwardly, verbally, or nonverbally in the hopes that they will be received by the intended party. Some are longer, some are more pleasant, and some get just far enough for us to wonder about their fullest potential, even if it’s just a shoulder brush or a flash of eye contact.
Craigslist is probably the most useful website known to mankind, if only because it fills in the cracks where human communication fails, creating a bridge for people to find what they’re looking for. Need a job? Check Craigslist. Spare furniture to sell? Post it on Craigslist. Looking for an apartment? Find one on Craigslist. Lonely? Yup, you guessed it.
It’s natural, then, that Craigslist also serves as a forum for those who just can’t let go of those cursory interactions that occur naturally during the course of human events. Missed connections was once the bastion of fate-based dating, where people could post their IRL right swipes and hope against hope for the best. It packed all the virtual anonymity found on common dating apps with even less superficiality, forcing human beings to actually use words to describe themselves and the people they just missed.
The page has dramatically dipped in popularity from the years before dating apps inhabited our smartphones. Log on to Craigslist, though, and there it sits, with scores of posts just waiting to be clicked and read. Its very existence is almost farcical, as an outlet for those who can’t stand the thought of their brief encounter existing only in their head (and not somewhere within the vast internet ether).
The jovial nature of this is not lost on artist Dorothy Gambrell, who created a map of the United States that showed where the most missed connections occur after scouring hundreds and hundreds of posts. The work was difficult, but the intrigue piqued by the very idea of the missed connections page kept her going.
“It becomes so frustrating reading missed connections. There are the people who seem to post constantly, or who post about people they see regularly. Just talk to them!” – Dorothy Gambrell
“Once you’ve asked yourself ‘where do most missed connections take place,’ how do you not answer that?” Gambrell tells BTRtoday. “It took about two weeks to make, mostly spent just going through missed connections ads trying to figure out where they took place. I recorded 100 posts from each state and Washington, D.C.—5,100 posts in total.”
The results weren’t entirely surprising—59 percent of the posts were men seeking women, 27 percent were men seeking men—proving that having a y-chromosome is an indication of pure shamelessness in the pursuit of sex. The remaining 14 percent were women seeking either men or women.
The locations weren’t shocking either, as Walmart was the most common location for missed connections in 15 states, with various types of supermarkets and modes of transportation also showing strongly.
Gambrel understands why some people might find these locations depressing, but she counters by stating that the gas stations and Walmarts are part of our built environment and where we spend our lives. What’s more upsetting to her, after going through so many posts, was the reticence of people to actually put themselves out there.
“It becomes so frustrating reading missed connections,” she says. “There are the people who seem to post constantly, or who post about people they see regularly. Just talk to them!”
Maria Ridgen experienced that hesitation when she saw a cute guy working in a store she frequented, and thusly never spoke to him. One night while working and drinking with friends, however, they decided to write an explicitly obvious missed connections posting that made it clear who exactly they were talking about.
“The best method is still to put yourself out there in person, even if it means facing the menace of rejection.”
“My friends were tired of my complaining about the cute guy at the store and not doing anything about it,” Ridgen tells BTRtoday. “The posting was bad, and it was pretty obvious it was him. My friend actually did it through her email, and not long afterward he emailed, that same night.”
The posting was about Evan DeBold, who admitted that he didn’t regularly check missed connections, but acknowledges his long hair and place of work at the time—a head shop in Baltimore—made him stand out.
“The head shop that I was working at is kind of like a tourist trap in the middle of Baltimore, and I’m a pretty recognizable person where a lot of people see me, so I just figured I’d go on there,” DeBold tells BTRtoday.
Ridgen and DeBold both had limited experience with missed connections before their contact, and basically none from a personal standpoint. Ridgen had read a number of posts before, but only as part of art school assignments.
“We were reading the postings all the time, because they were honestly hilarious,” she says, “but it was never supposed to work.”
Ridgen quickly found DeBold’s Facebook page, while he had a tougher time, sifting through Ridgen’s friends before eventually figuring out who she was. It was somewhere during this period where nerves set in.
“I was immediately panicked,” Ridgen says. “I had zero expectations when I put it into the universe. It was sort of a way of dealing with it without actually dealing with it. It was also kind of humiliating—I wrote the most awful missed connection.”
Though the first date was predictably a bit awkward, Ridgen says the oddity of it all helped her cope with putting herself out there—as did asking some friends to tag along just in case.
“I figured it couldn’t get any weirder than meeting via missed connection,” she says.
Weird though as it may have been, it worked—the pair started dating and have been together since. Their relationship is proof that missed connections can work, once you get past the seemingly insurmountable odds of the intended recipient seeing it, responding in kind, and developing a meaningful relationship with them. That’s a tall mountain to climb, especially if it’s your primary means of finding a romantic partner (note: not recommended).
The best method is still to put yourself out there in person, even if it means facing the menace of rejection. But doesn’t it make for a more interesting story than Tinder?