How to revive Craigslist's Missed Connections (2024)

How to revive Craigslist's Missed Connections (1)

Tales of romantic yearning are drowning in a sea of dating ads.Credit: MASHABLE COMPOSITE; Getty / Craigslist

In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating.

In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating. It is cuffing season, after all.

Once upon a time — the early 2010s — Craigslist's Missed Connections section was the go-to place for charming, quirky or weird tales of momentary romance.

Take this quintessential longread about a wordless Brooklyn-Manhattan Q train ride, where boy and girl locked eyes, averted eyes, buried themselves in books ("I noticed you never once turned a page") and missed their stops. At some point it spins off into glorious fantasy about the ride lasting for 60 silent years, but the reader is never quite sure where that point is.

There were Missed Connections that were hilarious or hilariously bad in a Best of Next Door kind of way. But mostly, you kept reading for those moments of heart-clutching "awwww," like this 2013 post from an old professor seeking a woman he lost touch with after they met in Grand Central Station and had a night of passion, at Thanksgiving...40 years ago.

But now? Well, in March 2018, Craigslist shuttered a different section, Personals, fearing it could be liable under a law designed to combat sex trafficking, but that critics called an overly-broad attack on online speech. Personals users didn't simply move on to other advanced forms of online dating, however. No, they moved their ads en masse to — you guessed it — Missed Connections. This doesn't seem to be sanctioned by Craigslist, which takes down many of the dating ads after reviewing them. Yet still they keep flooding in.

Result: Missed Connections is now a shadow of its former self. Browse it today (you can drop in on all regional U.S. Missed Connections, from Albany to Yuba), and you'll see the vast majority are actually personals. You're reading commercials, not heartfelt stories of maybe-love-at-first-sight. Most are pretty sleazy; none are what you'd call "must read."

Struggling to be heard over the din of desperate M4W, W4M, M4M, and W4Ws are a few genuine Missed Connections. But their quality is distinctly dimmer than in the section's heyday. Craigslist itself, which once highlighted Missed Connections in its Best of Craigslist section, seems to agree. Since the Personals migration, the site has awarded a Best Of trophy to exactly one Missed Connection, and that one wasn't exactly a romance-laden moment. It was a hilarious and thoroughly well-deserved unloading on a racist "prick on the patio at Wild Wings."

I've been trawling Missed Connections all across America for days in preparation for this article, and most were utterly unmemorable and annoyingly brief, a few sentences long on average. I can recall precisely two: One where some teen had started talking to some cutie about social media, boasted that he was big on TikTok, but forgot to give his handle. And another where a driver sought "the woman in the grey Prius who was twirling her hair." That one, at least, was appropriately doomed. It's hard to imagine a meet-cute while driving.

Today's Missed Connection-makers break some fundamental rules of a good Missed Connection. You have to write long, and be funny and charming with it. The best stories often take place on or around public transit for a reason; do crushes on people through car windows really count? Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, it's really necessary to include a description of yourself. Most now do not. What, you think that hottie is just automatically going to remember you out of the hundreds of people they encounter every day?

In short, the art of Missed Connections is slowly dying. And that's a bigger deal than you might think. Because here's the thing: We all have these moments, even the fully cuffed. They are some of life's most affirming and all-too-rare moments, all the more so for being unrequited. We should celebrate them, and we should support a public archive that celebrates them.

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They don't have to actually mean anything romantic. The only person I know who ever responded to a Missed Connections ad, in 2002, is my friend Roxane in Colorado. She turned out to have zero chemistry with the guy in question once drinks were involved. Still, she found the experience incredibly flattering. "I remember the feeling of reading it and my stomach flipped," Roxane says of a now 18-year old ad. "I felt special, maybe a little bit famous."

Missed connection moments have inspired a lot of art over the years, largely because it involves the brain at its most imaginative. You see a cute face, and suddenly you're constructing a fantasy. "I fell in love with you a little bit," the Q Train guy confessed, "in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you're looking at and fall in love with that person.

"But still I think there was something there."

A brief history of missed connections

The oldest Missed Connections art I've come across, one that's haunted my head for years, is in Orson Welles' all-time classic Citizen Kane (1941). Kane, the media mogul, has died, "Rosebud" the last word on his lips. His old assistant Mr. Bernstein offers the theory that it was the name of a woman Kane met briefly in his early days. The reporter interviewing him is skeptical, but wiser, older Bernstein gives him the 411.

"A fella will remember things he wouldn't think he'd remember," he starts, and launches into his own personal Missed Connection:

You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on a ferry and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in. And on it, there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on, and she was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second and she didn't see me at all — but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

The reason this scene is so haunting isn't its romantic viability. As I'm sure wise old Bernstein knows, you need more than a second to evaluate a date; who knows if they would have had chemistry. It's that year: 1896. The guy has spent five decades —not every day, which would be creepy, but every month, which is poignant — thinking of a face that was branded on his brain in his youth. That says something about time, memory, and the eternally uncontrollable human heart.

Somewhere on that fictional ferry in 1896, we may presume, some old lady was thinking longingly and unrealistically about a missed connection in 1846, wondering if the grass would have been greener with him than it had been with her husband. And on and on, back through time in half-century jumps, until the first time a primate recalled a lovely face from a tribe that was just passing through their part of the savannah, and wished they had some sort of language with which to express nostalgic regret.

These days we have the language of music, of course, which has been inspired by a Missed Connection or two. The Beatles captured the concept well in 1965 with "I've Just Seen a Face," but the one most people know these days is the deceptively schmaltzy 2004 hit by British singer James Blunt, "You're Beautiful."

Blunt's lyrics almost read like a Missed Connection ad: "She smiled at me on the subway, she was with another man... I saw your face in a crowded placeand I don't know what to do... And I don't think that I'll see her again, but we shared a moment that will last 'til the end." There's even an appropriately embarrassing level of TMI, as Blunt confesses he was "flying high" at the time ("f*cking high" on the album version), and she knew it, and he knew she knew it. And it was, like, cosmic, man.

Unlike the Beatles, Blunt was inspired by a real-life incident, and it's only slightly deflating to learn that the woman with another man on the subway was his ex. The important thing is that he approached it like a Missed Connection. "She and I caught eyes and lived a lifetime in that moment, but didn’t do anything about it," Blunt told Oprah. Classic Craigslist.

You don't have to write an international hit song about it, but you also don't have to deny that you've had at least one of these eye-catching, heart-racing moments in public at some point in your life. So when they happen, instead of filing it away for your faulty memory to recall, why not take a moment to celebrate it, anonymously, on the internet?

Chances are you won't actually hear back from the person in question, and even if you do, nothing will come of it. Missed Connections is all about understanding that your quest is probably doomed. But you just might make someone feel a little bit famous. And at the very least, you'll be helping to keep the spark of one of the online world's quirkiest, most deeply human archives alive.

Read more from Love App-tually:

  • Just a Jim looking for his Pam: The fictional couples dominating dating app bios

  • Fine break up with me, but let me keep Instagramming your dog

  • What the hell is Ghost Exorcism Day?

How to revive Craigslist's Missed Connections (3)

Chris Taylor

Chris is a veteran tech, entertainment and culture journalist, author of 'How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,' and co-host of the Doctor Who podcast 'Pull to Open.' Hailing from the U.K., Chris got his start as a sub editor on national newspapers. He moved to the U.S. in 1996, and became senior news writer for Time.com a year later. In 2000, he was named San Francisco bureau chief for Time magazine. He has served as senior editor for Business 2.0, and West Coast editor for Fortune Small Business and Fast Company. Chris is a graduate of Merton College, Oxford and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a long-time volunteer at 826 Valencia, the nationwide after-school program co-founded by author Dave Eggers. His book on the history of Star Wars is an international bestseller and has been translated into 11 languages.

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