reading the missed connections

Last week I stumbled across a series of illustrations inspired by craigslist Missed Connections:

They’re by artist Sophie Blackwell, and all are selected from the New York City craigslist. I love how her prints capture the near-universal experience of unrequited love and secret crushes, but also our uniquely contemporary ability to broadcast those affections to a larger audience. It’s the adult equivalent of the middle school trick where you tell a friend to ask your crush’s best friend if he also has a crush on you. If no news comes back, you’ve saved yourself the embarrassment of rejection, but, hey, at least you gave it a shot.

When I worked as a barista at a popular coffeeshop in Washington, DC, I sometimes read the Missed Connections. My coworkers (who were an admittedly attractive and charming group) were frequent subjects of unspoken affection. But that was years ago, and in the intervening time, I’d kind of forgotten about that corner of craigslist. So I opened the Vancouver page to see what kind of stories I might find there.

Blackwell’s world is fully of mostly-young, mostly-white people who read Bukowski on the subway and have funky, furry hats and cool tattoos. Their affections are quirky and intelligent, and they write with the dreamy tone of the truly smitten. Their desires are wholesome and decidedly un-creepy. They want to buy someone a drink or say “thanks for smiling at me” or express a public regret for not saying hi. But a search of Vancouver’s missed connections turns up a more complex, slightly darker world.

First of all, I’ll go ahead and tell you that none of the ads are for me. Not even, I don’t think, the girl who smiled at someone last week at the very intersection where I live. (If it was me who made the poster’s day with a smile, they might’ve mentioned my shiny red down jacket or my very handsome black dog, but this ad only complimented her “touque” and I’m sure that mine is unremarkable. Hey, you would’ve checked for yourself too!) Vancouver’s unrequited lovers are, it turns out, a diverse lot. Indian and Asian and blonde, 21 to 55, hanging out in the suburbs and at the ski hill. Their intentions are sometimes sweet, but more often ambiguous and strange (“Why do you always walk away from me?”) or written as if from the wrong side of a restraining order (“Gary Honey Call Me Please !!! I miss you sexy man of mine!!”). Their spelling and punctuation are variable (“tall ,blonde and beautifull you are….”), and their metaphors weren’t penned by poets (“Our eyes have met and become entangled many times over the distance”). And they are, overwhelmingly, distrustful (“tell me what colour my coat so I’ll know for sure that it’s you”).

What strikes me most about Vancouver’s Missed Connections, though, is how many people don’t seem to be looking for someone in particular. One post reads:

Okay, I’ve got it…


Date: 2012-01-19, 10:46AM PST
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I’ll never bother you again!

And there are lots like this. People who don’t want to be found, who don’t really even want to find someone. They just want to say something, somewhere public, to get an idea out in print, into the void. It’s not as romantic a picture of the world as Blackwell’s, but I kind of like it. When else in history have we had such an opportunity to publicize our affections or our loneliness or our regret? Just reading the missed connections opens your mind to the possibility that someone somewhere might be secretly pining away for you, an undeniably seductive idea. At the same time, though, you’re forced to consider all the people who are lonely and disconnected, who want a voice, or someone to take notice. And I think in the end, I prefer this. I prefer the version of the world that is a little bit uglier and more perverted and a lot less charming, this world that is populated by hipsters and and middle-aged Safeway cashiers alike.

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