I've never looked at a place as having the potential to be mine for long. I travel too much for this to be the case, and even in my marriage, my ex-husband and I were always hopping from one of our houses to another, to the point where they felt more like hotels than anything else. But as my tiny apartment comes together and begins to feel more and more like a home—I'm giving in to the tempting idea of permanence. And permanence, boy, does it make you extravagant. Where a bed and closet would have done just fine, now I have and want all kinds of furniture.
“Design Within Reach,” my friend Bianca told me over coffee. Her three-bedroom is practically entirely decorated in DWR. There's only one small hitch: in this economy, Design Within Reach is largely Design Few Can Reach.
“Check Craigslist,” my other friend, Lisa, added. “I got a dresser for my guestroom there. Right now everyone is getting rid of stuff because they're moving or downsizing. It's great. I almost got a new entertainment center the other day.”
“Almost?” asked Bianca.
“I accidentally had phone sex with the guy selling it.”
I almost spit out my coffee.
“Lisa, how do you 'accidentally' have phone sex with somebody?”
“Oh, I don't know. I asked him why he was getting rid of it and he told me he wanted to change his décor. I couldn't believe a straight man would ever use the word 'décor,' so I asked him if he was straight and he said he was and then I asked him what he was wearing and so it went...”
“You are incorrigible!”
“God, and here I was browsing the erotic services ads looking for something stimulating,” Bianca said, laughing.
“You browse the erotic services ads?”
“Sometimes,” she smiled. “I don't like Casual Encounters for some reason. There is something about a man who is serious enough about fantasy to want to pay for it that is attractive. So I e-mail and sometimes they bite and then I call them at lunch and we have some outrageously hot phone sex.”
“Don't they want to meet you?”
“Of course,” she responded. “They tell me all kinds of things. They'll tell me they'll pay my rent forever, or give me a car—this guy promised to give me dental insurance! It's insane what people will say.”
“What do you say?”
“That I'm scared—and I am!”
“Bianca, imagine they called you back when you were at home with Jeff or tracked you down using your number?”
“They can't. I have what I call a 'naughty phone.' It's prepaid. Cash only. Fake name and address. I only use it sometimes. When I'm done, I just switch it off and put it back in its secret spot and that's it.”
“You are very crafty,” Lisa said, with some admiration. “I feel like the whole world has my number.”
“Yes, but you're free to have the whole world call you whenever,” Bianca told her. “I'm not.”
“Point,” Lisa said, then she turned to me. “Are you seeing anyone now?”
“Yes,” I responded. “And we're deeply committed. On weekends and holidays.”
“Don't I know that one,” she said.
“You should put out an ad,” said Bianca. “For a nuclear physicist!”
“Yes!” exclaimed Lisa. “You could put up one of your really convoluted pieces on there, about waves and quantum, um, molecules and particles or whatever so only the really smart ones would get it—or! Or you could just write out an equation. A really crazy one. You know, solve for passion!”
“Collapse my wave function, baby!” I said, giggling.
“With an orgasm!” Lisa interjected, laughing loudly.
“God, that's hot,” said Bianca. “And totally classifies as research. In fact, it's almost your journalistic duty to do it.”
“Do you really think physicists read Craigslist?” I asked them.
“Honey,” Bianca said, with a little sigh, like she was talking to a three-year-old. “Everyone reads Craigslist.”
At my apartment that night, after building another shoe rack for my closet, I thought about websites and online communities and the manner that these had evolved from simple concepts to multi-purpose tools for everyday living.
Twitter had started as a status update system. On its main site, you can still see the question that formed the site's original mission: “What are you doing?” Now, those of us who use the micro-blogging site use it for everything except to specify what we're doing. Instead, we talk with friends using the reply feature, we crowd-source questions, we broadcast interesting blog posts and news stories and even use it for business.
Craigslist is the same way. Originally an e-mail newsletter announcing events of interest for the tech crowd in San Francisco, the readership grew and its creator, Craig Newmark, started encouraging subscribers to add their own items, which in 1996 he began archiving on a website.
Newmark was surprised when people started using the well-targeted list to post about job opportunities, but it made sense. Soon after, other kinds of listings began to appear, making Craigslist into what it is today: one of the biggest classifieds websites in the world.
IMMEDIATE RESPONSE DATING
Michael married Maxine three months ago after an incredible, two and a half-year romance that began with an ad on Craigslist.
“I was on Match.com for a long time and nobody would contact me,” Maxine told me when I asked her about it recently. “I even lowered my age, you know, I tried every twist I could find to meet people in those environments and I couldn't get the dogs to pick me up. When I did have a date with somebody, I generally found they were intellectually not up to who I wanted to meet. I really hadn't thought about it before, but I thought—because all the guys I'd gone out with on Match.com were Leos—I thought, wouldn't it be fun to put an ad on Craigslist for Leos? It was a really specialty market. I know it's silly, but that's the kind of thing you can do on Craigslist. You can hit specific vertical markets and the response is immediate.”
That's true. In the early zeroes, I'd given dating services online a shot, and the deal usually involved putting up the profile, surfing for a while, sending out a few well-targeted missives, and waiting. A lot of waiting. Craigslist, on the other hand, puts the ad right out there. And with the reach the site has, the response is quick and, quite often, intense.
“If you're familiar with the immediate response technique in advertising—particularly in radio—they tell you the exact time they're going to be advertising and you better have people by the phone because you're going to get flooded with calls,” Maxine said. “Craigslist to me is immediate response dating. It's a fantastic venue. You can play with different methods and see what works and what doesn't.”
“How many responses did you get?” I asked her.
“About a hundred e-mails—that was the average response,” she said. “I developed a good eye for who I should respond to and who I shouldn't. A lot of it had to do with whether somebody was able to catch me with their words. If they were writing me shallow—you know, 'U sound like yr hot,'—-responses, then they probably weren't my type. And then there are what I call the professional guys, who'll answer everybody, sometimes with the same response, sometimes with a different response but the same address. I think that if you just take the intelligence factor and who has the ability to communicate and start looking at that really carefully, you're able to select down to a pretty specific group within that hundred people and you increase your chances of meeting somebody you'll really like.”
Maxine placed three ads in total over the course of two years. Michael (who's not a Leo, by the way) answered her last one.
“I was engaging in more guy-behavior,” Michael said. “I was reading and answering ads. With Match.com, it was really database optimization. If I changed my keywords, I'd get different responses from women.”
The problem for Michael was that keywords alone were not enough to find a good match. The other issue was that sometimes when he was browsing profiles, Michael was never sure whether the women he was contacting would ever come back to the site. They'd been on last week, but would they be back? When?
“On Craigslist, if you respond, of course they're going to read it because they just posted the ad a couple of hours ago,” he said. “Of course, there are also fakes to watch out for. This is more a problem for guys answering e-mails. If an ad on Craigslist is too good to be true—you know, if it says, 'smoking hot 22-year-old, doesn't care what you look like, can be as old as 75,' you know they're just collecting addresses for spam.”
“Or, 'I'm 21-years old and I like to screw fat guys 75-years or older,'” added Maxine with a quiet chuckle.
“I think the headline for yours was, 'Open-Minded and Reliable,'” Michael said, looking at her.
Maxine smiled. “Open-minded and reliable. I could tell you were very intelligent from your response. And intelligence for me is where attraction begins.”
“She placed the ad on Thursday, we e-mailed a little bit on Friday, then talked on Saturday. I was leaving Los Angeles on Monday for two weeks, but I thought, 'she'll be gone by then,' so I made a point of seeing if she would go out with me on Sunday. She did and we had a great date and she told all the other people to go away.”
“I did.” Maxine laughed. “And I've never done that—in my dating—at all. None of the people I'd dated before had the magic that Michael and I had from that first time.”
Spam collectors and compulsive ad-repliers are not the only dangers of Craigslist. It seems this year has been full of horrifying tales of people who used the popular site to take advantage or destroy the lives of other individuals.
On March 25, 2009, 16-year-old John Katehis confessed to the murder of ABC radio reporter George Weber, who'd been found bound and stabbed 50 times in his Brooklyn apartment. The two had met via Craigslist, where Weber had posted an ad looking for someone to choke him and engage in oral sex.
On April 14, 2009, Boston University medical student Philip Markoff murdered Julissa Brisman, whom he'd met through an ad on Craigslist's erotic services board. Markoff was charged with Brisman's murder, as well as the robbery and assault of another woman he'd met through the same site.
In June 6, 2009, Oregon resident Korena Roberts was arrested for killing Heather Snively in an attempt to steal Snively's unborn child. Snively, who was eight-months pregnant, had answered an advertisement for baby clothes placed on Craigslist by Roberts. The fetus did not survive.
In June 24, 2009 Joseph Brooks, a 71-year-old Oscar Award winning film director and songwriter was arrested on 11 counts of rape, nine of which involved women he met through posts he'd placed on Craigslist advertising movie roles.
These stories are horrifying and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the details surrounding each case and cross off the simple, visually unappealing website as a cesspool of danger and evil.
But then I think of my home country of Peru and all the people I have met who have always wanted to see Machu Picchu but are terrified of going because of all the things they have heard about it: terrorism, kidnappings, theft, low standards of hygiene, among others. These incidents are true—Peru, like other places, can be dangerous. But it also offers a world of wonders I'd never want to miss—especially based on reasons that, in the context of statistics, are less dangerous than getting into a car.
Several years ago, I made a guide for friends who were thinking about visiting, composed of brief reviews, historical snippets, and tips. The last line of the epilogue, in its own way, applies to any place one will ever visit, including the places that now exist online: “Every place has its share of beauty and horrors. Be careful, but don’t be let fear paralyze you. Be adventurous, but don’t be reckless. And remember: llamas only spit when they’re annoyed.”
Funny that this all started with furniture. If sites change in function, it is because human needs are not static. So here I am tonight, looking at my books stacked in mad towers across from my bed, not thinking about the kind of bookcase that I need, but a good summary for a personals ad.
Why not jump into the abyss? Why not take that trip to a country you've never explored?
“Writer,” I start. “Highly susceptible to equations. INTJ. Svelte, average height, green eyes. Omnivorous. Carbon-based. Maintain at room temperature, preferably naked or wrapped in couture...”
Love art, reading, inspiration, opera, jazz, people who are comfortable with silence, sunrises, urban life, sleeping in, botany, fountain pens, knowing glances, navigating emotional landscapes, overextending metaphors, wit, surrealistically obscene potentialities, simple pleasures, incendiary prose, fusion cuisine, and internet memes.
Dislike: low self-esteem, insecurity, people who need to know what I'm thinking all the time, poor grammar, poor manners, Mexican food, waiting, going to the movies, public transport, groupthink, the abuse endured whenever one flies commercial.
Seeking connection, conversation, passion.
Responders must be fluent in English; must shower, must launder clothes, sheets and towels regularly; must drink in moderation; must have healthy sexual appetite; must not be sexual submissives, weigh less than I do, or use more product than I do; must understand basic etiquette, be well-educated, and well-read. Must enchant with words. Or equations.
Smoker preferred. Over 30 preferred. Glasses are hot.
I sound snobby and a little OCD, I realize. I look over the copy and start analyzing it to see what I can change to make me sound more palatable.
Then I stop. Well, maybe I am snobby and a little OCD. So what? What if there's a snobby, OCD man out there for me?
I hit submit. Craigslist tells me to check my e-mail for a link. I tab over to my inbox, find their e-mail and click on the link provided.
“There appears to be a problem with this posting or the URL you're using to access it,” reads the ugly Times New Roman text on a white page. “If you initially posted more than 48 hours ago, your post may have timed out, in which case you will need to repost your ad. If you are clicking on the link in the email to reach this page, try using the cut-and-paste plain text URL instead. If that doesn't work, please try again in 15 minutes. If it still doesn't work, please forward the email to email@example.com for assistance. Thanks!”
I do as instructed: cut and paste the link from the e-mail into my browser. Nothing.
I suppose no post about the wonders and horrors of technology would be complete without the details of an aggravating glitch along the way.
I wait 15 minutes and refresh.
There it is.
I hit submit. Here goes nothing.
The Wild and Wacky World of Online Dating by Megan Smith
Blinded by Science by Alina Tugend
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