dear girls and boys

missed connections at the rock

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Rock lately, and I’m not sure why. I’ve always considered myself a SciLi person, but something about the more squat and cozy of the two brutalist buildings has been drawing me in. The worn wood of the carrels, its shelves stacked with jewel-toned tomes (which I’m always vaguely paranoid some grad student is going to come back for), the snow quietly blanketing University Hall, it’s all just very … romantic. And I’m not just saying that because the titles in front of me range from Lumières et Romantisme to The Origins of French Romanticism.

The graffiti in front of me is a perfect example of what’s compelling about this place. Nestled among the outlined-and-shaded-in coffee stains is a conversation about love. The initial warning reads: “Dear Boys and Girls, Love is only a temporary feeling. :( Don’t get yourself hurt. Love, Brokenhearted Boy.” The responses range from sincere (“Dear Love, Don’t give up on boys and girls”) to serious long quotes from authors; from attempts at math (“Sex = Love But Love =/= Sex”) to attempts at memes (“Dear Boys and Girls, Call me maybe?”). There’s even some effort to determine chronology: “I wonder how long this has been going on and how old it is,” wonders a ‘14er in October of 2010. But the bulk of the messages are genuine, if abstract, notes about love. Those are the ones that bore me.

The largest and most readable piece of graffiti, which is also my personal favorite, starts off almost the same as the others: “Wassup boys and girls.” It moves swiftly to examining the human condition: “I like how we’re all experiencing the same human emotions all the time.” It finally takes a surprising—if impossible to fulfill—turn: “Let’s have an orgy.”

It’s a pointless message, but one impossible to ignore—the writer in question, or someone who happened to see it and love it, drew arrows around it. They wanted us to see it for whatever reason. Everyone who wrote here wanted someone to see their words, to have some invisible link with the strangers who pass through the Rock, which is why I find myself poring over tabletops, my stack of reading pushed aside.

It might just be a case of déjà vu. I’ve long had a weakness for Craigslist Missed Connections. The location doesn’t matter, though I tend to trawl through the Houston and Rhode Island boards most often. For those unfamiliar, it’s a place intended for posting about people you saw in public, thought you had some kind of connection with romantically, but failed to express interest to at the time.

There’s an odd sense of futility to the whole endeavor; the odds of your missed connection seeing the post are miniscule. Maybe there was a point in time when Craigslist was a popular place for finding hookups, and the other sections under personalare still bustling with 47-year-old men from Pawtucket looking for “just a fun time nothing serious,” but the site feels abandoned, as anachronistic as physical personal ads in a newspaper. Messages go out into the void, some kind of last-ditch effort after the regret of not acting on your feelings in the few moments you had, only to be snooped on by people like me.

Most posts are pretty straightforward: “Saturday afternoon shopping, you were pushing a cart around the store and we passed each other a few times. You’re slender, 40s, attractive. You had one item in your cart. Tell me a little about our interaction.” Others use the site as a way to share some, um, creative writing about love and loss. There’s a lot of bad semi-poems about light leaving the lives of Craigslist posters now that’s she’s gone, and I find myself skipping them the way I ignore much of the sometimes cringe-inducing Rock love graffiti. Many are unrepentantly and hilariously crude: “You lifted your skirt outside of club downtown Providence,” “I gave you the bird because no one was letting me get in the turn lane.”

But my favorite posts get weird pretty quickly.

“you know who this is – m4w – 38 (Lake Conroe)

Your name starts with an L. You are crazy at times and live near the lake. I was just thinking about you lately. You are nuts, talk about stuff I find boring, and I can’t get you out of my mind. Maybe I am crazy.”

At their best, these posts read like found poetry. They’re either frustratingly sparse or run on indeterminately, they are riddled with typos and strange grammar, they end abruptly after idiosyncratic details, and they hold a strange power over me. They are all simple and sincere—if bizarre—expressions of wanting to connect with someone. Even though my search for gems propels me deeper into the Craigslist hole, the sheer force of how much wanting there is, the amount of people willing to write in about their chance Walmart parking lot encounter, can be overwhelming.

I think I like reading them because it forces me to imagine a second world all around me, one where strangers are constantly locking eyes and falling in love. I search for places I’ve been not because I’m hoping for one about me (though that would be awesome/awful), but to try to place myself in these one-off love stories. I click on a post about a gas station I’ve been to and learn that the attendant can’t get someone’s face (or ass) out of his head. Everyone carries these complex desires around, but only the brave or the desperate make it to Craigslist hoping the right person finds them.

Brown students don’t post on Missed Connections. Trust me, I’ve done a lot of digging. It’s partially a question of demographics and partially due to having pages like Brown Admirers and Brown Compliments to publish these private desires. But something gets lost in translation. Facebook, even in anonymity, leads to self-filtering, to off-kilter poetic longings for strangers you’ll never meet again becoming quick shoutouts to not-quite-strangers who will inevitably be tagged in a comment and will likely wait in line with you at the Ratty the next day.

In their absence, the closest we get to Craigslist is Rock carrel tabletops, graffiti scratched quietly into wood during midnight study sessions or afternoon procrastination. If you read carefully, you can see the invisible web of connection. If you dare to write, you may just find yourself becoming another stranger.