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Missed connections inspire masses

Benjamin Larson once found an anonymous message written to him on Craigslist.

He had read the site’s Missed Connections listings for years and found them entertaining and, occasionally, heartfelt. As he read some new listings, one stuck out.

“I have a strangely colored beard, and (the listing) referenced that,” he says. “She described what I look like and made it very obvious that it was me.”

After reading it over a few times, puzzled, Larson realized – the posting was a joke, and it was written by his then-girlfriend.

“I don’t remember if she fessed up or I figured it out, but I remember reading it,” says Larson, of Fort Wayne. “I figured it was fake after a few minutes because the way she described herself and the person she was with. I knew those people had not come into the store that day while I was working.”

Missed Connections is a section of Craigslist that acts as a sort of personals section. The idea is that a writer can write about a “missed connection” he has had with the hope that the object of his interest reads the listing, recognizes herself and responds. The writer might be looking for a date, a relationship, a friend or maybe a child given up for adoption long ago.

For example, the following was posted March 3: “Hi this is to the cute blonde that sat ahead of me at the 4:30 mass at St. Michaels in Hicksville on Saturday March 2nd. I sat two pews behind you the 2nd one from the end isle. I just thought I would shoot this out to you and see if you were interested in talking sometime. Please put on what color coat in the subject line you had on, you were with what appeared to be your parents. I don’t normally go to Hicksville but glad I did.” Larson has read the listings for years. He even used them this month to help teach a class. Larson, 36, is a graduate student studying writing at IPFW, and he is a teaching assistant in the English department. He was trying to think of ways to make the rhetorical analysis paper for his freshman composition class more interesting.

“It’s one of the papers everybody has to write … and it’s kind of a daunting paper,” he says. “I was sitting at home one night, was reading Missed Connections on Craigslist … The idea just popped into my head to take some in to class and use (them to) practice analyzing them.”

He was right. The students who were familiar with Missed Connections responded positively right away, and after the rest of the class caught on, they became excited, too.

By dissecting a post, Larson and his class were able to get to the heart of the reasoning behind why someone would write such a listing. What would they hope to get out of it?

Larson chose a listing to give to his students. The writer called the listing, “Your beautiful face haunts my dreams ... ”

The post was sad and forlorn, apologetic to the woman he had apparently hurt. He mourns their lost relationship and wishes her happiness.

“We spent an entire class just talking about this article,” Larson says. “What we found is that, when you first read over it, it reads very much like a really repentant penitent person. He obviously did something wrong to this other person. They’re no longer together, and he’s expressing his sorrow and regret over that. But the more we broke it down, when you look deeper into his use of language, you see that for nearly the entire posting, it’s not as much about how he hurt her as much as how whatever transpired is now affecting him. It’s all, ‘Me, me, me’ in there.”

After analyzing the post, it stopped being about sorrow and became more self-indulgent, he says. The writer is not sorry that he hurt this person – he’s sorry that he feels badly.

The class also realized that the intended audience for the post is probably not the woman he hurt, but the people who read Missed Connections.

“And that in turn led us to the main purpose of this, which is that, it’s not as much about a direct address to this woman. It is him speaking out in a public forum, ‘Woe is me,’ to gain sympathy from the people who are reading this.”

Not all postings are so in-depth. Larson says he likes reading them because they showcase “the whole spectrum of humanity.” He’s read the ones that say “Hey, I saw you in your car, and you’re really hot,” and the ones that are written by someone who is dying and in search of his or her biological father.

The listings have become something of a cultural curiosity. There’s a graphic novel, “I Saw You …: Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections” by Julia Wertz. The website for the independent film “Missed Connections” boasts 15 awards it won from various film festivals last year. A number of books on general missed connections listings exist, like Sophie Blackall’s “Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found,” a collection of illustrated love stories

While there’s no way to know how many of these Missed Connections are successful, they have worked before. In 2010, The Florida Times-Union wrote about a woman who was browsing Missed Connections and saw a title that sounded familiar. It had been written by the cute waiter she noticed the night before. She contacted him, they dated and, two years later, they got engaged.

It’s the hope for that kind of story that explains to Alysen Wade, 26, why people are so into reading Missed Connections.

“I think it’s because our culture is obsessed with ideas like soul mates, one true love, and love at first sight,” says Wade, of Fort Wayne. “So participating in something like Missed Connections makes a person feel like they are somehow fulfilling their destiny. Also, I think people just want to feel important, like they impacted someone. If only for a brief unspoken moment, their encounter meant something.”

Or, like for Larson’s then-girlfriend, who is how his fiancée, it was a joke – that some people weren’t in on.

“What’s funny about that is the number of responses she got back from people who were not me, even a couple of them pretending to be me,” Larson says, guessing she received about a half dozen responses. “It was really creepy. She showed me the emails, and there was one guy that was, ‘Hit me up, hit me up.’ ”