The Internet’s Dating Dungeon: Navigating Craigslist Personals
If TV, movies, books and our parents are to be believed, “dating” is the phenomenon wherein you meet women and sample the virtues of their company until you find one so wonderfully compatible that you hallucinate a fat baby shooting non-lethal arrows into your body. This is then taken as the signal that you are to enter into a religio-legal contract with her, enabling the two of you to reproduce (which is scientifically impossible otherwise) and eventually die with a false sense of accomplishment.
Of course, the above-cited authorities are filthy liars. Dating, as any rational human will tell you, is a humiliating psychological battlefield that offers endless opportunities for failure. And as on any battlefield, launching your initial campaign is often the hardest part of the fight. Everything in our culture tells us there are countless ways to meet women: at a party, in a bar, in school or at work. Perhaps you’ll meet a comely stranger on the subway or the elevator, in which case all you need do is strike up a conversation.
These templates in no way match up with reality for the average human male. Relationships that begin in the workplace are doomed from the start because you’ll never have enough time away from each other. Any liaison that begins over alcohol will seem amazing until one of you sobers up and sees/hears the other in the light of day. And unless you happen to look like the result of a union between Johnny Depp and the Old Spice Guy, starting an unsolicited conversation with a woman on the subway or elevator will almost certainly get you maced.
So the phenomenon of internet dating should seem like a godsend. It removes a certain amount of human unpredictability and replaces it with the infallibility of computers! Anyway, dating sites do a fair bit of the work for you. Each site has its own set of adjustable filters for age, ethnicity, location. There are even entire sites dedicated to specific demographics: Nerve for the young, hip pseudo-intellectual; OkCupid and Plenty of Fish for the slightly older, more financially stable individual experiencing the first pangs of the fear of dying alone; eHarmony for when those pangs evolve into full-on panic; JDate and ChristianMingle for those who embrace old-time religion and all the giddy romance that promises.
But these sites only have value to the extent that you fit into one of those categories. What if you’re a true individual, one not confined by society’s arbitrary labels, expectations and philosophies (read: impoverished underachiever with little-to-no self discipline)? Well, James Dean, let me tell you about a little thing called Craigslist.
That’s right. The virtual Main Street where we find apartments and used cars also has a freewheeling dating scene; “freewheeling” not only in the sense of joyful abandon, but also freedom from the constraints of conventional morality, general propriety or truth. Just like you’d do things with your friends on a night out that you’d never think of doing in your own home, the Craigslist personals allow one to do things that would result in a ban from conventional dating sites. That’s because Craigslist, whether trying to sell old 8-tracks or the idea that someone is doable, is all about getting down to business. There’s little talk of “love” or “lifetimes,” unless you’re referring to the love of a specific sexual act or a lifetime of S&M slavery. Craigslist, like the rest of America, is about immediate, unambiguous gratification. Men should feel free to express their desires and expectations in the frankest monosyllables and two-word phrases available to them, and to illustrate their ads with photographs reminiscent of pre-dawn Chatroulette sessions.
The rules for the ladies are more flexible. They’re certainly free to follow the gents’ example, and some do. The majority, however, will either attach a picture that has absolutely nothing to do with anything—a sunset, the ocean—or simply fail to include one, knowing that the type of man searching Craigslist prefers the allure of mystery to the distraction of actually knowing what a potential companion looks like.
How does your intrepid correspondent know all this? Simple: I learned at the bony knee of a teacher called “experience.” I knew early on that my personal philosophies and unbridled spirit made me unsuitable for the narrow confines of monogamy. Also, I’m an emotional cripple. So Craigslist seemed very much the windfall I described. And though it has delivered on its admittedly low-shelf potential, there were hard lessons to be learned.
Craigslist Personals is governed by shame, need and shameful needs. Face it: if you were suitable for any other dating site, you’d have gone there. You end up on CL because you’re too poor or too perverted for mainstream sites. Are you a 30-year-old bartender with a Saran Wrap fetish? That won’t fly on JDate. And any woman you meet on Nerve might pretend to be into it for about 60 seconds, but your lack of an advanced degree in Medieval Gender Pottery would be a non-starter. But I can guarantee that the other half of your weirdo friendship coin can be found on Craigslist. This is also why so many women don’t post photos. If your sex life involved giving and receiving club soda enemas, you’d try to keep your picture off the internet too.
Because so many guys on Craigslist are so sexually unique, at least 50% of the women on Craigslist are pros. These are usually easy to identify via their use of cleverly coded phrases like “be generous,” “bring roses,” or “the.” Of the remaining 50%, more than half describe themselves as BBW, which appears to stand for “bursting with butter and whipped cream.” The rest are transvestites.
This heady mix of the entrepreneurial and the freakishly desperate practically guarantees that you’ll get your itch scratched. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that you’ll eventually feel like a scumbag if you troll CL personals long enough. All kidding aside for a moment, these are still real women you’ll be dealing with (well, not the transvestites), and they’re on CL for the same reasons as you. In practical terms, this translates into the possibility of limitless emotionless hook-ups. While that may sound totally awesome, dude, the reality is that casual sex gets old real quick once you pass 30, and enough of it will turn you into an emotional robot whose only hope of continued companionship rests in the seedy environs of Craigslist.
The big takeaway from my adventures through Craigslist personals is that internet dating in general is a zero-sum game. My long odds are better when I have the chance to deploy my scintillating personality in a live setting while out with friends. But it’s good to know that, if things go sideways, I can always get a quick fix via Craigslist. Sorry, though, gals…I happen to be allergic to “roses.”
Todd D. Barmann is a gifted crank that actually chooses to live in Philadelphia. As such, he has written for several stand-up comics you’ve never heard of and has contributed articles to GuySpeed.com, PinUp NYC, and other publications that focus on the unimportant and the unmentionable.