Almost a year ago, Craigslist shut down its personals department. I understand why. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act has a noble goal. My request that CL reconsider is completely selfish — but a quick web search shows that online sex trafficking is still an issue a year later, so Craigslist closing down their personals section did not solve the problem. There has to be a way that CL can comply with the law while still allowing personal ads, doesn’t there?
Since my divorce nearly a decade ago, CL was my most successful means of making connections with other people. I’ve been on every dating app I have heard of, out of curiosity even when I saw that I was not its intended audience. I have accounts on a variety of social networks as well, everything I’ve run across from Facebook and Twitter to little-known special interest networks. Through it all, Craigslist has been my go-to for making every type of connection.
CL offered something that none of the other platforms do as well: deliberation. Posting an ad could be a couple sentences whipped together at a moment’s impulse or crafted in several drafts with attention to tone, audience, and purpose beyond what a college comp class could ever require. Either way, what a person posted was not a “fill in the blanks” sound bite approach. Pictures could be included, but it was again a choice, it was not an obvious absence if you posted an ad sans smiling face — or other body part.
An ad could be a sentence long or include specific details about what the author was looking for, backstory about the author’s life, and any other random thoughts. There was no specific format or formula. People writing ads could lie, and their motivations could be as murky as mud — but we veterans of the Dating App Life know that’s true for any online interaction. The cookie cutter approach of most dating sites, many even offering checklists to describe yourself and what you are looking for, squelches individuality. Wants, needs, dreams, and identity did not have to fit in an easy to define list on Craigslist.
Deliberation continued when people decided to answer an ad. There was no simple swiping, no snap judgement about someone’s smile or fashion sense. On dating apps, I often get a generic, “Hey beautiful,” the app equivalent of casting a line into the ocean. When I posted a CL ad (which I did maybe ten times in six or seven years), I rarely got a response as lame as “hey beautiful.” Some men took the time to write a paragraph or two response, some wrote only a couple of sentences, but it was clear that most of them read the ad, considered their answer, and had some reason for thinking I might be worth checking out.
Bumble is in the news now, championing their“women contact first policy, claiming that will give women more power to avoid unpleasant interactions. Maybe — but it is still people deciding who they are attracted to based on a few pictures and some cookie-cutter description. Furthermore, my experience with online dating suggests that the more unpleasant, even abusive, interactions take place after a few times of messaging. Finding a bunch of “Hello Beautifuls” in my inbox from men who clearly are just seeing if I answer is not nearly as frustrating or upsetting as messaging someone for several days, only to have them say they don’t really like fat chicks, but if I lose weight, let them know, or some similar, more personal attack. Even though OkCupid’s format allows more writing, and offers questions to determine your “match percentage,” which is some improvement over other apps as far as I’m concerned, even there, swiping and pictures are the determining factors. No app or site that I have found comes close to the depth and versatility that I experienced using Craigslist — and CL was free, unlike all the other apps, which incessantly offer their paid services. And CL’s search options beat any website I have seen, too.
I have fond memories of people I emailed, messaged, and met via Craigslist ads. I have a few close friends who started out as people who either posted ads or answered them. For small town older women, meeting people new friends — or if you’re lucky, lovers — can be difficult. Dating sites skew younger, and they offer many more connections if you are near a bigger city. For me, older and in the middle of nowhere, CL personal ads were a life-changer.
So please, Craigslist, I miss the odd little hyperlinks, the notices about safe sex, and the barren white screen with basic black type. I miss the thrill of a trickle of emails from possible new friends as we see if there is a possible connection. Please, pretty please, figure out a way to come back.