Sunday, August 06, 2006

Missed connections, second chances
Aug. 6, 2006. 07:38 AM

During some downtime one afternoon last September, Sarah LeGresley intended to continue her search for an apartment in Toronto using Craigslist, a wildly popular Internet site she had discovered just a week before. She veered instead to the "Missed Connections" page, only to find what appeared to be a message meant especially for her.

She stared blankly. "Then, I almost had a heart attack," LeGresley says. "My heart leapt in my throat. I almost teared up. I knew it was him. I got on a phone with a friend, and said, `Is this Marc, do you think? The chances are so slim, but it has to be!'"

The message was specific enough. It was like a letter to the girl he met while playing TSO, or The Sims Online, an interactive Internet game. "I've been thinking about you a lot," Marc wrote. "I was in (Las) Vegas and it just wasn't the same without you."

LeGresley just knew it was Marc, even though he didn't sign his name. She still had his phone number, though they hadn't talked for a year after their long-distance relationship broke up on poor terms.

She text-messaged, and emailed him. He had moved to Los Angeles. He responded. "That's the sweetest thing someone could ever do," LeGresley says of Marc's posting. "It far beats flowers, that somebody still cares after a year of not speaking. I didn't even know where he lived anymore."

Craigslist's Missed Connections is becoming a phenomenon in Toronto, providing a space for people to express their hope for love, or their feelings of lust, all for free. The virtual bulletin board attracts as many as 50 new ads every day.

Mostly, they're directed at complete strangers the writers found attractive, commonly on the subway, often on the street, perhaps earlier that day. Another common posting is, like the one for LeGresley, directed at a long lost friend or lover, in wistful tones, hoping for a relationship redux.

Craigslist is a hugely popular website, with local versions in dozens of cities around the world. Ten million people use it each month, generating more than 4 billion page views, to buy or sell goods, find a job, an apartment, or even love. In some cities, like New York, San Francisco and Toronto — where Craigslist debuted in 2003 — the personals section is becoming the trendiest clearinghouse for those seeking a mate.

"Now that we have this medium through the Internet to be able to contact each other, it's so much easier to look somebody up," says Toronto relationship and sexuality therapist Rebecca Rosenblat of Missed Connections.

The feelings expressed so commonly in Missed Connections have always been there: You wished you'd talked to that person who made your heart stir. The difference is now there is an easy and increasingly referenced second chance to do so.

"There's something very romantic about it," Rosenblat declares. "It's healthy, it's part of attraction, it's something tugging away at your heart, gut or groin, and it's coming from deep within. So there's nothing really wrong with it."

It's probably safe to assume the success rate is remote. Studies show that no matter what the environment, even a nightclub, the chances of someone responding to your advances are only one-in-10, according to Rosenblat. Since not everyone knows about Craigslist, the odds of a link-up may be no better than Jennifer Aniston reconnecting with Brad Pitt.

But judging by the number of postings in Toronto the public remains undeterred, steadfastly looking for love.

"This is a total long shot," a 30-year-old man wrote last Thursday, "but hopefully you read this section. To the beautiful girl wearing the red/white polka dress, red purse, red shoes on the subway this morning, I thought you looked incredibly beautiful and would like to chat sometime."

A woman wrote on the same day, to a waiter at Demetres: "I so wanted to give you my number last night but didn't have the nerve. I think your name was Adam. I was the strawberry blonde."

Another waiter, at Utopia on College St., was the object of numerous posts after a young woman thought he was "the most beautiful man I have ever seen." Others joined the conversation, and soon warned her that, "I know him and he's taken — basically married."

While some in the messages dream of second chances, others simply think they're dreaming. Matt Cohen, a 20-year-old DJ and audio engineering student from Elmvale, near Wasaga Beach, recently challenged other Missed Connections readers asking, "Has anyone posted here ACTUALLY found their missed connection? Just seems like it's always an EXTREME long shot."

He wonders why people don't just go ahead and approach the one they're interested in. "I've approached people on the sidewalk and met random people," he says in an interview. "But I'm a social butterfly."

Mario Cufino, 29, thinks Missed Connections' growing popularity is a statement about Toronto itself.

"If they weren't so shy, they wouldn't have to be doing all this posting," says the actor, who lives in Richmond Hill. Still, his confidence only goes so far. "I've been to other cities in the U.S.," he says, "and everybody will go up to you and talk to you. Everybody's open and exciting. Here, they're all coddled in their own groups. They're all shy."

Cufino's criticisms are valid, Rosenblat says. But, as Jerry Seinfeld has said about comedy, approaching someone is all about timing and delivery, and there are a myriad of reasons why either could be off. "That's why people have a hard time at bars," she says.

Human beings respond to missed connections in the most tortuous of ways. We return to that coffee shop at the same time. We take the identical subway car at the same time. We keep trying to retrace our steps, all with the hope of seeing that beautiful creature again. And this time, actually talking.

"With missed opportunities and missed connections, the mating dance is at its most virile, most exciting, because you're not entertaining the negatives," Rosenblat explains. "The basic instinct part of the brain is going wild. You're probably getting stoned on feel-good hormones.

"But the most romantic feeling is one that embraces possibilities, of uncharted waters. That's why it's exciting to pursue."

For Marc, the Los Angeles celebrity videographer who re-found Sarah LeGresley, there was trepidation because she was the one who ended their relationship a year ago. "I didn't want to be the one who came back to her. But I did want contact with her again," says Marc, who asked that his last name not be used for this story

He thought the risk was worth it, certain he could express himself without LeGresley finding the posting. But she did. "I was obviously very excited," Marc says on the phone from L.A., "but I was shocked." LeGresley is planning to eventually move to the U.S. to be with Marc.

If other cities are any indication, Missed Connections is sure to expand the more people know about it. There are some growing pains. One man was vilified for posting a cellphone picture of the woman he fancied. Someone else posted a message about a friend who actually went missing.

There are the priceless: To the "cute guy with the red goatee" at Dundas Station, one woman wrote, "I was going to smile and say, `Hi,' (but then) I remembered that I'd just had my eyebrows waxed. Sorry if I scared you with my flaming red skin."

And the painful: "We were together for a long time. I thought I was missing out by not "dating" other people ... But now after a seemingly endless string of insignificant dates — some good, some bad — I realize I still love you. I think about you everyday. Now I know there really is no one else out there but you. But I'm afraid it's too late."

Still, the hope continues.

Remember Matt Cohen, the skeptic? He couldn't help but put up his own posting to find someone from his past. "I went to West Bayfield Elementary," it begins, "and then moved away. I had a crush on Jessica for the longest time. I am just wondering what ever happened to her."

Consider, also, this posting from June: "I ran into the subway at Chester and stood at the door across from you. We locked (eyes) a couple of times. You were wearing a sundress over jeans. We both got off at Spadina and got on to the streetcar. Yeah, I'm a twit."

Finally, just last week, came a response: "Hello, was the dress black? I was on the streetcar a little while back and locked eyes with a good lookin' boy, following the exact route."

A long shot. But isn't that why there's hope in the first place?