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How I got a life (and love) on Craigslist

After finding jobs, apartments, furniture and even useless knickknacks on Craigslist, one writer shares how the "bargain basement" of Internet dating yielded her a buried treasure — love.
/ Source: TODAY staff

Let's make one thing clear: Craigslist is not for the faint of heart. If you prefer to spend your time in an environment that's politically correct, chivalrous and wholesome, this site may turn your stomach and leave you depressed about the state of the world.

But if you're willing to take a risk, the site — on which people can post classified ads for jobs, apartments, furniture, events, personals, pets and even erotic services, among other things — can connect you to people and opportunities that would otherwise be out of your reach.

My boyfriend, Russell Cowans, 28, who's also a big Craigslist fan, says that its allure lies in its ability to connect people in a way that is honest and sincere. “It doesn't just have an identity as a site where people go to find relationships, or people go to sell others something — it's bigger than that,” he said. “It makes the world — even a place like New York City — seem a little less cold, a little more human, when you can send out a message and actually get a response from another person who's taken the time to write you.”

He should know. After all, he met me on Craigslist.

Cheap thrills
My relationship with Craig began in 2003 when I was a college student living in Minneapolis. I had been moving every year and didn't have the time or money to invest in furniture. A friend suggested that I go on the site to find cheap, used furniture that I could, in turn, sell when I was ready to move. It started with a $20 desk; then a $10 dresser and a $5 lamp. The bargain-hunting gene from my Indian ancestors was finally flexing its muscles and I was experiencing a thrifty shoppers' high!

I collected all kinds of clutter, including books I never read, spray cheese and towels embroidered with initials that were nowhere near my own. Then I started responding to the “Rants and Raves” postings on the site. If someone wrote a racist comment (which was almost every other posting), I wrote them back a history lesson. If someone was depressed about the state of his love life, I sent words of encouragement.

Pretty soon, Craig was taking over my life. My head often ached from sitting at the computer late into the night. I needed space, and I finally took a break from the site, giving myself a Craigslist intervention.

Off the wagon
Two years later, I went running back when I decided to move to the East Coast — with no job and no place to live. I turned to my trusted friend Craig, who had yet to steer me wrong. I found a cheap apartment in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, which was great during the summer but miserable during winter, when I discovered that the place had no working heat and a resident rodent.

But Craig and I were old friends, so I wasn't about to turn on him. I ended up finding my next three jobs on the site, including two media-related ones that helped me get into journalism school in New York City. When it was time to move — you guessed it — I found an apartment, bed and other furniture on the site so I could live out my Carrie Bradshaw dream.

Living in the big city became lonely, and I was tired of eating takeout by myself. So I went on the site to find a dinner buddy and stumbled upon a woman who had made dinner reservations and needed a food partner. I replied to her and met her at the restaurant, and after some awkward dialogue, we got to eating and sharing dating horror stories. We gave our respective “thank yous,” but didn't keep in touch after that.

I realize now that my Craigslist rendezvous could have had unhappy endings. Not everyone on the site is interested in innocent interactions or digital soul-baring. In February, a Minnesota man was shot after he tried to cancel a call girl he'd ordered from Craigslist. Earlier this year, a woman was arrested after placing a murder-for-hire ad on the site. And a young woman was killed last year when she answered a Craigslist ad for a baby-sitting job.

But at the time, fear of the unknown didn't keep me away from Craig.

Buried treasure
While I was searching for ways to continue procrastinating on my master's project, Craig was my right-hand man. I scoured the site's “Strictly Platonic” section for personal ads. Some may call me superficial, but I only clicked on the postings that had photos attached (unfortunately, many of those were images of sunsets and not-so-flattering grainy cell phone photos of the posters' nether regions).

I came across one guy's posting with the heading “Artistic type looking to take someone to a movie” and — gasp — a photo of his face. As a broke graduate student in the city, I concluded that the chances of meeting someone crazy were worth being able to see a $12 flick and, I reasoned, I could probably score dinner out of him, too.

So I responded to the ad and told him we could meet at the theater. We chatted and e-mailed short get-to-know-you messages for the next 72 hours until the big day arrived. On the way to the theater, scenarios about this strange man attacking me with a chloroform-soaked cloth and dragging me back to his dungeon played over and over in my mind. (He later told me that his biggest worry was that I was a troll.)

After the movie, I hyperanalyzed out of nervousness. Is this a date? Is he gay? Wait, why is he more interested in my shoes than in what I'm saying?

But eventually, I found his personality charming and easygoing, and he found me to be non-troll-like enough for a second date. Nearly a year later, we are still together. People are still shocked that we met on Craigslist — the site some consider to be the bargain basement of Internet dating. That may be true — but as I learned, even bargain bins sometimes yield buried treasure.

Vidya Rao is a journalist in New York City who has been Craigslist-free for 11 months, though she does sometimes gaze at the homepage longingly.