A Craigslist Missed Connection for the Ages

This is one of the best Craigslist missed connections I’ve ever read. It starts out rather ordinarily: on the Q train headed into Manhattan. But if you keep on reading, it’s like a love’s labor lost, sixty years in the making (or losing, depending on your perspective). Presented in its entirety:

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train. 

I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.

You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.

Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you — maybe pretend I didn’t know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, “Hot day.” It all seemed so stupid.

At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it — a biography of Lyndon Johnson — but I noticed you never once turned a page.

My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn’t get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.

I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.

Still I said nothing.

We took the train all the way back down — down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.

Still I said nothing.

And so we went back up.

Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I’ll talk to her before Newkirk; I’ll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.

For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I’d get text messages and voicemails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone ran out of battery.

I’ll talk to her before daybreak; I’ll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we’ve passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, “Well, this is inconvenient,” but I couldn’t very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn’t I said “Bless You”? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat.

There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She’s reading her book, I thought, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we’d immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we’d both think: Young Love.

For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you’d glanced at a neighbor’s newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.

It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.

When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.

But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.

I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.

Spectacular. I wonder if the author of this masterpiece will come forward and get a book deal or something.

Philip Roth on Getting People Wrong

This week, I had a deep, liberating, and humbling conversation with someone whose intentions I got completely wrong. The signals, signs, body language: I’ve misread everything.

And so: I am reminded of this quote from Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, on getting people wrong. It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes:

You get them wrong before you meet them: you get them wrong while you’re with them and then you get home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on a significance that is ludicrous, so ill equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we are alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.

So, thank you, Mr. Roth for this reminder. I am wrong because I am alive. I am alive, and so I’m wrong.

A Desert, a Smiling Dog, and a Revelation

A hasty engagement and subsequent marriage turned into anguish for Liesl Schillinger, who realized she was incompatible with her husband. So she goes off to the desert in New Mexico and has a revelatory experience:

I continue amending my idea of fulfillment as I go. I have no regrets except for one: I am not allowed to own a dog in my apartment building. I travel too much to have a dog, anyway. Out of curiosity, though, I sent the photo of the big white dog to a breeder, who told me what kind it was: a Samoyed.

The breed, also known as “the smiling dog,” is famous for its friendly temperament. The dog I met in Taos would have shared its good mood with any creature it happened to encounter on its run. I’m so glad I was that creature.

I wish I still had the picture, but I will never lose the impression bestowed upon me by that generous, exultant animal on that long-ago day, when I most needed to be reminded that happiness is not an intellectual choice, it’s an instinct, and a good in itself.

A beautiful conclusion in this Modern Love story.

On The Relationship Status on Facebook

The title “Why I Married My Best Friend on Facebook” is ambiguous, but as you read this story of how Lilly O’Donnell changed her relationship status, you are left with a few interesting takeaways:

The virtual marriage came in handy again a few years later when I found myself in another relationship. I was happy, but after the disaster of my previous rush to labels and rings, had no desire to use the “b” and “g” words. I didn’t even tell my IRL friends about the relationship for the first year or so, let alone have any desire to announce it on Facebook. And when it ended, never having really been labeled, I didn’t have to announce that, either.

The fishbowl experience of Facebook and other online profiles seems in contradiction to this generation’s reputation for being noncommittal–to career paths, to jobs, to relationships. We live our lives out online, on full display, but we also want the freedom to change our minds every few days, to have ambiguous relationships and embrace what’s been labeled “hook-up culture.”

The simple, seemingly cutesy and trendy move of “marrying” your best friend on Facebook is a way around that contradiction–maintaining privacy without the suspicious omissions of the information-less profile.

I wouldn’t do this, but I can see why some would. This idea that everything has to be shared on Facebook is bizarre to me.

How Not To Be Alone

Jonathan Safran Foer, in a wonderful essay, laments how technology (phones, texting) has made us prefer to use the diminished substitute to communicate. And so:

The problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.

This is beautifully phrased:

We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

A must-read meditation.

Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters

I’m not an entrepreneur, but this post by Elizabeth Spiers resonated with me:

There was this girl. This guy.

Eh, fuck it. You’re busy. You have more important things to do. Changing the world is a full-time job and if you don’t do it now, when will you?

Here’s the thing: I know you. You’re probably one of the many people I’ve mentored or hired. On multiple occasions, you’ve explained to me (as if I were your batty old aunt, but I’m not taking it personally) that you have no time to get to know anyone because you’re busy doing your work.

This is a complete fallacy. Work and relationships are not incompatible…

The Love Conductor, Matchmaker on the Subway

This is a great New York Magazine story about Erika Christensen, a matchmaker who roams the New York City subways:

Known professionally as “The Love Conductor,” the 31-year-old has the perfect personality for this line of work. She’s charming, spunky, and positive, like an overwhelmingly likable aerobics instructor from the eighties. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s approachable and pretty in a Wasp-dream-girl sort of way: ski slope nose, light hair and eyes. Within five minutes of hanging out with her, I lose all journalistic decorum and confess, “I really want us to be friends.”

Erika has been matchmaking (pro bono) since college, but went professional last year. “I set my best friend up with the guy she married and I just started thinking, ‘This is something I could really do.’” The prophecy was fulfilled when she sent a fan letter to her mentor, the advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. Carroll wrote back immediately and they ended up talking on the phone for three hours about starting a business and dating. Soon after, Erika made a business plan and Trainspottings, a boutique matchmaking business, was born.

I wonder if she can start a vertical for Atlanta’s MARTA. Then again, maybe that is a bad idea.

On Plasticity and Social Connections

Barbara Fredrickson’s op-ed titled “Your Phone vs. Your Heart” in The New York Times this weekend hits a nerve (so to speak):

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

The gist is that by alienating away from human connection, your brain chemistry/structure changes (the concept is called plasticity). But it can be changed (for the better, in terms of how you feel) if you spend meaningful time with others. So step away from Twitter, slow down on the text messaging, and make plans to go out for dinner with a friend.

On Tortoises and Uncommon Love

Caroline Leavitt writes a beautiful Modern Love story about a beloved pet tortoise named Minnie, and how Caroline’s relationships were cemented in her adult life through Minnie. It is a story of finding happiness through uncommon love:

Because Minnie was so important to me, I began to measure my dates by how they treated him. If dates gave Minnie the stink eye, that was that. If they expressed interest or wanted to hold him, it made me warm to them. But sooner or later a date would ask, “Do we have to eat with the tortoise on the table?” or “This is a pet?” and my heart would shutter.

When I met Jeff, a smart, funny journalist who took me to a toy store for our first date, I was anxious about how much I liked him. I invited him to dinner, which I admit was more a dare than a meal. Minnie was on the table in a glass tank with us.

We were having spaghetti. Minnie was having live worms.

Jeff cautiously sat down. He looked from me to the tortoise tank and didn’t say a word. When Minnie lunged for a worm, Jeff flinched. But he didn’t get up and leave, and at the end of the evening, he asked for another date. He didn’t object weeks later when I told him I wanted us to take Minnie to Central Park, and he came with a picnic basket and a little wrapped gift. I opened it and inside was a little red rubber squid toy.

Read it for the ending. So touching.

Why Ambiverts Are Better Than Extroverts and Introverts

Daniel Pink, writing in The Washington Post, explains how ambiverts are at an advantage over introverts and extroverts in leadership/sales roles:

Ambiverts, a term coined by social scientists in the 1920s, are people who are neither extremely introverted nor extremely extroverted. Think back to that 1-to-7 scale that Grant used. Ambiverts aren’t 1s or 2s, but they’re not 6s or 7s either. They’re 3s, 4s and 5s. They’re not quiet, but they’re not loud. They know how to assert themselves, but they’re not pushy.

In Grant’s study, ambiverts earned average hourly revenues of $155, beating extroverts by a healthy 24 percent. In fact, the salespeople who did the best of all, earning an average of $208 per hour, had scores of 4.0, smack in the middle of the introversion-extroversion scale.

What holds for actual salespeople holds equally for the quasi-salespeople known as leaders. Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little. They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.

But the answer — whether you’re pushing Nissans on a car lot or leading a major nonprofit or corporation — isn’t to lurch to the opposite end of the spectrum. Introverts have their own challenges. They can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal. Ambiverts, though, strike the right balance. They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back.

Still curious? Daniel Pink is the author of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, which I am currently reading. The basic gist: we are all salesmen, day in and day out, whether we realize it or not.