WASHINGTON -- When you think of personals you think of romance -- SWM, 6'1", green eyes, ISO trim classy lady -- but there are plenty of people out there solely in need of friendship, an end to their loneliness, the disease of modernity.
Which is why on Craig's List, the free online classifieds, there are sections called Strictly Platonic and Activity Partners, where people post messages like "Lunch anyone?" and "terminally bored at work, let's IM" and, most plaintively, "Looking for Best Friend."
There are people on Craig's List who want to see movies with you, go dancing with you, take trips with you, if only you will e-mail them. There is a sense that anyone is better than no one, that no fate is worse than being alone.
Imagine the desolation of the guy in Ashburn, Va., who writes, near midnight on a Saturday, "Looking for some conversation to help pass the rest of the night," or the desperation of the woman in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan who posts "help i need valium" at 5:25 a.m.
People have formed friendships on the Internet for as long as it's been around, and it doesn't seem that surprising someone might use free classifieds to, say, seek a tennis partner. But there's a painful frankness to many of the requests at Craigslist.org.
"I'm not a loser," writes a guy looking for female friends.
"Whatever happened to loyal friends??" asks a 21-year-old girl on the San Francisco section of the Web site. "Not these catty scenester/hipster bitches who have (had sex with) half of your exes."
"I am in a relationship with someone I love and we have a beautiful little boy," writes a young woman in Silver Spring, Md., who is looking for a male friend. "I do not plan on leaving him, I want it to work. But I am not happy. I feel that my man is putting me last. ... I just want someone who I can have intelligent conversations with from time to time. I cannot talk to my man without him falling asleep."
Scientists have studied loneliness and found it may be bad for you, something about stress and blood pressure. There's something quintessentially modern about the way we experience loneliness: living alone, orbiting each other in bars, nursing cold coffee in cafes, checking our voice mail and finding it empty.
An inordinate number of Washingtonians who frequent the site (named after founder Craig Newmark) are looking for Strictly Platonic relationships, compared with Craig's List fans in well-trafficked cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Nicole Franklin-Kern is 31, is married, bored with her temp job and her social life. She's been in the area for seven months, and she lives in a big apartment complex, where her neighbors are mostly strangers. Franklin-Kern, who's into Wicca, posts a query on Craig's List -- "Neopagan needs a break" -- looking for friends and job connections. She gets almost 50 responses. Then she engages in the laborious process of getting to know these people by e-mail, figuring out who's normal and who's not.
"I call it de-freaking," she says.
Ryan Hajen, 23, another Craig's Lister, worked as a waiter through college and learned to distinguish the people who were content to eat alone from the ones who were embarrassed. Those comfortable with solitude, he noticed, didn't look around worriedly or rush through their meals.
Now Hajen is new to the area, working in Washington as a government economist and living with his girlfriend. He sometimes eats alone in the city, grabbing street literature beforehand to keep himself occupied. He practices seeming "natural."
Through a Craig's List posting, Andre Dickerson, 23, has found a regular lunch partner. Hajen met a young woman to have dinner, and was relieved to find she, too, was just looking for a friend. Franklin-Kern invited a nice couple on a group hike, and has scheduled an interview for a job at a nonprofit she learned about through a Craig's List contact. And a young woman in Alexandria, Va., named Michelle Sprecher, who posted saying she'd always wanted a gay best friend, received a reply from a bisexual drag queen known as Lola the Fabulous.
He seems nice enough, Sprecher says. She thinks she may wind up meeting with him "in a very public place."
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