We know that's not true, though. In fact, I was inspired to write this article when a friend told me many of her female friends had owned up to using it. Over the next couple of days, I actually received a lot of posts from women. Or at least, they said they were women. To be honest, I doubted the veracity of the claims.
It didn't take long to realize that almost all the replies I received were scams. The situation is so severe on Craigslist Casual Encounters that posts by real women who are actually seeking hook-ups are often flagged for removal at the slightest cause for suspicion.
The most common scams are "safe dating" websites. An alleged woman will write a man saying she's interested, but that because of the Craigslist-based serial killers and rapists in the news, she needs some extra assurance that it's safe. If you follow the link she provides, the website asks you for your credit card number — y'know, so it can do a background check to make sure you're not a criminal.
One individual tried to get me to buy him or her virtual currency in online games like MapleStory before agreeing to hand over contact information.
Yeah, right — moving on! What little luck I'd had so far. The week was half over and I hadn't had a single bite. I decided I would have to take the initiative, so in addition to posting my own ads, I started responding to every ad from any woman who seemed at all interesting. I cast a wide net in my searches, looking up posts by straight or bisexual women between the ages of 18 and 35 who lived anywhere in Chicagoland — a large metropolitan area that's home to close to five million females.
Most of the women wanted something very specific they couldn't find in their normal lives: Someone to help play out a particular fantasy, someone vastly older than them or someone of another race.
Very few of the women who were advertising seemed to be looking for anything I would consider a "normal encounter. I typically wrote two or three paragraph replies and matched the tone of their own messages, then attached a couple of tasteful photos of myself.
I didn't get a single reply from an actual prospect this way. It turned out that most of the ads were fakes from scammers, and quite a few fell into another category all together.
Prostitution is what made Craigslist controversial. There's technically another section for that — "Adult Services," formerly "Erotic Services" — but that's not the only place you'll find practitioners of the world's oldest profession. The prostitutes of Craigslist speak in code, but it's not a difficult one to learn. They advertise "French lessons" — an odd thing to advertise under "Casual Encounters," don't you think? Well, it's obviously a euphemism for something else. Many of the ads that weren't from scammers were from prostitutes.
The ads are so obvious that it's surprising the euphemisms are effective in fending off law enforcement. Then again, maybe they are law enforcement. Amidst all those failures, I had one near-success. A woman wrote in response to my sweet "cuddling first" ad saying she was in town for only a couple of months, and that she was frustrated she couldn't find a relationship. When she sent her pictures, she looked plain but attractive. We exchanged a couple of e-mails over the course of two hours, tossing back and forth lists of interests and the like.
She made it clear that she wanted to meet up, and while she talked about starting slow, it was clear that it would indeed be a casual encounter. But when I suggested a time to meet — the last message from me before I would reveal myself and back out — there was no reply. At least, not yet. The next day, she e-mailed me saying she was deeply apologetic and that she'd fallen asleep. She said she'd like to meet up sometime.
So yes, there are women on Craigslist. Well, at least one! You've probably guessed by now that the experiences for heterosexual men and women on Craigslist's casual encounters are quite different. I observed that for every ad a woman posts, there are at least 20 from men.
If nothing else, that imbalance ought to alter the experience. To get the female perspective, I did two things: I posted a fake ad as a woman to see what kinds of responses I would get, and I interviewed two women who have had success hooking up on casual encounters in the past. As for potential suitors, I asked only that they supply a photo and "be attractive and not creepy. There was a five minute delay before my ad appeared, then I started receiving about one response per minute.
Most of them were careful to say "I don't do this often. Some sent pictures of themselves naked along with the word "Hi. There were a lot of expressions of sympathy over my fake breakup. I was hearing from men of all types, and it seemed I had my pick of the litter.
After about thirty minutes, though, my post was flagged for removal. I thought I'd made it look legit, but as we learned earlier, folks have good reason to be hawkish about scammers. After the end of my test run with Craigslist casual encounters, I decided to get more insight into the female experience with the site by interviewing two women who said they had successes meeting up with men on Casual Encounters. Their problem was the opposite of mine.
They had too many options to pick from, but they both dealt with the numerous choices in the same way. Not a great start. But Tinder is addictive. You find yourself browsing and swiping and playing on.
The possibilities pile up. I'm ashamed to say it but I sometimes went on three or four dates a week. It could be to a bar around the corner, or somewhere fabulous — Berner's Tavern, the Chiltern Firehouse. Most of the guys I met were looking for sex, rarely were they after a relationship.
With Tinder, I discovered what it could be to have sex then walk away without a backward glance. Sex didn't have to be wrapped up with commitment, and "will he? It could just be fun. Sometimes I had nothing in common with the guy but there was a sexual spark. In "real life", he was the ultimate knob. He didn't fit with my politics, my views, I'd never have introduced him to my friends. In bed, though, he was passionate, eager, energetic. For a while, we'd hook up every six weeks.
But there were a lot of negatives. It could feel … seedy. Where do you go for sex? I didn't feel comfortable taking someone back to my place, as he'd then know where I lived, and I live alone. If we went back to his, I'd have no idea what to expect. With "Aldgate East", we had to walk through a pub to get to the bedroom and I swear there was a train going through the lounge. You're trusting people you barely know. After a few dates with "Manchester", I agreed to visit his hotel room next time he was in London.
I'd always been diligent about practising safe sex, but he had trouble getting in the mood with the condoms and went against my wishes at the last moment.
The next morning I wrote him an angry text. I've never felt so violated. Most often, though, I didn't have sex at all. I generally left home open to the possibility but found, when my date showed up, that I didn't want to see him again, let alone see him naked. There was no spark, or he was dull or gross or just too pushy. One date chased me to the tube trying to shove his tongue down my throat. Another — who started promisingly — changed after his second drink, spilling a glass of wine on me without apologising, and cutting me off each time I spoke.
It can be harder to walk away when you've met through Tinder. When you're matched, you can spend days — in some cases, weeks, months — exchanging messages, texting and working yourselves up, filling in the gaps with your imagination. By the time you meet, you've both invested so much, you've raised your hopes and his. In some ways Tinder can even work against you finding a partner.
I met one guy who was a likely contender for a boyfriend. We went on five dates without sex, just a kiss and a hug. Then one night, he arrived at my place stinking of booze and likely high on something. The sex was over in seconds — a massive anticlimax after such a build-up. We never saw each other again. If we'd met another way, that could have been a blip, an awkward beginning.
On Tinder everything's disposable, there's always more, you move on fast. You start browsing again, he starts browsing — and you can see when anyone was last on it.
If five days pass with no messaging between you, it's history. At times, Tinder seemed less like fun, more like a gruelling trek across an arid desert of small talk and apathetic texting. More than once, I deleted the app, but always came back to it.
It was more addictive than gambling. I never dreamed I'd end up dating 57 men in less than a year. I'm off it now.