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Missed connections happen every day: a conversation on the train or helping a stranger with groceries. Something as simple as a smile can have people hanging on the romantic possibilities for the rest of the day, wondering, “What could have been?”
When you’re living in a city like Boston – so small, so crowded, so single – these missed encounters are more likely to happen. In 2009, almost 75 percent of Boston’s population, 15 years and older, were unmarried, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. With odds like that, missed connections can happen everywhere – in the coffee shop, in the grocery store, even during your daily commute.
“If the Red Line was a singles bar, it would be the best one in the city,” said Fred Howland, 29, of Somerville.
Furthermore, many of these people believe in love at first sight – 71 percent, according to Statistics Brain a statistical comparison website.
“I believe in love at first sight,” said Jose Maysonet, 20, of Boston, a bouncer at the House of Blues. “You feel jittery and happy that you’ve finally met that person.”
Acting on that magic is another matter.
Fred Howland, an inside sales manager at Lumenpulse, almost met the most beautiful girl he had ever seen one Friday night on the Red Line. The train car was almost empty, yet she sat only two seats away from him. After a couple minutes, she scooted into the seat next to him. He searched for words, wondering how to initiate conversation.
“We rode from Central to Davis, about 10-15 minutes in silence. I was frustrated. I couldn’t break the ice. I wanted to, really badly, but it came up blank,” Howland wrote. “Actually, the number one thing I was thinking to myself was ‘I gotta get something to keep in my bag to use as a conversation starter.’”
So why couldn’t he say hello?
“Fear of rejection… not knowing what to say,” Howland said.
Howland isn’t the only one at a loss for words when it comes to breaking the ice.
“I’m not shy, but rejection holds you back,” said Antonio Diaz, 18, a student at West Roxbury Academy.
With Boston named the best city for single men in 2013 due to the ratio of 93 single men per 100 single women, according to Nerd Wallet, a finance comparison website, it’s a wonder men can’t bring themselves to say hello when they feel that spark.
In the internet age, however, there is always Missed Connections.
In 2000, Craigslist added “Missed Connections” to the personals section of the website. Missed Connections is devoted to those who’ve had missed encounters and want to find the people they missed their opportunities with.
Essentially, Missed Connections is an online dating website with a specific person in mind. Often the anonymous ads will name the time and place of the encounter while describing those involved followed by a quick note, “tell me what I was wearing, so I know it’s you.” People who post on Missed Connections are looking for something special, hoping for lightning to strike twice.
But has this technology made the real-life encounter less likely? Why do people feel more comfortable waiting until they’re home protected by the security of their computer monitors to finally say hi?
“I think the Internet plays a big part,” said Shannon Griever, 20, a junior at Emmanuel College. “I’ve never had an OkCupid account, but I think in general people say more over the Internet because they feel awkward in person. Online they don’t have to look at them, or see their reactions.”
If the variety of ages on online dating websites is any indication, the instinct to hide behind a screen is a broad human tendency.
According to The Boston Globe, one of the leading online dating websites, Match.com, with 40 million national users, reports 25 percent of Boston users are younger than 30; 48.5 percent are between the ages of 30 and 49; and 26.5 percent are 50 plus.
Howland posted on Missed Connections in hopes of finding the girl from the train.
“That’s the thing with online dating; it takes out the sting of personal rejection,” Howland wrote. “You can blast out 20 messages and not really be upset at all if many or most don’t reply. After a while it just comes down to a numbers game.”
The confidence afforded by technology can build its own momentum.
“Confidence is a strange thing,” he wrote. “You need good things to happen to have it, but good things don’t happen when you don’t have it. Like, when you’re on a losing streak and you don’t have any, it tends to perpetuate itself, but have some good luck, and you walk with extra swagger, and can do no wrong.”