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Jenice Armstrong: Tracking romance

Missed connections reveals the transitory nature of modern coupling

This subway station - Cecil B. Moore at Broad - is the city's most romantic. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff)
This subway station - Cecil B. Moore at Broad - is the city's most romantic. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff)Read more

A WOMAN dressed in black and wearing North Face boarded a train at the Cecil B. Moore/Temple University stop on SEPTA's Orange Line and plopped down next to a stranger.

Her seatmate was stunned. Although he had admired her from afar, he had never spoken to her, and there she was, sitting next to him on the subway. Later, he kept thinking about her, so he did what people do these days - he logged on to Craigslist, the Internet classified site, and clicked on Missed Connections. He wrote:

"I see you around often, especially in the library, and I crapped my pants when you sat down because I have a serious stranger crush on you. Saying hello obviously would have violated the terms of the stranger crush, so I pussed out and looked at my feet. It would be totally awkward to talk to you in real life, so let me ask you here, why are you always glaring angrily? It makes you seem very unapproachable."

It was an act of desperation, but that's what Missed Connections is all about. People go there to make last-ditch efforts to find that cute guy from Starbucks or the tall blonde waiting for her bagel at Delancey Street. There's no way of knowing if the dude ever hooked up with the grumpy girl in black. (If she's reading this, he'd probably appreciate an email.) But I'll bet he never expected that his post would be pulled by a Craigslist researcher trying to determine the city's most romantic subway stations.

Over a 35-week period ending last month, researchers pored over 102 Missed Connections posts that mentioned a subway station and found that the Cecil B. Moore/Temple University stop on the Broad Street Line was the station with the most Missed Connections. Researchers came up with a formula based on ridership and the number of Missed Connections to form what they call a Train Romance Index Score Total. With 19 Missed Connections during the sample period, Cecil B. Moore had a romance-index score of 33.66. Eighth Street station came in second with a 16.57 score, followed by Spring Garden at 14.01.

The Olney station came in last - a score of zero.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but reading Missed Connections is a guilty pleasure because it speaks to that whole idea of love at first sight. And, let's face it, at some point in everybody's life we've had a chance encounter that we later wonder about. Should I have been more aggressive and asked for her number? Should I have gotten over my shyness and asked for his name?

Back in the day, magazines and newspapers would run listings in the personals section of their classified ads, calling them Chance Encounters. Today, the ubiquitous Internet has transformed them into Missed Connections.

"The Missed Connections section of Craigslist has become an American institution," said Peter Freedman, Craigslist's director of romance research. "That's because people really do value long shots. The idea of getting a second chance is very powerful. Missed Connections is really about hope. It's about hoping against the odds and hope of a second chance.

"It connects to the whole idea of love at first sight and Cupid's arrow striking and being smitten with somebody. It connects to all sorts of ideas, deep-rooted ideas about love."

Here's a posting from last week by a man who is crushing on a woman he saw at the ShopRite on Aramingo Avenue:

"You crossed my path a couple of times while shopping, at the yogurt section and the bread aisle. I found you civil and really attractive but I was a bit of a mess that day, totally ungroomed and unprepared to engage you; just to let you know I was having an off day and that I clean up nicely. You had an incredible figure, curly hair, wore blue jeans, and a (respond to me with the color so I know it's you) top. I wore black footwear, brown military style khakis, and a (respond to me with the color so I know it's you) jacket. Hope to hear from you, bye bye."

 As of Monday night, Carlos Herrara hadn't heard from the woman, but he hasn't given up hope, either.

Then there's Justin, 29, a truck driver from Mayfair, who last Monday wrote:

"You were walking down Unruh Avenue towards the Boulevard yesterday (Sunday) around or after 7 p.m. I beeped at you but I had my kids with me. I came back around but you were already gone. Respond back if you see this."

I tried to get Justin to explain what it was about this girl that made him go online to find her. It was simple, he said. "She had a great body and she had long hair and she had it pulled back and she was appealing."

Justin, who was driving a red Ford Explorer, added: "She said something and I couldn't hear because I had my kids with me. I believe in destiny and in fate, and I believe that things happen for a reason."

But, as of late yesterday, Justin, too, was waiting to hear from the brunette who he thinks is in her early 20s. And he'll keep checking Missed Connections.

"I read it every once in a blue moon to see if anybody is looking for me," he told me. "I don't always have time to stop and exchange numbers."

Researcher Freedman, who's based in London and conducted a similar study there, added that Americans "like the idea of a hope even if it's a long shot. I think a surprising number of people do manage to connect through Missed Connections."

And for everyone else there's hope.

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