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How to Meet Friends While Avoiding Creeps on Craigslist
Nowadays, if you have an internet connection and basic reading skills, you've probably visited Craigslist. Chances are you've even used Craiglist to sell your bike, or find a volunteer activity in your neighborhood, or apply for a part time job, or any one of the dozens of services offered by this free, localized listing website. Craigslist can be particularly helpful in the time of a move: you can scout out move in specials on apartments, apply for new jobs, and pick up furniture to fill the empty spots in your new home, all in one place. In fact, Craigslist even lets you shop around for the thing that everyone wants but struggles to get in a new place: friends.
The idea of being able to shop for your new cronies on Craigslist like you would a used textbook has got to be tempting to any normal human being. Why waste time hoofing it around town when you can screen your potential buddies from the comfort of home, basking in the glow of your computer screen? It's free, and it doesn't have the same stigma of desperation that can be associated with traditional dating websites. Plus, there's just something hip and edgy and so Gen-Y about using Craigslist to procure odd things.
Before you get started generating a whole new social circle through Craigslist, however, you need to understand the risks inherent in the process, and be smart about protecting yourself. Unfortunately, there are plenty of creeps out there, and Craigslist provides a convenient medium for them to locate potential victims. People have unfortunately been assaulted or even killed as a result of meetings facilitated through Craigslist. Granted, most of the 'creeps' online aren't out to assault or kidnap you, but the lack of physical trauma doesn't make it any less uncomfortable if you get stuck hanging out with someone who, for instance, you catch sniffing your hair every time you glance away.
So, to prepare you to meet your next best friend on Craigslist without putting yourself in harm's way, I've prepared this guide to help you spot 'red flags' and protect yourself. Please note, however, that I'm not a certified Craigslist expert and cannot guarantee you that following my recommendations is a failsafe way to avoid creeps on the internet. Also, if you are interested in using Craigslist to meet people for dating, romance, or a booty call, then this article will not pertain to you.
The Posting Itself: Creating Your Own Ad
There are two ways to meet people on Craigslist: either post an ad of your own, or respond to those posted by others. If you opt to create your own posting, there are a few guidelines you should make sure to follow.
1. Make sure you post in the 'Strictly Platonic' section. Even if you have set preferences on what gender you'd like your new friends to be, it could be misleading to post in another category. For instance, maybe you're a woman who really likes hanging out with a group of guys- nothing wrong with that! If you post your ad in the w4m (woman for men) category, however, the majority of people reading your post are going to assume you're looking for something more than friendship, and this might lead them to read more into your post that what is there.
2. Don't give out any identifying information
Don't even give out your name. If there's a creep out there looking at your post, you don't want to give them any personal information to use in contacting you. Craigslist will route any responses to your ad to your email via an anonymized email, so a responder won't have any other way of contacting you unless you choose to contact them back. Take advantage of this protection- don't give any potential stalkers out there an 'in' that's not necessary.
3. Write very clearly about your interests and expectations for the friendship
Don't be too shy to say directly: "I'm looking for friendship only. Not interested in any relationship or sexual encounters." You'd be amazed what some people can read into seemingly innocent text. The clearer and more focused your ad is, the better chances you have of finding a new friend that fits the bill perfectly. Looking for a workout partner? Another stay-at-home-mom to arrange playdates with? Someone who will accompany you to the local film festivals? A wine enthusiast to sample international offerings with you? If you're not specific, you're going to find yourself wading through a lot of email from people you just don't have much in common with.
Responding to Someone Else's Ad
Your other option for meeting friends on Craigslist is to respond to other people's ads. This may limit the pool of potential friends a bit, but in terms of ease and safety I prefer this method.
1. Limit the amount of identifying info you give out in your first email
Again, err on the side of caution until you've felt a person out. It's appropriate to volunteer your name when responding to an ad, but I'd wait until you've exchanged a few emails before volunteering your phone number. That way, if you get a weird vibe, you don't have to screen your calls for weeks.
2. Look out for vague wording
The best kind of friend ads to respond to are the ones that are specific. If someone is looking "to hang out and chill or whatever," that 'whatever' could involve something you're just not down for. Also,the more specific a poster is about what they are looking for in a friend/friendship, the more likely it is that you two will have things in common and get along well.
3. Some red flags to watch for . . .
-Anyone specifying what you should look like: If you want to be my friend, it shouldn't matter what my height or weight or general appearance is. If they specify a preference (particularly if they are looking for an 'attractive' or 'fit' new friend) than they are probably not looking for just friendship, no matter what they claim.
-Anyone listing themselves as married but looking for opposite sex friends 'just to talk' or 'for innocent flirtation:' Ew. Ew. Just stay away from these. Sadly, these are fairly easy to find on any given Craigslist.
-Anyone who is looking for someone to hang out with right away: For instance, "looking for someone who wants to come over and watch movies tonight." These things take time to ensure both parties are sufficiently non-creepy. If someone is looking to do something right away- particularly in a non-public location- then I call foul.
-Anyone looking to exchange services: Yes, it sounds lovely to think that someone out there is willing to give you free back massages, or do your hair, or manicure your toes, just because they like to, or they need hours for massage school, or whatever reason they supply you with. Call me cynical, but I believe 99% of these posts are some CREEP looking to get their jollies from touching all over some poor, unsuspecting Craigslister. Avoid!
After the Email: Your first meeting
Once emails have been exchanged and you feel comfortable with the idea of meeting in person, you'll still want to be careful. Some creepy people can hide it very well! Always arrange for your first meeting to be in a public place, even if you are convinced that your new friend is a model citizen and complete paragon of virtue. Pick someplace that you are familiar with. Make sure that you tell a friend or family member where you are going, when you plan on being back, and all the details you know about the person you are meeting- just in case.
Go Forth and Make Friends Electronically
If you approach the Craigslist platonic classifieds with an air of caution and a lot of common sense, chances are that you can meet some interesting people. It's a great way to get a jump start on friends in a new place. If you meet someone you really hit it off with, they may introduce you to a whole new circle of acquaintances. Don't forget that it's ok to be selective with the people you meet. Even if someone isn't creepy, if you just don't hit it off or don't have much in common, it's ok to keep looking. Have fun with it and above all else, be safe!