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You should’ve asked for a number. Is writing a missed connection worth a shot?

graphic of hands holding in a webpage
404 bae not found
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

A captivating stranger, a public place, a moment of connection. And then, nothing. A missed connection. We’ve all been there.

A meet-cute played out just last month on Overheard LA, a popular Instagram account that documents the musings of Angelenos through a vast network of followers-slash-eavesdroppers. An encounter in the Whole Foods condiment section, detailed in Overheard’s “Missed Connection Love Story,” prompted a search for the lost crush and — success! Ah, the romance. (The lovebirds in question are choosing to remain private and anonymous.)

Not everyone is having a Hot Vax Summer. Some daters are asking about vaccine status to gauge compatibility.

“Our followers are already sending us everything they see and hear, so it just made sense to use our platform to make this happen,” Overheard founder Jesse Margolis said in an email. “Plus, who in L.A. doesn’t want to be quizzed on their knowledge of small dog breeds.” (A Frenchie named Oscar was one of the key elements of the hunt.)

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Margolis posted to the Instagram story after receiving an “earnest and sweet” direct message from one of the involved parties, albeit knowing the chance of connecting them was small: “If it doesn’t work out, at least we’d have fun.”

Messages and potential leads started pouring in. There were DM exchanges about the mystery man’s identity (and dog breeds) and brands offering to pay for dates and more for the eventually reunited couple.

“When we finally made the connection and confirmed from both parties it was just magic,” Margolis said. He’s right, though — usually, missed connections are a whole lot less successful, not to mention less conspicuous.

The missed connection — a fleeting moment with a stranger that leaves you wishing you’d worked up the nerve to strike up a conversation — long predates the internet, with LA Weekly and the Village Voice among those publishing their communities’ missed connections in print. Classified ads and posted notices date back to 18th century America, ancient Rome and beyond.

The birth of Craigslist and its “casual encounters” forum took the practice of documenting missed connections to a new level. Personals graced Craigslist from 1995 until 2018, when casual encounters shut down in accordance with new sex trafficking prevention laws.

The missed connections section lives on, but it doesn’t offer quite the same sweet yearning as the casual encounters posts (cough, cough, it’s raunchy as hell).

Enter Alex Lee: full-time copywriter, part-time web designer hobbyist and hopeless romantic. Lee founded the online personals site missedyoula.com in May to fill what he saw as a niche left by Craigslist and to give people a space to submit missed connections truly based in romance.

“Ever since Craigslist shut down their casual encounters section, I’ve noticed that a lot of the casual encounter posts were spilling over into the missed connections section,” Lee said, adding that their quality was noticeably lower. “And so I thought it would be cool if there was a dedicated website just for missed connections.”

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So that’s what he created. The no-frills page is sorted by month, with 40-plus submissions to date. Registered users can write posts like, “Cute tall guy at mar vista farmers market” or “Blonde at Wendy’s in Alhambra.” Think you’re the one the writer is talking about? Ball’s in your court now, so initiate a private conversation directly through the site.

Posts go up automatically, but Lee does daily quality control to ensure that his website remains a safe haven for the romantic side in all of us — basically, free from “that kind of hookup content that you see everywhere on Craigslist.”

Lee, 34, doesn’t have a missed connection story to thank for a wild romance of his own: Rather, he can point to his and his friends’ experience on the lackluster L.A. millennial dating scene as the inspiration for the page.

26-year-olds are sharing the pains of their age: “Society is like, ‘You’re not thinking about having kids or getting married? What’s your aspiration, what’s your goal?’”

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“People are definitely sick and tired of dating apps,” Lee said, and are experiencing what he calls “dating app fatigue.” Missed connections offer something different. Something hopeful, rare and romantic — all in what Margolis calls “a digital landscape that can be so dark and divisive.”

For Will Domke, 19, his missed connections Instagram page, @usc.missedconnections, filled a different desire. He was bored in quarantine during his senior year of high school in Seattle, preparing to head to the University of Southern California. He had seen a missed connections account based at Emerson College in Boston and thought up an experiment with his intended roommate.

“I love gossip. I think everyone loves gossip. I think everyone loves reading little things about business that is not their own,” he said. Plus, “When you’re staring at a screen, what else is there to do than get crushes on people?”

The @usc.missedconnections page launched in September 2020 as the fall semester kicked off.

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“The first few posts are completely lies. We just made them up,” Domke, an acting major, said. He was hoping to drive traffic and engagement, and it worked: The page was quickly flooded with real submissions.

Now with more than 4,500 followers and nearly 300 posts, some compiling as many as 10 missed connections in one upload in a text bubble format, the account has become the campus authority for missed connections, crush confessions and even students admitting their infatuation with TA’s and professors. There’s something that sets the USC account apart from the other L.A. missed connections platforms, though: it’s insular, contained to one community of people who are bumping into each other all the time.

Domke, who ended up starting his time as a Trojan taking remote classes from home 1,000 miles from campus, doesn’t know of any submissions that have led to meet-ups or relationships, but he did have a post written about him once (there’s been no follow-up, sadly). But his missed connections project helped fill the social gap in his pandemic college experience.

It did something else too: captured an essential facet of today’s dating landscape. Evidently, everyone wants to be the inspiration for a romantic online gesture, whether your secret admirer spotted you from across the quad or became enchanted with you at the grocery store. There’s something captivating, almost vintage, about documenting fleeting moments or dreaming of what could have been — and knowing a spark can happen away from an app.

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Just ask Lee, the founder of missedyoula.com.

“People kind of all know that when you post a missed connections it’s really the longest of long shots. Like, the chances of a missed connection working out really aren’t that great, but people still do it,” he says.

“I think it’s really because it really gives people a chance to indulge in their hopeless romantic side. ... That, to me, is kind of what my missed connections website is kind of about. It just gives people a chance to indulge in the idea of romance even though they might not find it.”


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