Casual encounters among the online ads
Richard says he is 35 and from Ballsbridge in Dublin. He believes that most men who post on Craigslist’s Casual Encounters are just like him: a bisexual in a heterosexual marriage. His partner is unaware, he says, as he plans these encounters in a way that doesn’t arouse suspicion.
“I first tried CL when travelling internationally on business. It is like popping into Starbucks or McDonald’s: usually every city has a branch with a varied consumer base.”
It’s mostly first-timers or “dabblers”, Richard says, and some will bend the truth about their age, marital status and experience to optimise results. When it comes to assessing replies, he typically filters out 99 per cent using his gut instinct. “I need to sense normalcy, respect, safety, discretion and maturity – in addition to any sexual attraction.”
He insists on a photograph or Skype video call beforehand and usually accommodates the meeting, itself a “huge gesture of trust”, either in hotels or his own investment properties. Richard doesn’t feel as safe travelling to someone else’s home and never gives his own phone number. Having once been pestered for money by a respondent, he knows there’s more than one way these meetings could backfire.
Abroad, crime has been a source of controversy for Craigslist. In the US the site has faced criticism for being perceived to facilitate prostitution, human trafficking and other illegal activity, particularly so-called Craigslist killings, where murderers allegedly met victims through the site.
Safety was not a major concern among those who shared their experiences for this article. Sandra describes herself as a 38-year-old woman from Dublin with a penchant for younger men. She says she receives dozens of respondents and believes that using Craigslist is quicker and easier than trying to meet someone on a night out. Asked how she gauges trustworthiness and ensures her safety, she replies, “Perhaps the risk is the attraction.”
It could be that knowing how to navigate potential pitfalls comes with experience. Dave and Selina are based in Meath. In an email exchange they describe themselves as aged 35 and 24, and say they turned to the site after two local sites stopped hosting personals. They see Craigslist as a playground where like-minded people can propose things they couldn’t broach in their local pub without fear of judgment or ridicule. Still, Dave believes it’s best to temper that openness with common sense.
“The internet can be a dangerous place, but as a couple, and me being quite a sizable chap, I’m not too concerned. But I would imagine a single female is at a risk posting for meets. We did at one point, while looking for a female for a threesome, get a reply from a 15-year-old girl who not only wanted to meet us but also had a lot of experience with meeting older guys. If we had been one of the many fake [personas], like a man pretending to be a couple, then she would have been at serious risk of God knows what.”
Dave says he tried to intervene, warning her about predators, but his advice felt futile. Craigslist is the kind of environment, he explains, where so many people are posing as someone they’re not that two men could easily be exchanging fake photos in the belief that the other is a woman.
Dave is also troubled by the number of people eroticising parental dynamics on Craigslist and by men placing the term “legal teen” in ad titles as a way, he suspects, of indemnifying themselves from authorities if caught interacting with younger respondents.
“It really is warped and somewhat disturbing to think there are real teenagers engaging with that.”
Scrolling through Craigslist’s Casual Encounters, with its endless appeals emphasised by capital letters and exclamation marks, the sense of urgency is hard to miss. Dave is inclined to put this down to inactive sex lives, but Richard, the 35-year-old businessman in Ballsbridge, is less certain.
He takes a day to ponder the question of compulsion, later admitting it made him consider his own behaviour and motivations. He has noticed self-esteem issues among some of those he has encountered and, on reflection, realised that his casual-sex habits tend to correlate with dips in self-worth or urges to escape his day-to-day life.