Some of us seem to have our futures mapped out to a T, from the high-profile internship we’ll take after graduation to the suburban condo where we’ll raise our first yellow lab. But this summer, I didn’t have time to rehearse. After landing an unexpected office job in New York, I found myself sharing a tight apartment with a stranger from Craigslist. It could have been a nightmare, but I don’t regret a thing.
Sitting with my friends outside a museum we planned on visiting, but didn’t, I attempted to shrug off all of their questions. They asked how I found my job, how long I planned to stay, who my roommate was, and what exactly I was doing. I answered I don’t know. Their interest became uncomfortable, “Wait you didn’t know your roommate? And it’s a dude? And you’re in tech? What?” I considered telling them that my life planning strategy was similar to a game of blind darts, but then instead of another question, one of my friends said, “You know, you’re really just doing it live. I respect that.”
The summer began with desperation, hundreds of bookmarked web pages, and a single nervous thought flickering each time a page loaded. It will work out, right? It continued that way, and continues now. I didn’t have a plan, and the only thing keeping me from panic was the grace of God and the basic HTML interface of the internet’s classifieds page. I still don’t have a plan, but at least I know where I’m sleeping tonight. All thanks to Craigslist and an inspirational video of one crazed 2008 Bill O’Reilly.
I did not get an internship, job, fellowship, or invitation to the Hampton’s for Summer 2015. Classes ended, I had no exams or reason to stay at Princeton, and yet there I was, biding my time until I could figure what to do. It was hard, because I didn’t care. Truly, I was as un-invested and ambivalent about what happened to me. Reunions came and went, and I found myself driving to Minnesota with my friend to visit her family just for something to do.
In Minnesota, it occurred to me to apply to jobs without the Tiger Tracks certification of acceptable employment. My Craigslist job prospects were not comparable in any way to the blistering rocket-ship career trajectories of my peers, but the process felt like a better fit for me anyway. Some discover their calling as a child, in a class, at a career fair or recruiting event. And some take to the ‘ETC’ board on a website where you can find free rocks, casual encounters, and used litter boxes.
After 4 days, I had my first interview. At the end of the Skype call, the interviewer said, “Okay, well you seem like a good candidate. We’d like to do another interview in the office. How’s Monday?” It was Sunday. I was in Minnesota, 1,200 miles away from his office in New York. I decided I could probably do 20 hours on the road. “Can we do Tuesday, actually?” He said fine, and I started packing.
We finished the interview at noon, and by 1pm I was sitting at a desk, NDA signed, and task list for the day in hand. I didn’t have a chance to consider my new job because I started working immediately. When I left at 7, the facts greeted me at the door with hot air that felt like a hug, both friendly and oppressive. It was a confusing, monumental moment of taking stock. I have a job! I’m employed by someone who recruits on Craigslist. There is free beer and peanut M&Ms! There are no other women. But New York! I have no place to live. Today is my 21st birthday! Today is my 21st birthday, and I am alone.
I wanted so badly to enjoy the last major birthday of my young adult life. But I could not waste time buying my first legal alcohol, because I had to learn all the stuff I lied about on my resume, and more importantly I had to find a place to live. It was back to the dartboard.
“You live in the living room of a straight, male stranger? From Craigslist?” Fair questions from a concerned friend, even if was too late to change my mind. I was challenged only after I moved in and paid rent for the next two months. “He seems okay.”
His girlfriend wrote the Craigslist ad, she’s the one that I met and arranged the sublet with, and the person I thought I was sharing an apartment with. She moved out the day I moved in, and left me with her boyfriend, a 27 year old fashion photographer who I will call Blane. I was cool with it at first. There was almost zero privacy, which makes sense because my bed was in the living room, but the rent was crazy affordable. I could walk to work, and he had a majestic Pyrenees that I fell in love with, even though she ate my running shoes and favorite shirt.
Craigslist giveth and Craigslist taketh away. Yes, I got an apartment and a dog, but I also got Blane. He was generally tolerable, but he had this kind of helpless man-child quality that made me sad. He did his dishes bi-weekly, and almost exclusively ate chicken nuggets, so the apartment always smelled like a Happy Meal. He did not walk his dog enough, sometimes leaving her in her crate for 12 hours at a time. He did that thing where he would hesitate and laugh nervously when he described people with the words gay or black, and called women “babes”. I told myself that he was a random dude from Craigslist, so it shouldn’t be a shock that we weren’t perfectly compatible.
My sublease and his lease were up at the end of July, and I’d be free. I considered abducting his dog so that she would be provided with the proper care, but it is really difficult to smuggle a 90 lb, giant white fluff ball out of a 4th floor walk up. It was hard to leave that dog with a man who watched the Drew Carry show nightly, and I really do miss her, but sometimes a good dog isn’t worth dealing with a bad human.
“This is a pretty funny date situation,” he said, giving me a gentle nudge.
We were walking around Williamsburg, and it was quiet, even for a Sunday. I couldn’t really see his face because he was too tall and it was dark, but he sounded so happy and nice that I panicked.
“Yeah, it’s fun, I just hope you don’t murder me.”
He thought about it and shrugged like that was a reasonable worry. “Well, you did meet me on Craigslist.”
“I know, I just didn’t think you would take me to an alley” Technically, it was Roebling Ave and not an alley.
“To be fair, you were prepared to sublet our fourth bedroom.”
He was right. I was looking for a new apartment, and his happened to be on the list of Craigslist properties I visited. A week or so after he let me know that someone else made an offer, we went out for drinks. At first I hesitated because we’d only talked in person for 30 minutes, plus the Craigslist part, but I figured if I was willing to live with total strangers, I might as well go out with them too. In addition to being cool with my Craigslist Killer jokes, Craigslist guy is cool. He does use a lot of smiley faces, but he’s a lot hotter than I am so I deal with it. We’ve only gone out a few times, but I’ve already wondered about how we’ll tell our mothers we met. And even if it doesn’t work out, I can still claim that I dated someone I met on the shadiest dating platform that doubles as a furniture store, job search engine, and real-estate free-for-all.
Craigslist is the internet’s slot machine. Lots of betting, low stakes, high risk, but sometimes you win big. Do I get the occasional unsettling text from a ‘writer’ who interviewed me for a personal assistant position? Sure. Did my computer contract a machine version of mild herpes from a real-estate listing that was too good to be true? Absolutely. But it also led me to a workplace with a keg in the break room, an apartment with two windows, and a couple of dates.
Is reckless, potentially dangerous Craigslist usage the best thing that’s happened to me this summer? Is it weird if I say yes?