On Marie Claire: Five things I learned from being a Craigslist anonymous listener

'It’s just…’ he trailed off.

He seemed nervous about talking to me, and I could hear the sounds of traffic surrounding his car. ‘Well, my wife and I haven’t had sex in months. We disagree on how to raise our kids. And now that she’s gone back to school, I find myself having to pick up a lot more slack at home. I’m really unhappy.’

I’ve heard this — or different iterations of similar sentiments — hundreds of times in my two years as an anonymous online listener. What I do is simple: through an ad on Craigslist, I offer to listen to stories that people have never told before. I do it anonymously and for free. My subjects know that I’m not a therapist. We sit down to talk as friends, often over a cup of coffee.

The service I provide is a simple one: I listen; I engage; I ask questions. A few months into this, I began to ask permission from my subjects to write about their experiences. The purpose was to create an anonymous pay-it-forward confessional where people can learn from each other and perhaps, in sharing their stories, not feel so alone.

It’s not surprising that the vast majority of stories I hear are about love and its side effects — divorce, money, kids, midlife crises, lost loves and missed opportunities, regrets, affairs, and everything in between. Over the years and the span of more than 400 accounts, I started to notice some patterns in the stories that people have shared. I’ve kept a list of lessons learned, some of which may surprise you.


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Some Catcalls Offend Me, Some Don’t (and That’s Okay)

Catcalling and harassment are often mentioned in the same breath. That’s because many argue that catcalling is harassment, no matter the intention. A catcall is an unwelcome imposition, a not-very-veiled command: to feel complimented, to smile, to at least say hello or thank you, to “just ignore it if it bothers you” and “don’t dress that way if you don’t want the attention.” It’s an objectification, sexualization and subordination that often prompts fear, intimidation and discomfort. At least, that’s how it’s typically defined. Some, women included, would disagree.

In Milan, a woman walks into a café and orders a coffee and brioche. She notices a group of men sitting nearby. “Ciao, ma come sei bella,” trails her as she walks to her table. She dismisses the comments as part of the Italian culture, where women are often bella, cara, tesoro, and seldom referred to by their actual names. Later, when she leaves the café, the men don’t notice; they’ve moved on. She feels relieved. In DC, a woman walks past a group of men standing by a bar. They try to get her attention with “hello, gorgeous.” She ignores them and walks away uncomfortably. The next week, that woman is robbed. She tells the police that she remembers the men who did it and that before he’d run away with her purse, one of them had said: “you should have said hello.” Both of these stories are true...

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Why Do We Laugh at Sad Things?

The sadness was palpable. My uncle lay in his coffin, pale and strangely lifelike. Suddenly, from the front of the room where his closest family sat, I heard a muffled giggle. I looked over to see my oldest aunt, red in the face and clearly trying to suppress laughter. Her sisters watched, mortified, but it wasn’t long before they joined in — and then the people around them, too, as seismic waves of laughter spread through the room.

“I felt his spirit,” my aunt later explained. “He wanted to lighten the pain we were feeling.” (My uncle was known for his sense of humor.)

Laughter is a great emotional equalizer. We’re often told it’s the best medicine. Deeply stressful or emotional episodes overload our emotional engine and send the needle into overdrive. To release stress, we often respond through inappropriate laughter. It’s not ideal, but it is effective. On top of reducing the stress hormone cortisol and improving short-term memory, laughter has even been found to ameliorate physical pain.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Why it Pays to Be Vulnerable

Two years ago, during a particularly isolating and low point in my life, I started a project called Craigslist Confessional. Through an ad on Craigslist, I meet with and anonymously speak to strangers about things that they can’t tell anyone else. What I want more than anything is to connect with people on a deeper level, to allow them to be vulnerable and open without fear. I do this because I felt then, and still do now, that there are so many things that we can’t talk about in polite society, so many important things that are shunned, kept quiet or muffled because vulnerability is often met with judgment.

By meeting with over 200 people (even a few from the Man Repeller community!) and listening to their stories, I’ve learned that vulnerability, unfettered communication and fearless oversharing about things usually relegated to the “personal” realm are positive additions to an often emotionally apathetic society. By fearless oversharing, however, I don’t mean the online facelessness that further dehumanizes us and makes easy victims, but rather the in-person connection we make when we allow someone to bear witness to our lives. The stories I’ve heard over the years, and the fact that anonymity is often the deciding factor on whether someone shares her story, only prove how uncomfortable we tend to get with emotional vulnerability.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out.