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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