A few weeks ago, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of the same little map.
Dorothy Gambrell, of Psychology Today, put together a map of the most common places listed in Craigslist’s Missed Connections category, broken down state by state. The infographic, titled “Missed Connections: Seen But Not Spoken To: An Atlas of Where We’re (Almost) Finding Love,” was called “the saddest map in America” by Andrew Sullivan – and probably a few more inappropriate things as it moved virally through the Interwebz.
I get it — some of the places mentioned were not only unexpected but absolutely hysterical. Apparently, as a current (and single) resident of the fine state of Texas, I should be paying more attention to other shoppers at the Wal-Mart. (As should folks in Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico and Ohio — Hawaiians, on the other hand, can go to any old Superstore). All of my D.C. friends need to get their noses out of their books while riding the Metro. And Californians need look no further than their favorite treadmill at 24-Hour Fitness. Perhaps my favorite commentary was the Atlantic asking how folks from Indiana were having such trouble making connections in their own homes – apparently, UPS personnel and neighbors are pretty hot up in Indy.
But here’s what is missing from all the snark: the fact that sometimes a glance, a smile or a friendly word is all it takes to make a real connection with another person. Sometimes, something very small can make a lasting enough impression that you are willing to type out a few sentences on a Craigslist ad in the somewhat-farfetched hopes of meeting up again.
But in order to have one of these precious connections, first you have to share a little space.
Let me explain. Research into attraction has shown, time and time again, that our brains pick up subtle, often unconscious odor and movement cues from others when we are in close proximity. These cues give us information about the person’s immune system, age, testosterone level, health status and stress levels — the stuff that comes together to form the basis of an attraction. (When they called it chemistry, they weren’t kidding). It may not sound romantic, but we’re biologically primed to seek out partners that will help us produce the strongest offspring. Alas, “chemistry” isn’t something that can be gleaned from a description or judicious use of “The Big Bang Theory” quotes in an email. You need to be in close physical proximity to one another.
There’s a lot of talk about all the way that the Internet is keeping us from making real connections with others—and changing the nature of our relationships. That’s a debate for another post. But what this map shows me is that we are out there forging little bits of magic with other people each and every day — even when we’re buying our toilet paper in bulk. That close physical interaction is something that cannot and will not ever be replaced. It is important, and it is powerful.