I admit that I am horrible at product reviews most of the time. I wish I could guarantee a 6 week turn-around, but that would just be setting me up for failure. This book review has been a long time coming.
"Free Love--True Stories of Love and Lust on the Internet" by local author Thomas Kelleher is a very fun, quick, and interesting read. Although many of the people talk about using other dating/sex forums besides CL, it seems to be the main source of peoples stories. One part of me, however, is jealous that he put this information into a book because I have sooooo much experience with Craigslist (CL).
I'm jealous because I pioneered online outreach to the young LGBT community in San Francisco in 2002. I presented all over the country about how engaging in risky sexual encounters was responsible, in part, for a growing number of HIV and STI cases. I also did what is now called "online outreach" where an educator takes to the internet to provide accurate information on sex as well as local HIV/STI testing sites. It seriously never occurred to me that it was a potential book idea.
But enough about me.
What I really like about this book is the way it is formatted. Just like in CL, the chapters are designated into men for men, men for women, women for men, women for women, missed encounters, and casual encounters. The left side of the page shows the original ad or posting the person was using in order to find someone, and the right side (and, in some cases, pages) tells the anecdotal story of what happened in response to that particular posting.
It's entertaining, compelling and voyeuristic. As someone who majored in sociology, this book is treasure trove of data on what it's like to have relationships, date, and have sex in the internet era.
Because I have so much personal experience with CL, many of the original ads were a tad too familiar. Some of the anecdotal stories were also a bit commonplace, but I found them to be really interesting and kept me entertained.
The people in the book basically fall into a few different categories: people who were placing ads as a joke or a bet (in other words for shits & giggles), people who were looking for long term relationships, and people who were looking for sex. Lots and lots of sex.
I found it intriguing that a number of people never admitted or wanted it to "get out" that they used online forums like CL to find a partner. In all fairness though, it seemed to me that the people who were embarrassed about using the internet to find dates were in an older demographic and fondly re-called the good old days of having to place personal ads in the paper.
More than a few people found real love online and are either engaged or married. A few posters met potential dates whose mental health was questionable to say the least. There were also a few red flags going off in my head when I read certain anecdotal stories. I'm not a therapist or mental health worker, but it seems like a few of the people who placed the ads could benefit from a couple therapy sessions.
People have long loved the internet because of the feeling of anonymity. Yes they do! Engaging in cyber sex, sexy phone calls, steamy texts, and naked picture exchanges can be really intoxicating. It can also be a fabulous way to safely explore the depths of your personal sexual fantasies.
Talking about sex or what you want to do with someone online gives you much more courage than if you were standing next to that person. The internet can give you the confidence and assurance to vocalize thoughts that you might never say if you were in a traditional dating setting. Incidentally, I also think that online dating is a great way to negotiate what you are looking for, what you are willing to do sexually, and it is one of the easiest ways to broach the topic of sexual health. You can weed through people quickly to suit what you are looking for (especially if you ask the right questions), and it can also make the whole idea of rejection less personal.
People also lie. A lot. The internet just makes it a hell of a lot easier to get away with lies for a longer amount of time. My personal experience is that, in general, women are always 20 pounds heavier and older than they report. Men, on the other hand, are always shorter, make less money, have less hair, and weigh more than they report.
People love sending the most flattering pictures of themselves, even if that picture is 2, 5, 10 or more years old. Not everyone does this, but many stories in the book "Free Love" talk about how a person was over 100 pounds more than what they stated or was bald or balding when they stated they had hair.
On the internet, people love to pretend they aren't married or attached. Like I said before, the internet is intoxicating that way. Several stories address the horror of finding out the hard and unpleasant way that people who claim to be single are married or otherwise coupled.
Of course, like any good gay, my personal favorite stories came from the men seeking men category. I always find it particularly interesting when a man claims he is "St8" (for those of you who don't know this term, it means straight) but wants to find a jack off buddy, someone who will suck him off, or someone who will let him top (after all, some people don't believe they are engaging in homosexual activity if they are not the person being penetrated).
Internet dating has forever changed the way in which people meet, date, and have sex. The book "Free Love" gives you a raw and voyeuristic view into what internet dating and "hooking up" is all about. The bottom line is that no one wants to be rejected, are longing for a connection (even if it is purely sexual), and maybe, just maybe, fall in love.