Ingrid Burrington, Researcher of Missed Connections: ‘The Loneliest Place in NYC is Union Square’


Under the semi-serious auspices of the Center for Missed Connections, 24-year-old Ingrid Burrington, who grew up in California, has been studying Craigslist’s outlet for the lonely, the hopeful, the romantic, the horny, and the insane for more than two years now. It all started with what she calls a whimsical question: “What’s the loneliest place in any given city, and how can I measure it?” From there she turned to chronicling Missed Connections, which led to a map for an art show in 2009 at Pratt, a book project, and, currently, a residency through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. From her website:

The Center for Missed Connections (CMC) began as a project simply to identify where the most missed connections happen in a given city. New York City is home to the pilot program, chosen for its high traffic and for the propensity of posters to include specific cross-streets or location information. Since then, the analysis has developed a thorough taxonomy of the Missed Connection and a method for identifying whether one has, in fact, had a Missed Connection. The CMC seeks to understand the longing, both poetic and banal, within public spaces.

Burrington takes in more than 1,000 posts a week, charting and categorizing them on the basis of superlatives used, locations, methods of travel, the time of the MC, and more. In so doing, she’s created a thoroughly researched map of the New York City Missed Connection experience. Next up: Missed Connections walking tours. We spoke to her to find out more.

What’s the loneliest place in New York City?
I would say it’s Union Square. It’s a major train interchange, and most Missed Connections happen on the subway. Also, it’s a large public space, and second to subways, Missed Connections tend to happen on street. Whole Foods, also, is a really lonely place.

The Whole Foods at Union Square in particular, or all of them?
The one on Houston is sadder. But at Union Square, there’s also a Trader Joes. The average Missed Connections poster is in his 20s or 30s, but you have a large group of 18- to 25-year-olds. There are a lot of colleges in the area. I think of Union Square as a microcosm; it has all the things dispersed throughout the city in one spot, and it’s basically where downtown starts…

Are there more Missed Connections downtown, generally?
There are more downtown than uptown in Manhattan, though Inwood and Washington Heights have a fair share. Midtown is pretty big, but it’s a huge span of space, and it’s dispersed a lot — Midtown East, Clinton, etc. Within Brooklyn, it’s kind of a range — Park Slope and Williamsburg compete, and Bushwick’s pretty high.

It’s been interesting to learn about boroughs I never go to. I know next to nothing about Staten Island except one Dunkin Donuts on Hylan Boulevard is apparently the place to be.

Is any of this about bringing Missed Connections together?
I’m not really that interested in being a matchmaker or a detective. I think the posts are a symptom, not a cause, and once you start engaging with the posters, it gets tricky. To me, this is predominantly a geography project. One of the comparisons that comes up is to Sophie Blackall’s illustrations of Missed Connections project. She’s interested in the stories, and she’s awesome, and I’m more interested in the sum of those moments.

This also means I have to read all of the posts. I have seen so many pictures of dicks, it’s actually kind of alarming. Mostly those posts make me mad, because there is a casual encounters section.

How do you organize the data? What do you look for?
For each post I log, I include the date and time — I’m interested in the hours of day people decide to write and post them. A lot of them happen late at night, you know, when you’re making bad decisions. I record who’s seeking whom, and the borough and neighborhood as close as I can get it, if it’s not given, sometimes correcting people when they have the wrong neighborhood. I record the setting: retail, subway, street, all the general options. If it’s a grocery store, which type or brand. And when I’m logging subway posts I include the departure time and starting stop, so I know the distance traveled.

I do also log the posts that are not geography specific. They’re as much a part of the experience and reflect how Missed Connections are a sounding board for those who feel that love is complicated. I don’t think people are really looking for someone to find the connection all the time. So many begin with the self-conscious “pretending I’m not taking it seriously” or “I’ve never done this before” type intro. It’s very much a message in a bottle.

How many posts are there?
A week’s worth is usually a ballpark 1,000 — I only do the five boroughs. Right now I have almost two month’s worth of posts in backlog that I have to process.

Do you have any favorite MCs?
I am a little bit jaded certainly. It takes a lot for an individual post to really interest me, like a spelling error that’s too good to be true, or the worst misplaced modifier. I’ve seen a couple that are really personals or casual encounters, one was a couple looking to swing, one was a guy offering his services to the ladies, and both made points of indicating that the people were “very well educated.” That was funny to me. How many people, when looking to have a casual encounter, are, like, “Have you finished your dissertation?”

I also like a post featuring the Dunkin Donuts on Hylan Boulevard which refers to a “stunning redhead in leopard print dress” who’s “too beautiful to be alone in a Dunkin Donuts.”

My favorite in the world of “Why is love complicated” posts: “Nothing tangible remained of our love, except for the DVD I forgot to return. Sometimes I hold it and try to remember what your hand felt like in mine, but it’s just a piece of plastic.” Hopefully that’s a joke…

What’s the residency program you’re in?
It’s a full-time studio space working residency. I started in August and it goes until mid-December. It doesn’t pay anything, but I’m good at odd jobs!

Tell me about NYC Missed Connections. What are some of the things you learned?
In general, Equinox gyms are cruisier than New York Sports Club. With David Barton, there aren’t so many, so they’re hard to map out. The 14th Street YMCA has a few, and the Park Slope New York Sports Club is pretty big [in terms of cruising].

One thing that’s funny about Missed Connections: You can track events in NYC. So many took place at Comic-Con, and Halloween is a really fun time to read.

What’s the general breakdown of a NYC Missed Connection?
Overall, they’re more men seeking women, then men seeking men, women seeking men, and women seeking women — that group is incredibly small and I don’t understand why that is. In general it is a man on the train, probably the L train, probably in his late 20s/early 30s.

What else should we know about the Center for Missed Connections?
This is not a project where I’m just making fun of my demographic. Yes, I am a “young, creative class knowledge worker with glasses who cares about shoes and reads heavy books.” Those posts are so pretentious! But not all of them are like that. It’s this crazy mishmash of people. It’s not really meant to be satirizing any one group. I do have a bit of affection for the Missed Connections community, they need something. This is showing them they’re not alone.

Tell us about the walking tours.
They’ll be about showing people a way to look at a space differently. We’ll be going to locations that have high densities and talking about the influencing factors, observing the aspects of the place and how it impacts behavior. Union Square is the trial run spot. It’s heavily surveilled — you have the NYPD, city park cops, the business district improvement people — and I think that all affects how people occupy that space.

Have you stumbled upon any Missed Connections for yourself?
That’s a funny story. Six months after I made that first map and I started getting really into the content, I found one posted for me. It was very specific, and it was someone I kind of knew. I kinda freaked out. I responded, and I actually dated the guy for a pretty long time. About a year later, he dumped me at the opening of that show at Pratt. It’s really funny now, but at the time, it was so bizarre. I don’t feel like I dated him because he posted a Missed Connection…we might have gotten in touch another way. That just gave it a cuter story.

Now people think it’s funny to post Missed Connections for me, but since that one story, I haven’t had one where it was the result of serendipity.