I think I love you: you had a connection and then he was gone. What if he was the one?

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Forget Facebook, lay off Lavalife, the newest place for online dating isn’t a portal of disappointing profiles and poses, it’s actually where you’d go to sell your truck. Craigslist, perused mainly for its smorgasbord of miscellaneous buy/sell ads and job listings, is now gaining ground among those seeking the love that got away. Though not a new concept-Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper runs “I Saw You” and Toronto’s Now magazine once featured a similar venue called “I Spy”–unlike some classified competitors, Craigslist’s Missed Connections is free and offers unlimited space for gushing to the intended recipient.

Postings range from fleeting subway strikeouts and laundromat lust to affirmations of ardour to colleagues. It’s customized to cities worldwide; one unidentified man from Toronto recently wrote: “Canadian Tire: I held up your checkout … I flirted clumsily. “We dropped your blue-cleaning-fluid stuff. I could not take my eyes off you. A drink … and … a few laughs?”

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For some, the site provides the elusive “fate” factor often absent from paid-dating sites: the Cupid-struck have seen the object of their affection in the flesh. Recently on layover at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, United Airlines flight attendant Gail Sloma, 44, borrowed a Blackberry from a golf-club-wielding man so she could phone her hotel. She didn’t expect to be knocked off her feet by the “electricity running through us.” But he was stepping into a taxi and before she could untie her tongue the cab pulled away, with him all the while watching her. “It blows my mind I didn’t just grab on to him,” she says. Sloma discovered Missed Connections when placing an ad on Cralgslist to sell some furniture, and decided to post a shout-out to her Canadian gent. She has yet to hear from him.

Jim Buckmaster, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Craigslist, says the chance of a successful Missed Connection increases if the poster already knows their heart’s desire. Office manager Ava first met Pete (not their real names) 16 years ago when they worked together at a call centre. Save for a friendship and some innocent flirtation (both were married), Ava says she pined for her co-worker through the years but the timing had never been right. Now 37 and unhappy in her second marriage, Ava’s hoping for that thirdtime lucky. Pete’s wife died a year ago after battling cancer, leaving him with two young children. Last month, Ava composed her online fess-up: “You are the one I think of when I’m happy … I can’t tell you this and risk our friendship; you mean so much to me,” she wrote. “I thought it was a good venue to get it off my chest without jeopardizing our friendship,” Ava told Maclean’s. Two weeks later, Pete took the bait. “This verifies what I’ve always thought,” he told Ava in a phone conversation, adding the feeling was mutual bur that he didn’t want to be perceived as a home wrecker. “I’m not comfortable being the other person. If things happen and you aren’t with him anymore then that will be our time. And I’m willing to wait for that” he said. Ava says she now has some soul-searching to do.

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Buckmaster says city centres with sophisticated transit systems are more likely to produce greater postings-Toronto and Vancouver are tops in Canada. Regina and Saskatoon Missed Connections tend to be sullied with no-strings-attached sex ads.

But every dating forum has its own brand of cheese and sleaze. Mario (not his real name), 42, an IT professional and married father, recently penned: “You’re on the 7th and I’m on 12. I find you very attractive but I’m married … If you’re interested and see me in the elevator, say the following phrase: ‘I feel like a chocolate dip doughnut from Timmy’s? I will then respond with, ‘Allow me to treat you to one.’ “Though Mario views the prospect as a long shot, he says Missed Connections provides a venue to speak one’s mind without criticism (except for one anonymous post in response to his doughnut note “you’re extremely lame, ugh, people like you irritate me”). Says Mario: “I actually thought this was more of ah honest approach, in a dishonest kind of way I guess. Just basically putting the cards on the table, this is who I am, this is what I’m looking for.” Absent a paper trail no less. “You can’t put it on your credit card because of course your wife sees the credit card. So you have no choice, really, but to actually go on a free site.”