Missing Missed Connections

SLCMissedConnections as of February 24, 2019.

SLCMissedConnections as of February 24, 2019.

Most Sarah Lawrence students with a smartphone need no introduction to SLCMissedConnections, the Instagram account that popped up this past fall and immediately became the center of Sarah Lawrence social life, for better or worse. The account posts “anonymous” confessions—only the owner of the account, themselves an anonymous Sarah Lawrence student, knows your identity–which range from snarky comments about dining hall food, passionate pleas for fellow students to keep dorm noise levels down, and out-of-context interactions that could flower into full-fledged relationships.

“[T]o the extremely tall man with long hair who i see far too frequently...” starts off an early post, “Do you see me too much too? [A]re you confused about it? [W]hy are you always in the hill elevator at the same time as me?”

Other early posts were more flirtatious. “[To] the tall dark, n handsome man at bates who reached for the diet coke at the same time as me like 5 times and then told me to have a good break, DM me for your hand in marriage”.

A post directed at “the boy with the round glasses and the dark hair who lives in perkins” sparked an intense debate among my housemates and me, three of whom have round glasses and dark hair. The post’s true subject has yet to be revealed.

The account, which has over a thousand followers, began posting a few of these a day in early November, and quickly amassed fans. The account grew rapidly in the lead up to last winter’s conference week, Sarah Lawrence’s version of finals. Since then, students have enjoyed identifying which one of their friends gets called out or knowing whom the school finds attractive–but in its brief lifespan, @SLCMissedConnections has also cemented unsavory habits and revealed more about the way social media has shaped our relationships than we may realize.

The account’s owner stays mostly on the sidelines, letting the posts speak for themselves while occasionally adding a cheeky caption or emoji.

She told The Phoenix she was a female Sarah Lawrence student, but didn’t want to specify further when we communicated through–where else–Instagram direct message. Recently, however, the account owner revealed that she was a first-year via a Q&A that was posted on the SLCMissedConnections Instagram story.

“When I made the account, I was worried no one would send anything in. Now it’s grown so much more than I ever thought it would,” she said. “I’m really just doing this for fun and my overall goal was always to have it be funny and a way to spread kindness, even if that’s not always what’s portrayed.”

Social media “college confession” accounts aren’t new. They’ve been around wherever social media has thrived, surfacing at Stanford, UC Boulder, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and just about any other college with a working internet connection and a creative student body. The pages have drawn criticism for their potential as a hub for cyberbullying and harassment, and school administrators aren’t thrilled to have their students admit to underage drinking and illegal drug use on a public forum.

That’s not to say any of this has occured at Sarah Lawrence, or that it could. Although Missed Connections began by posting every submission regardless of content, now she filters the ones that seem too mean, or “ones that are just boring or have already been said a lot.”

Sarah Lawrence College hasn’t been blessed with one of the large populations that have helped these pages flourish at other schools. Most students can identify the subjects of these posts through the given physical characteristics, and if they’re stumped, one of their friends will know who it is. This kind of intimacy can be exciting at first, but can quickly become uncomfortable, especially for those unexpectedly and reluctantly thrust into the spotlight.

Sam Taub, ‘20, was the subject of a post reading “Is it just me or is Sam Taub getting hotter each year, aging like a fine wine 😫”.

Taub says that the post flattered them, but also made them anxious that people would think they posted it themselves.

“I have a lot of self esteem problems and the idea that someone finds me attractive from afar and won’t say it to my face is honestly really stressful,” Taub told the Phoenix.

The inclusion of their full name also felt like an invasion of privacy. “My close friends know I’m not really comfortable with that kind of attention, and that makes me wonder if someone I’m not very close to made the post.”

Besides, Taub says, it’s “kind of a terrible way to compliment someone”.

This democratization of the ability to freely express sexual desire, however, can be liberating for some. For students just beginning to explore the widened avenues of sexual expression that liberal arts colleges offer, the account provides a chance to communicate adoration for anyone they want, regardless of sexuality and gender. The anonymity aspect is just another layer of safety for those still experimenting with their preferences. Some of these posts avail students of the well-documented millennial discomfort with confrontation–why make enemies with your loud upstairs neighbor, or try to end things with your hookup buddy, when you can drop the hint digitally?

Many posts using full names fall on the other end of the spectrum however; “friend shoutouts,” anonymous compliments attached to full names, commonly occur on the account as well. Oscillating between inside jokes and dull flattery between friends, these students use “friend shoutouts” to take advantage of a wide public platform to showcase devotion between friends or roommates. Their language rarely deviates from ‘X is so cool/funny/awesome,’ and some have complained that they violate the spirit of a missed connection.

“About a week ago ... I posted a story asking people to not send so many,” said Missed Connections. “As much as I support friendship, they’re not quite what I want for the account.”

Due to the sensitivity of the topic, it was hard to find many students willing to go on the record about their experiences. The Phoenix posted an online survey soliciting students opinions, stories and perspectives regarding SLCMissedConnections, giving them the option to remain anonymous if they wished. Many of the following quotes originated there; some students revealed their identities to the Phoenix but asked for their names to be withheld, others simply sent in their thoughts.

One student compared SLCMissedConnections to Yik Yak, the now-defunct social media app that allowed college students to broadcast anonymous messages viewable to anyone within a five-mile radius. Such unfettered freedom eventually led to widespread sexual harassment, bullying, and threats of violence. Legal troubles forced Yik Yak to remove the anonymity feature that made it successful in the first place, and three years after launching, it sold off all of its assets and shut down for good.

A first-year student who asked to remain anonymous characterized SLCMissedConnections as a “valuable community building tool,” and praised it as a platform for students to share “wholesome, kind, and potentially romantic feelings towards other individuals in the community.”

Amanda Wall, ‘20, said she had a mostly positive experience. She was featured on the account as “the absolute angel handing out cupcakes in the library.”

“The end of my fall semester was really rough, and hearing that people were so excited and thankful for the cupcakes made me feel like I was appreciated and it honestly made my day,” Wall said.

Wall, however, dislikes that her peers used the account to “anonymously announce who they want to bang and how badly,” adding that it made her uncomfortable to see people talking about her classmates in “such an explicitly sexual manner on a super public platform like Instagram.”

A sophomore who chose to not have her name printed added that she sees the account as a way to help students get to know each other and foster a sense of community, but that “there should be some parameters around what can be submitted and then posted,” referring to posts using full names. “There is a fine line between trying to be funny/joking and sexual harassment,” she said.

Sometimes, Missed Connections says, students featured on the page will message her asking for their names to be removed.

“Any time I get one of these I remove the post right away, no questions asked,” she said. “I truly just post what they send me unless told otherwise.” Although she currently does not, Missed Connections said she would be open to seeking permission from students whose full names are mentioned.

While this phenomenon of digital catcalling isn’t unique to Sarah Lawrence, more students are now growing aware of how it affects them.

One anonymous senior complained about how often gender and sexuality were assumed in submissions.

“As a queer femme of color I feel like this published anon gaze while I’m living my life is tbh quite objectifying and strange,” she wrote, adding that the account compounded the self-esteem issues and internalized oppression she experience last semester. She ultimately unfollowed the account, because it made her “hella anxious and hyperconscious of [her] visibility/invisibility, factors that already play into the experiences of marginalized students.”

A post from December warned users not to “forget you literally can’t guess someone’s gender by looking,” but a quick scroll through the posts submitted since then shows this message has gone unheeded.

Some students may already be in a relationship, or simply aren’t interested in one, but on @SLCMissedConnections, everyone is fair game. An atmosphere in which every student is treated as a sexual being has created more problems than it seems to have solved.

A male senior who preferred to remain anonymous told the Phoenix that he did not act upon his connection.

“I was offered oral sex by somebody (in much more colorful language),” he said, noting that his girlfriend found the post amusing. “It was just strange to know that someone saw me and that was the first thing that came to mind.”

The first few posts started out sweet and complimentary, but quickly reached a fever pitch at the same time as conference season hysteria.

Ex: “to the person in bates yesterday … wearing a nirvana T-shirt… Big crush”

Ex: “whoever is blasting Shakira somewhere on the west side of hill- I love your music choice.”

Many students spent the last few weeks cocooned in a deep corner of the library, avoiding sleep, stressing over bibliographies, and posting stuff like this;

Ex: “[redacted] let me smash”

Ex: “Me: a sad boy wishing you were single

You: a 90s drew Barrymore with auburn locks that reminds me of Jolene

I know I just a freshman film bro [sic], but seriously, I could rock your world”

And hundreds of others of a more explicit nature. A steady stream of innocuous posts still populate the account, but they only draw more attention to the eventual explicit post when it rolls around late on a Friday night.

“I kind of felt like there was a moment at the end of last semester where no one was safe from the public eye,” one student anonymously told the Phoenix. “It seemed like people were always watching and waiting for a missed connection of sorts. Maybe it was my own paranoia but I felt I had to be hyperaware [sic] of every interaction I had.”

Even if a vocal (and aroused) minority is responsible for these posts, their actions still represent the entire student body, making anyone a suspect.

Missed Connections said if that’s true, she didn’t notice it.

“[The posts] are usually sexual anyways but if there was a change in how often, then that’s hilarious,” she said. “It makes sense, what else would you say or think about at 3 am when you’re burned out in the library?”

During conference week, students saw erotic platitudes flash across their phone screens in real time, knowing they originated somewhere else in the same building. Through our own actions, we’re inching ever closer to Bentham's Panopticon–the hypothetical prison designed to hold its inmates in constant surveillance, unable to tell if they’re actively being watched. The comparison between panopticism and social media isn’t new, but it’s worth noting that instead of empty authoritarianism, in this iteration we’re inundated with the psychosexual desires of our peers, not knowing the origin of these sentiments.

However, Missed Connections doesn’t have any plans to end soon.

“I always expected to keep [the account] running for a while, but never expected it to gain this much traction,” she said. For now, the plan is to just “keep going unless anything changes and to leave my identity a secret for as long as I can.” Judging by Sarah Lawrence’s reaction, that may be a long time indeed.

Steven Orlofsky ‘22

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.