This Wedding Season, Say Yes to Strangers: What I Learned From My Craigslist Date

by Lindsey Grad and Nick Hassell

This past month we learned about a pair of viral Craigslist ads that some nice young men had (successfully) used to find wedding dates. This was old news to me.

In 2008, I was named a bridesmaid against my will, and I prepared to suffer through all the standard requirements that come with the duty. Usually, you simply grin and bear these life necessities, but when the bride vehemently insisted that we all have dates despite the fact that several of us were single, I decided to respond to her myopia with outright insolence, with the support of and in the shared name of my bridal party cohorts.

On July 8, 2008, I posted the following ad to Craigslist:

“seeking awful date for awful wedding (w4m)”

i’m a bridesmaid in a terrible wedding. i need a date to ruin it with, preferably one that is either ridiculously unkempt or too hot to be able to enjoy with a straight face. i’ll buy you however many shots you might need to make it through this endeavor. you send me 25 words or less on why it should be you and a picture.

I got 57 responses. Two were potentially IRL dateable. Some were clever. Most did not follow the directions. Many fit the prototype for exactly what terrifies people about online dating. There was one offer of “inappropriate groping on the dance floor.” There was an invite to meet at a library to see if we could have fun together, “not sexually speaking.” There were minimal obscenities.

I have a very Dudley-Moore-in-Arthur approach to comedy: I appreciate the idea of a joke as much as the execution. And while I was tempted to let the whole thing end there, I’d unfortunately built some accountability into my prank. I compiled all the responses in a dossier, emailed it to friends and coworkers, and gave them each five votes. I promised to take the winner as my date. Some examples:

i specialize in single desperate girls and open bars. one question, do they have malt liquor or should i bring my own?

I love free food. I am possibly in theory, old enough to be your father, so that would always leave a nice impression

I’m awful I think. no one wants to date me. Im not sure what it is ,but hmm. If I’m not your awful that you had in mind. I can act. Sounds like fun. Free booze doesn’t hurt.

dont believe in marriages, dont believe in faithfulness or religion for that matter. ever had tuaca? great shot, i’ll have a few with whatevers coldest.

it all depends on how strange you want the date….. im including my pic of me in midevil gear…

I consider it a credit to my friends that they didn’t saddle me with a LARPing wizard. Instead, they had the foresight to think about what would work outside of an email thread, and they didn’t go the mean route (for me or the espoused). Or they just voted for the only guy to follow the rules and include a picture of a butt.

Neither one to shirk nor pre-plan, I did follow through, inviting winning contestant Nick two days before the wedding. He said yes, and I returned to my scrambled haze of bachelorette partying and rehearsal dining giving no consideration to what would happen when I met this stranger on The Big Day.

But then it was upon us. I had day-of bridal duties, so Nick was getting himself to the wedding, which was held on an island on a beautiful summer day. He’d missed a couple sell-out ferries and arrived late. All I knew for certain about Nick was that he was 20 years old and would be wearing a tie, which didn’t give me a lot to go off of — but when I made for the bar after faux-grinning through wedding party photos, something told me that I’d find my date in the middle of the swarm of people at the back of the party. I figured our cover was already blown, that everyone knew I’d brought some freak kid and was a huge wedding-ruining dickhead.

And then I saw Nick. That’s when I fell on the ground laughing.

The day before, you see, I’d gotten locked into a multi-hour stretch with the bride and she kept asking me about my mysterious date. I couldn’t tell her I had scoured the Internet for The Boy Least Likely to Succeed, so I had to make up a mysterious back-story. I’d been at a music festival a few days before, and met a guy in one of the bands, so I just sort of borrowed skeleton details from his life. Which, uh, didn’t totally work with what Nick was working with…

Nick: You told her I was the drummer from The Airborne Toxic Event.

Lindsey: Oh, hi, Nick! Basically, yes. I thought I was being generous in giving you a cool cover. I had spent all morning telling people about my drummer date. But suddenly, there you were. And you had one arm.

Nick: That’s not entirely accurate.

Lindsey: OK, you weren’t Def Leppard one-armed. But you had one arm in a sling and at the time it was very much non-functioning. I had to cut your meat at dinner. Perhaps now is a good time for you to explain how you found my ad in the days before such things went viral.

Nick: I had recently been shot. With a shotgun. At close range. But that is a story for another day. [Update: Or for today, it turns out.] I was out of the hospital but I wasn’t back in school, or working yet. I was significantly drugged and my days were comprised of waking up in the afternoon, watching ESPN, napping, watching more sports, and then watching primetime television. So I’d developed a habit of cruising Craigslist. There’s a lot of bullshit on Craigslist. But then I saw your ad, which was like this holy grail of posts.

Lindsey: In short, you were drug-addled and on bed rest. That is what prompted you, like so many of my beaus, to solicit a date with me. So there we stood. Well — there you stood; I was on the ground laughing. I think I said, “Hi honey. How’s your arm?” And I promptly made up a story about how you’d hurt it stage diving.

Nick: That was just the first wall you had me run into at full speed that night.

Lindsey: I have no idea what you are talking about, “Mike.” A week and a half before the wedding or picking you from amongst my many suitors the bride had requested the names of our dates to print name cards. It was apparently crucial. There were multiple emails, two calls in a row, and many texts about it. So I called up one of the other bridesmaids, freaking out: “I NEED A NAME.”

She was sitting in her living room with her cat. There was a long pause. And then she goes, “Mike Itten.”

Nick: You made me a one-armed drum-playing cat.

Lindsey: So I did. In my defense, both covers worked perfectly fine in a vacuum, even if neither worked at all with who you turned out to be. Oops.

The problem with you being named Nick instead of Mike was that the bride was a Ph.D. candidate, and the groom worked at the university for an undergraduate service project. They’d invited nearly a dozen undergrads to their wedding. A dozen undergrads who all knew “undergrad Nick” not “rock’n’roll drummer Mike Itten.” And Mike definitely didn’t know them. Not once he’d been introduced to our dinner table as Mike, sitting in front of his name card that said Mike. I remember a pretty silly case of mistaken identity when a bunch of kids came up to our wedding party table and wanted to know how some guy named Nick knew the bride and groom.

Nick: Saved by a drunken speech by the father of the bride.

Lindsey: Thank god for drunken fathers. I remember we’d played with a lot of ideas in advance — should we break up on the dance floor? should we get gross in public? — but once you were there, the absurdity of the situation itself was more than enough fun for us.

Nick: I remember the bride did try to be polite and get to know me, and I didn’t really have any direction from you on how to play my part — swooning, boorish? That felt a little high-wire.

Lindsey: I remember that happening. And I remember just kind of throwing my hands up and saying, fuck it. I’d thrown a stranger into such a weirdly intimate yet bizarre exercise for a group of people, and I’d backed us into a sideshow of corners, so we had plenty to work with.

Nick: It was fun. And it was good foxhole bonding.

Lindsey: That’s exactly what it was. It was totally goal-oriented from a shared angle. Friends or family can be fun at weddings, but sometimes, if you’re in the trenches, you just want a professional. Not someone who’s going to immerse themselves in the interpersonal politics or have independent needs.

Wait, I think I just accidentally advocated for call girls.

Nick: You did. That is kind of what it was. But the transaction wasn’t money- or sex-based; it was adventure-based. Purely hoodlum. And that’s the whole spirit behind the trend, right? Just looking for someone who is detached from all the otherwise stressful elements and can therefore commit to having fun?

Lindsey: Totally. I wonder how it would have ended for us had we either embraced the wedding whole cloth or admitted our con. But I’m glad we did what we did.

Nick: We made our mark on the scene, left them wanting more, then got the hell out of Dodge.

Lindsey: Indeed. I had concert tickets. And Joe Strummer taught us that if we stay, the trouble could be double. So I invited you to a show, and you accepted. That’s when I knew you were a keeper.

Nick: Likewise. But you were easy to hitch my wagon to — I was underage and you were willing to sneak me into bars to see free concerts. My first bar, in fact! Thanks for that first, and for the lesson.

Lindsey: Thanks for saying yes.

Nick: Can’t have an adventure without saying yes.

Lindsey: We have said yes so many times since then. For the reader’s benefit: we never dated, but you did meet your girlfriend through me.

Nick: By saying yes to another one of your insane ideas. They usually work out, somehow.

Lindsey: Thanks. Improv demands a clever and willing partner, though. So: this wedding season, what should guests do?

Nick: Say yes to strangers. But only if there’s an open bar.

Related: A Brief Addendum to Our Craigslist Wedding Story

Lindsey Grad and Nick Hassell live in Seattle, where they still regularly attend parties they don’t belong at, literally or just metaphysically.