The holidays can prove trying for single people, and the annual onslaught of familial prying only makes things worse.
So this year, rather than face your parents' gentle inquisitions on your love life, or your grandmother's veiled reminders that you're not getting any younger, consider a very zeitgeisty solution: Rent a holiday date on Craigslist, instead.
"It's Thanksgiving," begins the post by Nicky Schmidt that arguably kicked the whole trend off. "Want to skip that long, insulting conversation about how you're still single? About how your parents really want more grandchildren? Well, look no further! ... If you'd like to have me as your strictly platonic date for Thanksgiving, but have me pretend to be in a very long or serious relationship with you to torment your family, I'm game."
Schmidt is, in his own words, exactly the kind of guy more conservative parents don't want their daughters to date: "a 28-year-old felon with no high school degree and a dirty old van one year younger than me." (The felony is an attempted battery charge, from a fight he broke up at age 22.)
Schmidt plays drums in a "power violence" band called Van Hägar; when he's not touring, he works nights as a line cook at the Nashville burger joint M.L. Rose.
Schmidt was working at the restaurant on Wednesday when his manager and some co-workers dreamed up the self-deprecating Craigslist date gag; when he got off work that night, he jotted off the post as a joke and sent it to his friends.
Then the emails started rolling in.
In the past week, Schmidt said, at least 20 women have seriously asked him to pretend to be their boyfriends at upcoming family dinners. Some women were in Nashville or its environs; others offered to pick him up on their way to more far-flung locales, such as Richmond, Virginia. ("I respectfully explained that I can't get that much time off work," Schmidt said.)
Instead, he'll be joining a local 22-year-old for lunch with her friends and roommates before heading to her parents' house for dinner in the afternoon. They haven't yet discussed whether he'll pull any of the hijinks he promised in his Craigslist ad, like "openly hitting on other female guests while you act like you don't notice," "proposing to you in front of everyone," or "pretending to be really drunk as the evening goes on."
Whatever acting is required, he said, "I'm up to the challenge."
It would appear that Schmidt isn't the only one up for it, either. As of this writing, at least a dozen men and women are hawking themselves as fake Thanksgiving dates on Craigslist, logging in from locales as varied as New York, Chicago and Twins Falls, Idaho.
It's no surprise that people look to the Internet for dates around the holidays, of course — the holiday season is generally the busiest for dating sites and apps, alike. (Tinder, Grindr, and Zoosk all reported major increases between Thanksgiving and the New Year last year; the period immediately post-Christmas has always been Match.com's busiest.) But the rise of the anti-date, or at least the platonic faux-date, is pretty novel.
"Holidays can be hard (but) with a little extra help, companionship or support they can not only be tolerable but fun!" promises one ad from Missoula, Montana. "I can cook, clean, cuddle & make small/long talk with your friends/relatives. Willing to travel."
"If you are in need of a girlfriend to impress your parents this Thanksgiving I am your girl," says another woman, this one an 18-year-old in Brooklyn. "I'm willing to be anything you feel would impress your parents."
There are posts from the other side of the equation, too: "Looking for a date for a company Thanksgiving dinner," writes one man in North Dakota.
"Looking for a Thanksgiving date," posts a woman in Richmond. "You: Show up and act like you've known me for more than 10 minutes ... Sit through the usual family dinner at my place ... send the parents home."
It's impossible to know how many of these ads are only made in jest, of course, particularly since Craigslist enjoys a thriving trade in gag personals. (Recent gems include a post seeking "fall boyfriends" — *heart emoji all the fall emoji* — and a cash-strapped Washingtonian looking for a wife, because "the rent is TOO HIGH" and "all of the married couples get to split rent on a 1br.")
But frequently, these understated personals lack the flourish and grandstanding of their prank counterparts; most of them are fairly short, straightforward requests for companionship. The ones that aren't have, in several cases, been flagged for removal and taken down by Craigslist.
Schmidt, for his part, doesn't entirely understand the struggle of being single around the holidays — this is actually one of the first times he's been single on Thanksgiving, and he's not particularly concerned about it.
Maybe he'll hit it off with his Thanksgiving date, I suggest. That romcom script would write itself!
"That's certainly the Internet consensus," he said, hesitating. "But, yeah — we'll see."