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Fighting against my dire need to expand on every single aspect of everything, I am going to tell you about three of my most romantic train encounters. It’s not just because I’m an oversharer, although I totally am. It’s because people on trains are notoriously disconnected. No more.
Romance on public transport, but particularly trains, is often seen as a little more extraordinary, exciting and even scandalous than the average meet-cute.
This is because they are relatively rare. We’ve all met someone through a friend of a friend, through work, nowadays probably through a dating app.
But the kind of scenes that appear in Hollywood romantic comedies - they happen in cafes, Laundromats and elevators. They happen when two people manage to push past internal and external pressures and take a chance.
I am going to take you on my own train journeys for a few reasons.
1. At your next house party, when there is a lull in conversation, you can talk about an amusing blog post you just read. Crisis averted.
2. So you will find connection in unexpected places (and TELL me about them!).
3. Lastly, I want to make all your future train rides more enjoyable. Train rides are monotonous and occasionally nausea-inducing. We could all do with a little upgrade.
As you know, train romances are kind of rare. Here is a graph representing the ways people meet their partner:
Only 6% of people meet their partner outside of friends, bars, work and Tinder. Of those 6%, even fewer met them on trains. Alright, so we’ve established it’s uncommon. But why?
Train culture, fear of rejection, poor self-knowledge and a fear of psychopaths are just a few of the barriers preventing people from reaching out on the City Loop or V-line.
Imagine, someone gets on your carriage. They’re cute. You should speak to them. Why don’t you? Well first there’s the whole audience of people you’re sharing the carriage with – no thanks. Then there’s the headphones the cute guy is wearing which look really cool but also make him seem unapproachable, like maybe he put the headphones on deliberately to avoid interacting with the human race. And then even if you did speak to him, what would you say? And how can you guarantee that he won’t follow you home after and kill you?
There are so many genuine concerns, no wonder people don’t put more effort into their daily commute. I have basically talked myself out of ever getting on a train ever again.
Why would you take a risk if there’s no reward? You wouldn’t (unless you’re stupid). But if the reward has the potential to be life-changing-ly major, maybe you would. And it does. This is where my stories come in. To incentivise you to fly in the face of serious challenges, I present you with the rewards I have reaped by ignoring train culture, pushing past fear and staying open to possibility.
The First of Many Romances
This story starts with a train. But not my train. Have you seen Before Sunrise? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. The film begins with a young French woman, Celine, getting up from her seat, to move away from a bickering German couple. She winds up near an American, Jesse, who after several glances over his book can’t help starting a conversation.
They’re connecting so well that they move to the dining carriage. But just when things are getting interesting, the train stops. They have arrived at Vienna and Jesse has to disembark.
EXCEPT. He knows it’s crazy but he’ll regret it if he doesn’t ask - will Celine get off with him? He doesn’t have money for a hotel and he has a flight to catch in the morning. He’d basically planned to spend the day wandering around. But he feels something between them and he wants to explore it.
After a very convincing argument for time travel, Celine does indeed get off the train. Together, they wander through the city, encounter buskers, sleep in a park and fall in love in that intense euphoric way you do with a stranger you just met on the train.
Like Celine, I was also on a train. Instead of travelling through Europe, though, I was on the Lilydale line. After a night of dumplings, spiked hot chocolate and happy birthday being played on repeat, I was headed home. Minutes before departure, the train doors slid open and a stranger boarded. There were plenty of empty seats around but he sat down right next to me. A mild invasion of my personal space, sure, but I could deal.
Then he started talking. I can’t remember what he said but I didn’t like it. I felt uncomfortable. And trapped.
After another minute or two, my senses returned – what the hell was I doing still sitting there? I made like Celine escaping the German couple; I got up.
I click-clacked my way down the aisle into a new carriage, plonking down in that wide, end seat you must give up for people with special needs. Across from me, a guy listening to music looked up and smiled.
This is where it begins people. With a smile. If you’re afraid of coming on too strong by initiating conversation, start with some positive non-verbal communication. If you’re game, I also like the chin lift, like ‘sup. You can’t see me doing the chin lift right now but all you need to know is I look really cool.
Train Guy #1 asked me how my night was going.
This is a PERFECT opener. It is universally applicable. People are always coming from somewhere when they’re on the train. So ‘how’s your day/night/morning going?’ is an insanely safe and effective line to use. It’s not even really a line. It’s just a genuine conversation initiator.
I told Train Guy #1 all about my night. About dumplings and screenwriting and the guy in the other carriage. He told me the details of his short-lived journalism career and the new job he’d just accepted.
We were talking and laughing, stop after stop, and then he said to me, ‘This might seem strange. But I was wondering if you might want to get off somewhere and grab a drink?’ I asked him if he’d ever seen Before Sunrise. He assured me he hadn’t.
When he asked me to get off with him, my mind screamed stranger danger. I had already begun memorising his height and eye colour so I could recount the details at a police station later on.
Only kidding. I was drunk, I was thinking my life was a movie and there was no way I wasn’t getting off at that next stop. I told him I knew a place.
The suburbs aren’t exactly overflowing with bars and pubs. Fortunately, there was one bar in Camberwell, right near the station, inconspicuously tucked behind a door with no signs. We traipsed through the mist, full of alcohol and possibility, and sat down on opposite couches. The night felt full of magic; I’d met a handsome stranger, I was on an impromptu date, I was basically the star of my very own rom-com.
Watching Before Sunrise had changed my perspective. I now saw trains as a place for picking up, rather than just an unpunctual mode of transportation.
If you’d like a similarly positive encounter, just start with a smile. If you find after a minute or two that you’re not into it, that’s completely fine. Remember the start of this story? Just stand up and click clack away. And if you are into it but you draw the line at disembarking with a stranger, then just say “Hey I think you’re cool and definitely want to hang out some time but I’ve got to get home right now. Here’s my number”.
The main takeaways from this story are about listening. For those who know me, that’s probably a laugh since I am a very bad listener on most fronts. But when it comes to first encounters, I am actually very good. But also I’m not talking strictly about literally listening. I’m talking about reading the signs. Observing body language. Not pushing a conversation that doesn’t want to be had. You want to constantly engage with people without emotionally fatiguing yourself.
The Fourth Guy
Let’s skip ahead a bit. It’s the end of January, I am on my way to my friend’s play. It’s called Love Bird and it’s going to be very good. I have just started freelancing, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the beach and I am meeting up with my sister. By some miracle, I have arrived at the train station multiple minutes before the train is due to arrive. I walk out on to the platform and see there is already someone sitting in the semi-enclosed space. He doesn’t look like my type, exactly, but he’s a young, tall male and that’s close enough. I sit down on the bench near him. And oh my gosh, he is so my type.
He starts the conversation. I am very well versed in being the initiator. But sometimes I just don’t wanna. ‘How’s your day going?’ he asks, almost an exact mirror of Train Guy #1. He has worker boots on. Blue eyes. He got kicked off the last train (thank you ticket inspectors) and now he is here with me.
I tell him about the play and the train arrives. ‘I guess I’ll get on this one too,’ he says, following me on to the carriage. I am beaming internally. I don’t know anything about him but I like that he wants to get to know me. What good taste.
Maybe I just want to hear the good things, you know? Maybe I just focus on the positive, clinging to every compatible detail. I mean, I know I do. It’s a little bit of delusion and a little bit of optimism. But when he says he used to be a professional snowboarder, I’m into it. When he says he’s off a three-day festival, I’m into it. I don’t even notice that he’s still on a comedown. I’M INTO IT.
He asks me what stop I’m getting off at and I tell him Flinders St. He consults his phone; says he is as well. How convenient. We get off the train. We get off the platform. We get out of the station. We are near the traffic lights, across from Young and Jackson. We hug goodbye. This is the end.
‘Would you maybe want to hang out some time?’ he asks. At long last. For those following along at home, this is the same surfer from 8 Unusual Date Ideas. We date for about two months.
These train journeys, though, they have dangerous consequences. I am no longer open to romance; I seek it. This has both wondrous and devastating effects: When I get on a train with no interesting individuals, I’m crushed. But I get on a lot more trains.
Train Guy Second Most Recent
It’s a Thursday night and I am on my way home from a jazz club. I have had many martinis and been practicing my Italian with a bartender. Rusty. I’m not ready to go home. I want magic and adventure. I need sleep and a lot of water. I pick up my phone.
Many apologies to you if you have ever been on the receiving end of one of my drunk dials. Trainer Dave, I am sorry. I have since overcome my addiction but this was before my sobriety. Oh, how I call.
Everyone is away. In Canberra. Already asleep. Various excuses, both legitimate and otherwise, that mean NO, I will not be continuing the party. And I love a party…
I buy a KitKat from a vending machine, signalling the end of the night. It tastes like defeat. I watch the same Westpac ad play three times in a row at Parliament Station. I really do like that ad. Then the train pulls up and I suddenly remember: I love trains. The night is not over.
I begin scanning the carriages madly, trying to pick a good one to board. They’re all fairly packed for late on a Thursday. I see a tall guy but he is already seated next to someone. Too late, train now departing.
I get on.
There are only a few seats left. Naturally, I choose the one across from him. His partner (is that his partner?) looks a lot older than him. No judgement. But lies. JUDGEMENT.
This time, I get the ball rolling. ‘How’s your night been?’ I address them both. The woman is his mother, he is down from Sydney, they have just been out to a show that his grandmother was supposed to attend (but she already had tickets) and he is flying out in the morning, for two months in Bali.
We talk A LOT. I tell them about my love affair with trains. They reach their stop and as he stands, he asks for my number. His Mum is already at the exit. The doors are closing and I’m still calling out the final digits. ‘Hold the door!’ he calls. It’s a major scramble. ‘I probably should have done this earlier,’ he mentions. But where would be the fun in that?
He runs off the train. Five minutes later, my phone beeps. ‘Nicola?’ he’s texted. I’m the second number he has tried.
His flight leaves at 8am. I tell him he has ten minutes and say where to meet me.
I KNOW. I know. Might as well have handed him a knife. Way too trusting. Way too much Before Sunrise. I’m not saying do as I do. Just like I do. Talk to people. Get their number. The rest is up to you…
Everything local has closed, so we wander the streets for a bit. We are near my old primary school, a place I like to revisit from time to time. They’ve done a lot of renovations since my graduation – a library extension, a vegetable garden, a fake grass oval. They’ve also upped the security. I am so not the rebellious type but I love a break and enter. Is that incriminating? I need to look up the laws on this.
We swing across the monkey bars; we balance on the timber that borders the vegetable garden. We talk about travel and parenting and corporate dressing. He tells me about his ultimate first date. My friend reading this thought I made this bit up. I’m not sure why. But anyway, 100% true. Except if any cops ask me about this. In which case: 100% fiction.
It gets late. I tell him he has to go. He has a flight to catch.
Trains are super average places. So is the Hoddle St intersection and supermarkets and dog parks. But they’re only as average as you allow them to be.
I have one final train story because it kind of counter balances some of what I’ve said. We don’t all feel confident all the time. And despite what a lot of people think, I don’t feel comfortable talking to just anyone. But after writing this post about a week ago, I needed to catch a train.
I arrived about three minutes early and I see there is a guy, around my age, in the same outdoor enclosed bit that first harboured Train Guy #4. I sit down next to him. But people are milling about. I feel awkward. And the more time that passes, the more jarring it will be when my voice fractures the silence. I know I just need to grab on to anything. Anything will be an absolutely fine conversation starter. A man walks by carrying a Country Road bag and I comment, somewhat to myself. The Train Guy, let’s call him Train Guy Most Recent, looks at me but he doesn’t say anything. I let it die and think well that was an opening if he wanted one. But after a pause, he says something back. He is open to talking! We start chatting. It turns out we’re both going to costume parties. I am Little Red Riding Hood. The theme of his party is Coachella.
When the train arrives, I want to keep talking to the guy. It’s not romantic, it’s just good conversation while I make my way to the Docklands. I’m nervous that he won’t get on the same carriage as me. I board and he joins me. I sit down and he sits down across from me. RELIEF.
Alright, so now we get to the part about why talking to people on trains is worthwhile. For me, every one of those stories made taking a risk worth it. I made new friends, who exposed me to new hobbies and more friends. In the case of Train Guy Most Recent, I tell him that I’m heading to a boat party. It turns out, he knows one of the guys working that night. He messages him and tells me the guy’s name. That guy, as promised, is one of the nicest guys around. At least half of my excellent night is due to him. Also, the Train Guy Most Recent, the one in the Coachella costume – he recommended that I watch Eddie the Eagle. If you’re listening Train Guy Most Recent, great recommendation.
So those are my stories. They boil down to
1) Being open to conversation in what I would deem ‘non-social’ environments
2) Observing body language and behaviour and responding accordingly
‘Hey, smiley face’ might be dating app suicide. But IRL, it wins every time.
Start with hey.
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