A good seat is by the window, with the seat next to me free. In the quiet carriage, which is exactly that. That’s how I travel by train these days, looking for comfort and quiet. Trains used to mean something else to me. I used to meet people, all kinds of people, and some strange conversation would blossom. I’ve talked with all sorts of people about all sorts of things. But there was always someone special; a him, to think on while the time rolled away.
I’ve found it’s actually quite common; “falling in love” with fellow train passengers. Or even with people on planes or buses. I guess we’ve all watched too many movies. Plus, it’s a very convenient kind of crush to have when you’ll never know the person, or ever see them again.
For me, though, over the past few years, it’s something I’ve fallen out of love with. As my romantic aspirations have dwindled, so my expectations have become more grounded, and my fellow train passengers just don’t get me going like they used to.
When I was younger, and more hopeful, and not the soulless, miserable cynic I’m at the risk of becoming, train journeys were so romantic to me. I think they probably still are. I’ve just learnt to lock away the part that daydreams, the part that thinks about it too much.
Giving a thought; a romantic spark, some air, just sets off stupid uncontrollable fires. And where there is fire someone gets burnt. But way back, when I was still optimistic and I didn’t hide in the quiet carriage, I would go looking for love on trains.
When I would go looking I never settled on someone that I started chatted to and clicked with, it would always just be some bloke. Someone who I liked the look of, not anyone I had any true designs on. These men were always far away to, at a safe distance, just how I wanted them.
I would assess how they looked, what they did, how they moved. I would, ridiculously, assume they were aware of me to. Which would make me incredibly self-conscious, and I would end up creating a great pretence of being more interesting than I am. I don’t know how that looked, but I know my posture was always spectacular.
They were always men of a certain type. Like my type always was. Brunette, slightly smart casual, bit hairy, glasses, probably reading a book. For a long time, especially on trains, I think it was like a habit; to enter the carriage and search out the only brown-haired, glasses-wearing male. The same was true of any room to be honest. My brain had trained itself to seek out the most likely partner, like a survival instinct.
Then I stopped, not just on trains but in life in general; too many knockdowns, too much heartbreak. It’s probably the lot of the hopeless romantic; think too much and you’ll hurt too much in return. I do still try, sometimes, but I give up easily too.
Sometimes I wonder whether I just don’t have it in me anymore, or that my options have dried up. Maybe heartbreak has overwhelmed hope? Although, sometimes I wonder whether I’ve just become too particular. As a result I’m less likely to entertain notions of finding a partner in the strangers I see on trains.
Though while I have become more particular I’ve learnt how to like men for different reasons. I’ve widened my pool of options; men with different looks, different personalities. How many different kinds there are, how open I’ve become to the strange mix of men that exist.
It seems strange to be so picky still, having learnt so much. Perhaps it’s because I’ve learnt that I like men who like medical history, and not all bespectacled men with brown hair have that quality, but some might. I think I understand men better now. How less mysterious they have become.
How I wished I learned all this before, long ago, when I was still fixating on a certain type, a certain man, that was all wrong for me. Maybe by now I would be further ahead. Or maybe I am, because I don’t fall in love with random strangers on the train anymore. Although my eyes are still alert, my mind too, when someone enters the carriage. Maybe that’s just curiosity, because of that one particular time. I’ll never forget him.
The man who was waiting for the train doors to open; standing by the door the same time as me. The man who took off his beanie hat to reveal the most gorgeous mess of bright red hair I had ever seen. He looked like someone the Pre-Raphaelites would have painted. Wild but angelic. I can’t remember much else about him, except he was a bit nerdy. But that hair, oh man! That I will never forget.
Really, I should have learnt then what I think I’ve come to know now. Men are so very different, but so many women will tell you they’re “all the same”. Even if you think you know what you like, you’ll end up surprising yourself. I also should have learnt that you might have made your mind up about someone, but one movement; he takes off his hat, and you might just lose your heart. For a second, or even a lifetime.
Train carriages; like microcosms of real life. Walk into the world, find the person you are most attracted to, make contact. Or not. Talk to them, or not. Lose them, eventually. But the length of a train journey means you conveniently don’t get trapped into months of idealizing, fantasizing, and eventual Google stalking.
Train crushes are like a training ground for real romantic life. Maybe that’s why I don’t have them anymore. Because I’ve been living my life and I’ve walked into so many rooms, so many train carriages, and wasted so much time on so many boys, and guys, and men. And maybe, now, I just want to sit and read my book.