Would You Sit Beside This Man On A Train?

The 17:00 express train from central Belfast to Portadown is normally packed. As in standing room only. Even sardines would find it a tad oppressive. If you have issues with personal space or spending 25 minutes with your face crammed into a stranger’s armpit then I suggest you avoid it. This is the less than perfect environment where I do a lot of my writing. I bet Tolkien didn’t have these problems.

Yesterday started like any other commute home. Having battled my way onto the carriage I was prepared for the usual torturous experience but, lo and behold, there in front of me were not one, but two, empty seats. Displaying an acceleration that Usain Bolt would have been proud of, I lurched forward in order to secure one of them. I felt like Charlie when he opened the wrapper to find the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory..

Having hit paydirt I braced myself for the expected cavalry charge as my fellow passengers fought tooth and nail for the vacant berth beside me. The only other empty seat on the carriage, if not the entire train, for all I could tell. People would kill for this ordinarily. Old ladies and young children would be flung aside as grown men grappled like Grecian wrestlers. All for the Holy Grail that is sitting down on the 17:00 express.

Nothing.

There was no stampede, no fisticuffs, no tears or tantrums. My fellow commuters squeezed onto the carriage and stood, sweating and swaying, as the train lurched out of the station. They appeared oblivious to the empty seat, as if it had been cloaked with a shield of invisibility. I was left alone with my thoughts. Which proceeded to wreak havoc on my ever fragile self confidence. Did I smell? Nope. Exhibit an aggressive, intimidating aura? Oh please.

I was left with only one logical explanation which the voice proceeded to gleefully whisper in my ear for the remaining 24 minutes of my lonely journey. They knew. Knew what? I spluttered back indignantly. That didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they knew. I warily eyed a few of them and was met with blank expressions. Yet that was just a ruse, a ploy on their part. For they knew. They all knew. I had been found out as I always am.

I have spent most of my adult life feeling like a fraud, a fake, the odd one out. I’m more a fish in the Sahara, as opposed to a fish out of water. I’m socially awkward, find it hard to make friends and invariably was the one left standing on his own in the corner at the party. Which was why I drank to excess in order to acquire the necessary fortitude to interact with others like a normal member of the human race.

These thoughts of inadequacy and exclusion are never far from the surface of my mind. I battle them every day. Writing helps me lance and drain the boil. As does running. They purge and cleanse me of the unhealthy toxins which used to course through my veins. I constantly remind myself that I am as good as the next person, that I deserve to be where I am in life and that I can walk into a room with my head held high.

I hate selfies. I’ve written about my disdain for them. Yet I discreetly took one yesterday as I sat on the train home. For myself as much as anyone. To convince myself that I don’t have two heads or the word ‘loser’ tattooed on my forehead. To convince the voice that I’m just an ordinary commuter in a suit, no different from the thousands of others who shuttle in and out of the city every day. I am me and that is enough.

Tomorrow is a new day. I hope I get a seat. I hope even more that someone sits beside me. I promise to spray on extra deodorant and not initiate a creepy conversation with them as they studiously attempt to ignore me. But even more than that I hope I get the chance to show the world that I’m a better person than the one the voice tries to convince me I am. I hope, I hope, I hope. Sometimes that is all I can do.

Would you sit beside this man on a train? I promise not to read over your shoulder.

How do you combat anxiety and doubt on public transport? Or in any social setting for that matter.

112 thoughts on “Would You Sit Beside This Man On A Train?

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  1. I’d certainly take the seat beside you :). The thing is, it’s never about what others think of you, the only thing that matters is what you think about you. Don’t look for explanations out there, ask that part of you, which most likely is a very young part of you, why it feels left out, or shunned or even better, talk to “it” and be with it, as if it was a little child, tugging at his mother’s shirt hem for attention. It just want to be seen, comforted and heard. Reassure this aspect of yourself that it is safe, you will not abandon it and breathe deeply and slowly while engaging in this”conversation”. Half the battle is truly to become aware of these feelings,breathe through them and let them go. Use your train rides, whether someone is sitting next to you or not, to have a moment with your feelings of discomfort (your own little inner orphanage :)) and I promise you things will change for the better. The more emphatic and understanding you can be when listening to these parts of you that have been frozen in time, not doing anything else but listening and calmly breathing, the faster they’ll “melt” and dissipate.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. I am not sure I should tell you this, but here goes. It was Charlie who found the Golden Ticket. 🙂 Try getting on a train in Tokyo. The Portadown 17:00 Express will look like bliss. Good luck with your training for whichever race you decide to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve seen before. For some reason sometimes people just don’t see the empty seat in front of them, or they think they will leave it open for someone who may need it more.

    I can relate to your feelings of insecurity. When our family lived in China, I always felt as though I took up too much space on public transportation. I’m 5’10” (177.8 cm) tall, and not thin like many of the Chinese people. After 18 months of busses and trains during rush hour, it seriously messed with my head. I felt like everyone was judging me for the amount of space I took up. Most likely they weren’t, but I was a minority and therefore attracted stares – especially with my red hair.

    The thing that gave me a silk strand of hope was overhearing some Western men (American and European) talking about how they looked forward to going back to a country where the women had curves and weren’t all so thin.

    I’m not disparaging Chinese women, but my body type is very different than theirs and I could feel myself sinking into dysmorphic thinking patterns. The words of strangers were a lifeline for me.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. In China there are not a lot of other options. Taxis, maybe, but that gets expensive. I do know people living there who make that decision though, and just accept taxi fees as part of the cost of living there. Chinese taxi drivers are some of my heroes! They have some crazy-amazing skills.
        Seriously though, a steady dose of public transportation anywhere can make anyone have disordered thinking. Maybe that’s why so many people get involved on their phones or wear headphones – it helps to protect them from unsafe thinking.

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  4. After 20 years commuting into London, I can tell you that I would not have hesitated to sit down beside you and reassuringly and pointedly ignore you for the whole journey. You are practically my ideal commuting companion, shirt, tie (buttoned up in in the middle of summer, extra points), clean shaven, glasses it all says “no threat” to me. You weren’t making eye contact were you? Or worse still smiling and patting the spare seat?

    I suspect either:

    a) something went down, just before you got on the train, I’ve had that several times where a couple of passengers have kicked off, everyone who witnessed the event is steering clear and you wade in and sit down in ground zero. If you were getting lots of looks from other passengers it’s usually the case.
    b) you entered the twilight zone as HeatherFeather eluded to. That rare parallel universe where all the probabilities align to leave a dead space in the middle of chaos. Embrace it!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. How strange. I can offer no explanation, save that perhaps there was someone sitting there that they could all see but you couldn’t. (Cue spooky music!) Or maybe, as Chris Hewitt suggested something had happened just before you arrived – someone wet themselves? A prodigious amount of vomiting? Were you aware of any unpleasant smells…?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t usually comment, but felt compelled to reassure you that I (and probably everyone) would feel exactly as you did if no one sat beside me in the only empty seat on a train! Why it happened, who knows? But please don’t feel that it’s because there’s anything wrong with YOU… It’s more that there’s something broken with THEM, in an increasingly isolating society. (Keep on writing like this, you’ll become famous and everyone will want to sit beside you and you won’t want them there!)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Well… Both my mother and my husband have told me not to speak to strange men.

    In seriousness, I wrote about this feeling as well. I’ll have to dig it up and post it.
    I feel like I give off an aura of repulsion. My counselor suggested that
    (1) I initially intimidated my neighbors with my FB posts and
    (2) Did, in fact, create distance by saying or doing things in anticipation of rejection.
    (3) She also said everyone feels this way and I’m normal -to which I said, “No, I am not! Who, when asked about a recent vacation, begins elaborating on disparity in the world?”
    She laughed; but I’m noticing that we Sahara fish really are NOT like everyone else.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. 🙂 I do the same. I talk about inappropriate serious topics, lol. And I put people off because I don’t smile enough, say witty things, and I have awkward body language. Oh well! I have a few friends that ‘get me’.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I would definitely sit beside you but I think I would be too embarrassed to talk to you. You look so professional and important that I would feel intimidated to talk to you that I might say something dumb and lose any chance of possible friendship. But if I saw you writing that would definitely spark a conversation because above all else (except my husband and God) I love writing. I hope you find comfort in these comments. You are an amazing person!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I don’t tend to like sitting beside people on public transport if I can help it. If I catch a bus (this city is a bit too small to have a subway or to justify using trains. Auckland and Wellington have them, but they’re a bit more far flung than Christchurch) I usually avoid peak hours if I can which usually means lots of empty seats when I catch a bus. I sit down, put on my headphones and tune out looking out the window. Though it is surprising the number of people who try to talk to you when you’ve got headphones on…

    That feeling of feeling like a fraud and being found out is a common one, I think, for us more sensitive types (well I’m assuming you are, correct me if I’m wrong), I’ve often had that feeling too. Still, the reverse would ultimately be worse though you would be unaware of it: feeling like you’re absolutely amazing, when in reality you aren’t. I think I know some people like that.

    You have given a good idea for a story however: Someone sits down on a seat, but nobody else does even though the bus/train is crowded. Why? What’s going on? That could be worth exploring 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha Ha! I am only on Fluvoxamine now, but the highest dose! 300mg. I was on Pexeva 30mg for 6 years. It is a “brand” so it was a pain to get and more expensive, but it has been the best one for me. I always have Xanax in my purse or pocket though. If I see I am thinking too much about panicking, I just take it and MOVE ON! 🙂

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  10. All I can say is, I would be a basket case on public transportation. I’m too used to country life – lots of space, property, and privacy. Cheers to you for enduring it every day.

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      1. We recently acquired a horseless carriage and indoor plumbing! Incredible! We have tried using the chickens in the way you suggested, but they are too stupid to break to harness…

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          1. We are three hours south of what we call Chicagoland. It’s a whole different world. I wouldn’t call IL fascinating 😊, but it has its charms! I am originally from the east coast, which is lovely and scenic in a different way. How would you describe Northern Ireland?

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                  1. As we dream of traveling to Europe. I have ancestry in Scotland and have always wanted to travel to the British Isles.

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                    1. Wish we could afford the plane fare! My maiden name is Banks, but my Great-grandmother on my Dad’s side was a MacDonald.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. That I don’t know for sure. But my grandfather wrote a genealogy of our family, and I have always intended to read it.

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  11. I understand what it is like to sit alone, especially if I know I don’t fit in with a group. I just focus on my book I am reading, or the computer I am typing on. I think sometimes I sit by myself instead of being rejected first. I am surprised if someone comes up to me for conversation. I’m sorry your train ride was a reminder of not fitting in. Maybe it really was so crowded, no one expected any empty seats. I’m sorry you took the experience so personally. I would definitely have liked to sit next to you and at least smiled at you, even if there was no conversation.

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  12. I would have sat next to you, but only after checking to see if there was an elderly person or parent with a small child who might have wanted to sit there first because my parents would know if I didn’t 🙂 And I would have chatted if you felt like chatting…and if you didn’t, then I always have a book to read.

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  13. If no one else wanted the seat, I would probably sit down…especially if I was tired(just read your post from yesterday). Generally I will look at someone, smile and say “Hello” to gauge whether someone minds company or not. If they grunt at me, I move on. If they return the smile I’m ok to sit and again, if I’m tired, grunt or smile, I’d sit.

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  14. I ask strangers questions. What is your favourite colour? I like that scarf you’re wearing, do you like the colour pink? Compliments, genuine and light hearted, get people talking. Works every time. And if you’re anxious ir nervous, say you are. It stops it from being the secret between you. Because they probably are too. And then you can laugh about it and maybe share a joke. And always remember to laugh at yourself. God’s probably just playing a joke on you. The other person will forget you when they get off at their station. So don’t take yourself all that seriously.

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  15. I went to college in San Francisco Ca. So I can really relate. I’d be relieved To sit next to you. Man do some interesting characters ride the subway. People who’ve used the next seat as a toilet 🤢. People holding several belligerent conversations with themselves. A women who ate corn on the Cobb every morning…. I had about 40 lbs of art supplies daily so I must have looked odd too. I think some really prefer to stand.

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      1. The cable cars? Fun but not for commuting. Best to you use the MUNI. Rail buses and trains. We also have BART. Just subway station and bus stops. The rail system in Japan was fun tho. Went on the Shinkansen

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  16. Well, from one hunky, handsome, downright perfect example of manhood to another, I’d sit next to you. The trouble is that I might take up a lot of room (my handsomeness is spreading out).

    I deal with anxiety by trying to avoid situations in the first place. Parties, get togethers etc, I don’t go, or I sit out of the way. The same on public transport (buses for me). I avoid eye contact. I don’t look at anyone (except the babies and kids, then I’m prone to pulling faces and making strange noises(!)). I don’t look at the driver on the way ion, but I try to say thanks on the way off again.

    Anxiety stinks. It does not matter who tells me how fabulous I am (and that goes without saying, obviously (can you tell I try to deal with it with humour?)) I’ll never truly believe it.

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  17. You don’t look like you’d be yammering my ear off in loud and obnoxious tones – so yes, I would totally plant myself beside you. Sitting is important.

    As for that evil demon, anxiety, or fraud – they can go sit on red hot pokers. Sometimes, it isn’t YOU, it’s what’s going on in someone else’s mind. If that makes any sense.

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  18. Reblogged this on Light-bites For Your Heart and commented:
    I love this blog. Not just because Stephen and Fionulla come from the country with the best accent, (South Africa comes a close second) but because they are always so honest and direct about their faith and struggles that come with trying to live their lives for Jesus.

    This post is funny, but oh so sad at the same time. But the one thing that stands out is that deep down, we are all the same. We all have silent insecurities and concerns that raise their ugly head when we feel other humans are rejecting us or blatantly stating they do not like us. It is hard to admit that this bothers us – but it does.

    I would sit next to Stephen. Getting a seat on a train is like catching gold dust in the wind. Who cares if the person next to me is a raving lunatic? One can always close one’s eyes and pretend to be in a deep sleep. Doesn’t always work though – one day that trick backfired on me, but I’m not telling you that story as there’s a better one here below. Enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Same thing used to happen to me all the time on buses. I used to joke about it but even my wife said I radiate ‘go away’ vibes subconsciously due to anxiety. It has happened much less since I dealt with the anxiety and appear more relaxed. But then the last two times a lady sat next to me and started talking they both turned out to be Mormon missionaries on a recruitment drive!

    I personally would stand, walk, or wait for the next bus if it looked like I would have to sit next to anyone. I don’t feel comfortable with other men. And I worry that women wouod not be comfortable if I sat next to them. Basically I don’t win either way!

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  20. I’d sit by you.

    I think my face puts people off. In particular my forehead.

    There is nothing wrong with my face, except that I am unable to conceal any emotion I may be experiencing at that particular moment. For example I may look disgusted – as I’ve just read a text that disgusts me – and then strangely people repel from me. It’s unfortunate but true. I need to work on my poker face.

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  21. This has nothing to do with you what so ever. Period. End of story.
    Here’s what it is…. classic last cookie syndrome. You don’t want to be the first person to take the last of anything. Could you imagine being in the reverse position- would you want to be the one judged and ridiculed for taking the absolute last seat on the crowded train? The last scoop of pasta at the dinner party?
    People want to appear self-controlled and considerate, taking the last of anything shows a disrespect of sorts in a social setting.
    You took a seat when there were two leaving you out of the judgment zone.
    So nothing to do with you at all, most people would have considered you the lucky one, and envied your position.

    Society is weird.

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