I Had an L Train Romance With “Subway Man”

Sarah Been


This story begins, as so many do, with the MTA really screwing me over. Malfunctioning turnstiles, a seriously delayed Manhattan-bound L train, and a mass of people feeling the effects. This was my morning one Wednesday back in September when I locked eyes with a man whom my friends and I now affectionately call Subway Man.

On that morning, the L was approaching, and the turnstiles weren’t cooperating. Someone opened the gate, and the crowd began to funnel through. The gate was closing by the time I got to it, but Subway Man managed to catch it for me. I shouted a quick “Thanks!” and carried on with my day.

The next morning at the same station, there was Subway Man again. With a quick smile, we took post at our respective spots on the platform as the train arrived. Once aboard, Subway Man scurried from his car to mine, finding a spot across from me. The entire ride we nervously avoided gazes, eventually even sitting next to each other and transferring to the same platform — he went to the A train; I went to the E. My train arrived first, and when I waved to him, he grinned, waving back as the doors closed. “I should’ve said something,” I thought. And as if the MTA Gods heard me, suddenly the doors reopened. 

“This is it,” I thought. “I have to get off this train. I need to get off this train.”

I did not get off the train. The doors shut before I could, and I swore that if I saw him the next morning, I would say something. Of course, my boss asked me to work from home the next day.


Now, at this point in the story, people start telling me this was a sign, that maybe Subway Man and I were meant to be nothing more than lovers-from-afar. But anyone who knows me understands that I enjoy testing fate; in fact, I welcome it. Where most would call me “crazy” and “obsessed,” I prefer to think of myself as “determined” and “committed.” I refused to let this be another unanswered L Train Missed Connection

The next morning I got ready as if I were heading to work, telling myself that if I ran into Subway Man, I’d say something; and if not, I would head to a coffee shop to work and wallow, respectively. Thankfully, as the L train arrived, so did Subway Man.

We rode in the same car, doing a similar song and dance as the day before, marinating in completely silent romantic tension. When we got to the 8th Avenue terminal, I damn near chickened out. But folks, I did not pretend to go to work for nothing, so I walked (ran) up the stairs until I reached him, and with a tap on his shoulder I asked, “What book are you reading?” 

the dates

I rode the A train with him, still going towards work despite not needing to. He asked for my number. I had to wait two weeks until our first date because he left for Costa Rica. We didn’t chat much until then, but it worked out; over brunch at Sally Roots, the conversations that we would’ve had in two texts became three hours of laughing and getting to know each other: He was 30, working toward a PhD, traveled, and loved people.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we enjoyed the morning commute together and cuddled on my couch; he went out with my friends and I. It was a seemingly perfect conclusion to what felt like a whirlwind, random encounter. But in reality, our conclusion was something much less romantic. 

The disaster

We hadn’t talked much that week, so we made plans to meet at his apartment. As I arrived, he came stumbling around the corner, completely wasted. I got him to his bed, but as I was leaving, he asked if I would stay. Sloppily trying to make out with me, he fell asleep — something I thought would never happen again after college. We woke up the next morning and didn’t talk about the events of the night before.

And with bedhead, an empty stomach, and wearing last night’s clothes, I hooked up with Subway Man.

It was soon after that we realized it probably wasn’t going to work: He’s financially unstable; his PhD program leaves him emotionally distraught, among other things; and he thought I was coming on too strong. It was fun while it lasted, and though a part of me is sad it didn’t, I’m also relieved.

It didn’t take a right-swipe to connect with him, and regardless of the laws of attraction, when something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. In this case, we were both able to gracefully admit defeat and call it quits.

In an age where apps and social media seem to govern the dating world, this was the friendly reminder I needed that our food doesn’t have to be the only organic thing in our lives.

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Cover image courtesy of Steven Hung

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