Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 11:40 UK

Do people fall in love on trains?

Commuters
...you were carrying a plastic bag

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

It's like finding a needle in a haystack, but people still place personal ads to track down strangers they've locked eyes with for a fleeting moment. Why are they so popular, and do they ever work?

It's the stuff of fairytales and songs that sell millions of copies around the world and make you an international singing star, if you're James Blunt.

As almost anyone with ears and a radio in 2005 would know, he saw a woman's face in a crowded place and he didn't know what to do. Should have put an appeal in Lovestruck.

The dating column in the Londonpaper, a free evening newspaper distributed across London, is hugely popular with commuters. It tries to match those whose eyes met across the bus, tube or train carriage and share one of those "moments" Blunt sings about.

Commuters
Some find public transport romantic

But from Friday it is no more. The paper, which has been locked in battle with another evening freesheet, is closing. There is, however, no shortage of other such columns and websites to fill the void, many of which are national, even global, rather than just local. They include ISawYouToday.com and LoveOnTheLine.com, while classified ads sites such as Gumtree and Craigslist both have columns called Missed Connections.

The odds are stacked against you, so why do so many people place such adverts or scour them hoping to recognise themselves from a description?

"The idea that love could strike at any moment is exciting," says Canadian Lori Sherman, 24, who is a fan of such columns.

"I'm definitely a romantic, so it is obvious why I love them. But I think even those who don't bother with such columns, or even romance for that matter, still keep their eyes and hearts open on the public transport. How can you not? Sometimes you're literally face-to-face with another passenger."

Imagination

If Lovestruck is anything to go by such columns and websites are hugely popular, says Andy Jones, who worked on the column for two years.

He says around 60 appeals were sent in every day, and there were as many from men as there were from women. On average an advert got 12 responses from those who thought they were the person being described.

And for all the cynics out there, Jones says it successfully matched dozens of couples and was even responsible for one wedding.

"We could have filled the column two or three times over," he says. "It captured people's imaginations, I suppose we all like to think we are so desirable people will try to find us.

Attraction can be instant but the problem is people - men in particular - fear rejection, so acting there and then on those feelings can be hard
Elizabeth Clark
Psychologist

"The adverts got more than one response which shows just how many people out there think they've shared a moment with someone."

But are these "moments" real or is it all in our heads? Attraction can be that instant, in fact human beings are wired up that way, says Professor Adrian Furnham, co-author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction.

"We do pick things up very quickly - someone's scent or a look that lasts a second longer than normal. Men in particular are wired up this way," he says.

"The interesting thing is that people believe the feeling is reciprocated, that something has been shared and that isn't always the case. Even if it is mutual it's not about romance, it's about lust. Humans are wired up to mate, not be romantic."

Another attraction of such columns and sites is that there is no personal rejection, says psychologist and "flirting expert" Elizabeth Clark.

Smells

"Of course attraction can be instant but the problem is people - men in particular - fear rejection, so acting there and then on such feelings can be hard," she says.

"These newspaper ads and websites cut out that horror. Even if you don't get any replies you can tell yourself it's because the object of your desires didn't see the ad."

Some lucky people live and breathe the whole fairytale. Brett May, 36, and Zuzana Benedikovicova, 30, got married in May this year after finding each other through Lovestruck just over two years ago. They are expecting their first baby any day.

Ms Benedikovicova regularly walked past Mr May's video store in London and they had exchanged smiles. He texted in and after she saw the message she went in and introduced herself.

Couple
Brett may met his wife through Lovestruck

"It's not something I'd normally do," says Mr May. "But I kept seeing her with a copy of the paper and just thought it I'd go for it. I thought it was a nice thing to do."

A majority of the adverts focus on stolen moments on public transport. While many might associate the train or bus with being crushed and horrible smells, for some it is very romantic. There is even a Facebook group called "I temporarily fall in love with people on public transport".

"The tube or train is actually a very romantic place if you look around," says Ms Sherman. "You notice the perfume she's wearing or the smell of his aftershave, so you look up from your paper. Suddenly you're lovestruck. It could happen to anyone."

Even if a meeting isn't romantic, it doesn't stop some.

"Lovestruck was often sent adverts like 'I was sick on you on the Number 42 bus and passed out before I got your number'. Others were simply unprintable," says Mr Jones.

And who said romance is dead?


Below is a selection of your comments.

Here's a hint to anyone that this happens to: DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Smile or wink at them, or stick your tongue out or give them 'the look' or anything, if they react then do something about it. I did once, was on a train and there was a girl on the opposite platform, our eyes met, I smiled, she winked. So I got off the train and went to say hi. She was pretty cool and we went out a few times and had a lot of fun together, unfortunately nothing special though and it only lasted a few weeks. But if I hadn't tried then I'd never have known!
Colin, Cardiff

If you don't hunt then you don't eat. Sorry, but its a fact of life. At 40plus I saw her waiting for a tram. A little voice in my head said "That's the rest of your life standing there." Except I was too scared to do anything. But not too scared to go back every day for six weeks and not see her again. We met by accident in a different town. Didn't hesitate that time. Invited her to coffee which became dinner which became the rest of our lives. Ten years on and I still resent those six weeks we lost. Don't be timid. If the answer is no then its forgotten soon enough. If its yes then its great.
Philip Jones, Frangy, France

What people still haven't grasped, in my opinion, is that "sexiness" is in the eyes. That look, different but specific to everyone, can trap me like a rabbit in headlights.
Silvio Stefano, Cambridge, UK

Yes, it does happen, and a very moment for those who strike the right note together. Its a moment that some will long remember with pleasure, and for others deep regret that they set eyes on their former lover when things go sour. It's a chance you choose to take.
Earl Johnson, London

My wife and I first met at a bus stop 17 years ago. We go back to it each anniversary.
Jon, London

My mum and dad met on a tube train in 1969. My dad would see my mum everyday and noticed that she did not hold on to the overhead handles. He believed that one day the train would jolt and she would fall into his lap. That is exactly what happened. They had 36 years of happy married life before my mum passed away in 2006.
Karen, Coventry, West Midlands.

Ah, the romance of being romantic... not surprising that it's still around - it will never, never go away. That's part of being human, isn't it? I have had some very lovely (brief) encounters on the Tube or on buses or trains. You just never know!
D, Heidelberg, Germany

I still remember vividly today of seeing a man on the Piccadilly line in 1987 I just couldn't take my eyes off. It was the one and only time I saw him, but I remember his face as if I saw him every day for the last 22 years.
Jan, Hartlepool



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