Not that long ago you couldn’t walk five yards in Central London without having one of many free newspapers placed into your hand and though I don’t miss the carpet of paper that would line every tube carriage at the end of the day, I do however miss a small section in one of the papers called 'Lovestruck’. Its purpose was to act as a sort of forum for Londoners who had been attracted to a stranger they had seen whilst out and about (usually on public transport) but couldn’t quite pluck up the courage to go over and say hello! Instead they would dedicate a few precious lines to this stockpile of brief encounters beseeching the object of their affection to get in touch. A typical message would read something like “You – beautiful lady reading crime fiction on the Northern Line, Me – trying to catch your eye and tell you I’ve read the same book! Coffee?” Realistically the chances of these brief messages getting read by the person in question was pretty slim and nearly every one of them expressed an unfulfilled wish for an interaction to have taken place; if only they had actually met. Every day the 'Lovestruck’ section seemed to be getting longer and longer and never the same message posted twice or two days in a row. You had only one chance to read the message that was meant for you. Chances of being struck by lightening were higher!
This got me thinking about the idea of an emotional time lag; a delayed response to something after the initial moment of experiencing it has passed. In other words why do we sometimes wait to say how we feel right there and then? One reason could be that frankly disclosure is exposing, it involves a revealing of ourselves and can make us feel naked and vulnerable. In so many ways modern life is conditioning us more and more to keep our cards closer to our chest and if necessary even bluff our way through. We try not to show too much enthusiasm when the estate agent shows us our dream property, we hold out on telling someone how much we like them in case it’s too soon in the relationship and then there’s that frequent practice among diners of eating an unsatisfactory meal in silence and then never going back again. There are countless situations where we push down or swallow how we’re really feeling. I think somewhere somehow emotions have become a bit scary. It’s okay to express them in the privacy of your own home (or in therapy) but not in public please! The subtle panic that spreads at the hint of an emotional exposure is no more palpable as on a packed train when a heated argument can create, in seconds, discomfort for everyone as they witness (and feel) emotion gone airborne.
Another reason why we keep our feelings to our self is the fear of experiencing things we’d rather forego; rejection, humiliation, shame and plain old embarrassment. There seems to be a minefield of potential dangers out there, out in the open. No wonder that little section in the newspaper was so well employed; it helped take the edge off and at the same time nurtured some hope that an opportunity hadn't entirely been missed. But what I think allowed it to really grow is that just like text messages, letters and email, it provided a safe space to communicate and it did this by creating an optimal distance. Not too close and yet close enough to convey ourselves, a kind of contact where we are once removed from the other person. The same can be said for the telephone of course where even though we get an instant response (unlike email etc) we can't see it. The popular sitcom ‘Frasier’ and the older ‘Midnight Caller’ were based on this very premise where people would call in to a radio show to talk about their problems over the phone. For organisations like Samaritans and ChildLine the telephone has literally been a life line. And then came Skype and all the video type calling which has blurred the line between what's 'real' face to face contact and what's in fact very sophisticated technology. Skype is probably the closest two people can get to each other and still be thousands of miles a part.
Sadly the free paper with its 'Lovestruck’ section no longer exists though I'm sure the same can’t be said for those hundreds perhaps thousands of commuters falling in and out of love every day on their way to work. Here’s a piece of advice - imagine what you’d like to say to him/her, write it on a piece of paper, rip it up, then walk over to where they are and say it once more with feeling, good luck!