met on a bus“We’ve been married 31 years.”
“How’d you meet?”
“I saw her on a bus, put my watch in my pocket, sat down next to her, and asked her for the time.” – Humans of New York

The thriving music scene happening in Manhattan’s Lower East Side was one of the initial attractions that drew me to New York City. I went to so many concerts after moving to the city, but the music scene began to wind down after a few years. I still went out to various events whenever the opportunity presented itself, but it seemed that I rarely found the opportunity to meet the kind of women I was interested in. I was so busy with my work anyway. I seldom met or talked with women unless I spoke with those I encountered on the subway during my daily commutes. I was quite serious about having someone in my life, so I made a point of speaking to at least two women a day as I commuted to and from appointments.

Rules of the public transit system

I would often see women I found attractive during my daily commutes and felt a sense of frustration over not having an opportunity to meet or get to know them. I began to ask the women knew and those I encountered along the way if they had any suggestions as to how I could go about engaging a woman I found myself attracted to.

Some responded by telling me “Approaching women on the subway is harassment, so don’t do it. You need to understand that minimal social contact is the unwritten rule of the public transit systems of New York City.”

One encounters different sets of rules wherever they go. These arbitrary sets of rules were all made up by people at some point along the way. Some rules do serve a useful purpose. And yet many were conceived out of people’s ignorance, fear, confusion, superstition and in some instances stupidity. Rules often serve as a convenient excuse for those who are either unwilling or unable take responsibility for their own lives by thinking for themselves or relying upon their own intuition.

Restrictive sets of rules greatly hinder our ability to show up fully present as active participants in life. And in doing so, they prevent us from living our lives as fully functional human beings. Rigid sets of rules are also unnecessarily stifling. They shut down the natural flow of interaction in such a way that they prevent lots of people from meeting their normal and healthy needs for love and companionship. Consequently, many people end up being alone.

As Tom Robbins said in his book Jitterbug Perfume “What limits people is that they don’t have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it.” We all have a choice. We can throw our youth away by allowing fearful and contracted people to define the terms and conditions of our lives or we can chose to think for ourselves and show up fully present. There are exceptions to all man and woman made rules and this “minimal social contact while riding on the transit system or moving about the city” is no different. It’s an exception that will lead to friendships, dates or even the possibility of a healthy and loving long term relationship.

Attractive women get hit on all the time

Many of the women I have spoken with have told me that they don’t appreciate being stopped on the street or approached on the subways. And that they find the level of harassment and attempts to engage with them that they are forced to endure to be exhausting.

I spend tremendous amounts of time on the subways commuting to and from work and running errands and I can’t help but pay attention to what’s going on around me. I see occasional panhandlers begging for money. I also see some very talented musicians and break dancers performing on the trains. Most of the people who are not with friends or family sit or stand engulfed in their own little protective bubble. Most of the women I see riding alone on the subways spend their time texting or surfing the net on their smart phone, reading a book or staring off into space. Rarely do I ever see men attempting to approach women or trying to engage them in conversation.

Too much time on our smartphones

People used to chat more on the subways before they became so dependent upon their gadgets. These days no one really looks, smiles or talks unless they happen to be riding with someone they already know. As our smartphones and the net have become more interactive many are becoming less willing to engage with people in their immediate proximity. Engaging with the people around us has lost its sense of normality and is in some instances perceived as threating because we’ve become so accustomed to talking to people at a distance through our smartphones.

One of the primary reasons many of us spend so much time on our smartphones and surfing the net is that we crave interaction. People who are guarded or that allow themselves to be controlled by their fears are usually not very interactive.

Weirded out by the fact that some guy finds me attractive

A number of the women I spoke with would say things like “As a woman, I feel incredibly weirded out that some guy on the subway finds me attractive and wants to go out with me. He’s only approach me because he thinks I’m physically attractive. He doesn’t know anything about who I am as an individual.”

I responded by saying “You’re absolutely right about the fact that the guy doesn’t know you. It’s a normal and healthy response for men and women to become curious and want to check each other out. How about operating from a more receptive mindset that says who is this person? There’s absolutely no harm in becoming curious about getting to know another person. And if it turns out that you share common interests and enjoy talking with them, then why not spend some time getting to know each other.

Our first sense of an individual we find ourselves attracted to us is usually visual. Approaching and expressing an interest in the people we find ourselves attracted to is all part of the normal and healthy process of mate selection that has gone on for thousands of years. Everyone has their preference for a certain features. Men and women are naturally drawn to those individuals they find physically attractive and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If looks were not so important to women, then why is it that the more handsome men have considerably more dates and are more likely to be in a relationship? In fact, many women automatically reject a man who doesn’t appear to be her type.

Give her an easy exit

Standing directly in front of or towering over another person can be perceived as threatening. Women are more likely to feel at ease when we stand at an angle and give them some room to breathe. It’s also important for us to be mindful that any person we engage on public transportation is in an enclosed space where they cannot easily get away. Therefore we need to be gracious by giving them an easy out if we see indications that they are not a willing participant.

She’s just not interested

Men can be incredibly tone deaf. It’s important for men to pay attention to subtle cues such as a woman’s tone of voice, body language and the vibe she’s giving off whenever we attempt to engage. Short one or two word answers like “Yes” or “No, sorry,” an unemotional tone or scowling face, purposely turning away or going back to her book or music are often indications that she just wants to be left alone. It’s best to just get the hint, say “thank you” and then move on.

We also need to take into consideration that any woman who captures our attention has a life of her own. She may be struggling with various work related, financial or personal issues. She may already have someone in her life. A wedding or engagement ring is, in most instances, an indication that she’s already taken.

Many women have learned to maintain a level of friendliness because men have either caused a scene or insulted them when they haven’t. Men who have lost touch with their feelings may also lose their capacity for empathy. Many are not able to tell when a woman is attempting to brush them off. They often make the mistake of assuming that any woman who smiles at them is interested because of their inability to distinguish between a polite response and genuine interest.

I can tell when the woman I’m speaking with is not really putting any effort into the conversation by the vibe she’s giving off. It’s obvious that she’s not a willing participant if I have to do all the work. I’ll stop talking if I get a sense that the woman I’m engaging with is not receptive.

I will sometimes test the waters. There have been many occasions where I could sense an initial discomfort from women that I have engaged with on the subway or in other public spaces. I always set the intention that I want any interaction to be mutually comfortable. I’ve learned over time to feel a person’s boundary or comfort zone and that gives me a sense of how close or far away I should sit or stand. I will sometimes back off for a while and at other times I would completely disengage. Many have gradually relaxed and let their guard down. Women who were initially fearful or hesitant often became much more open and engaging at some point once they realized that they were safe.

Places where women go to meet men

A number of woman I’ve spoken with said things like “I cannot even fathom why you would even consider approaching women in the subway. There are so many places you can go to where women actually want to meet and talk to men. Go to a bar or create a profile on match.com. Just leave us the fuck alone on the train.”

Many of us have spent inordinate amounts of time going to events in hopes of meeting someone. Going to events related to our own specific areas of interests can increase our likelihood of meeting people who share similar interests. Many of the men I have spoken with in the city talk about how that same sense of fear and guardedness they encounter on the public transit system carries over into these so called safe environments where women go to meet men.

Going to all these classes, workshops, concerts, museums and wherever else we can think of to go can also become very expensive and time consuming. People who are working long hours, commuting great distances and saddled with tremendous responsibility just don’t have the time or energy.

I hear so many people expressing their frustration over the fact that they never seem to meet the kind of person they want to connect with despite the fact that they’re going to all kinds of events. Limiting ourselves to the small pool of individuals who our friends introduce us to or that happen to show up at the events we attend severely limits our likelihood of finding the love and companionship we truly desire. Why not just engage with the people in our immediate proximity that we encounter as we go about our day?

I know a few couples who have met in bars. But there are lots of problems associated with meeting in bars. Bars are full of intoxicated people who are not in their right state of mind. And they tend to attract lots of people who are looking for a means of escape from the realities of their lives. Many people go to bars with the purpose of hooking up with someone for the night.

Bars also tend to be very noisy. The music is often so loud that one can barely hear what the other person is saying. They’re definitely not the kind of environment that’s conducive for reflective thought or really getting to know a person. Women that go out to bars to spend the evening with their girlfriends often do not want to be approached. Their friend’s lack of social approval can easily torpedo any possibility of making a connection.

Lots of women have told me they think it’s creepy for men to engage them on the subway and said that I should be looking to meet someone online. I have asked a number of these women to tell me the difference between a man who approaches them in a public space and one who contacts them through their profile on mismatch.com. Creating internet profiles to advertise ourselves online is so sadly pathetic. But many of us do it because we’re too socially retarded to engage with the people we encounter over the course of our everyday lives.

We don’t really know the person who engages us online. They can easily create the kind of image they wish to portray. We cannot see their real personality because that person is not physically present right here in front of us. Many lie about their age, weight, height, marital status and other important personal details in their online profiles.

There are a number of advantages to meeting someone in the subways. Those of us who are in touch with our intuition can get a better sense of the person standing in front of us and that makes it easier for us to determine if we have something in common. We get a sense of their level of intelligence and their overall outlook on life. We can also pick up on potential red flags that let us know to be careful or to not get involved.

The newer trains are fairly quiet and brightly lit. The subways are full of all kinds of interesting, intelligent, well-educated and creative people who share similar interests and passions. One encounters lots of well-dressed professionals on their way to or from work. There’s less pretention involved when meeting someone on the subway and that gives us a more realistic sense of the person we’re interacting with. The people we meet on the subway are usually not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. All one has to do is open their eyes to see that there are more potential partners on the subway and other forms of public transit than any other venue.

The truth is that there is no universally acceptable setting for men and women to meet. The world we live in becomes an incredibly lonely and boring place when we allow small minded people controlled by their fears to cause us to contract in ways that prevent us from engaging with the people we encounter during the course of our everyday lives. Teaching ourselves to remain present in our bodies while tuning into our intuition will give us a clear sense of who is trustworthy. With this knowing we can determine who we want to open up to and allow into our lives.

Making the approach

Approaching someone on public transportation we find ourselves attracted to is taking a risk and that requires a lot of courage. We have to accept the fact that we will be viewed by some as a creep or predator. We may encounter a lot of rejection. Those individuals we find ourselves interested in may not necessarily be rejecting us. People that haven’t learned to truly think for themselves and tune to their own intuition and tend to operate on autopilot. I have found that centering our awareness in the middle of the feelings while breathing softly and deeply will soften and diffuse the sting of rejection so that I can bounce back and move on.

The window of opportunity

One of the most challenging and sometimes frustrating aspects of meeting on the subway is not knowing how much time we have to engage with an attractive stranger. It can be very difficult to connect with someone who is getting off at the next stop. I’m always thankful for the thirty minute to an hour windows of opportunity to talk and get to know someone provided by the long commutes to or from the Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. I have in some instances acted as though I had intended to get off at the same subway stop. That has on occasion made it possible to continue the conversation.

Some women I spoke with recommended that I start by making eye contact and only approach those who show some indication of being responsive. The problem with using this approach in New York City is that lots of women on the subway and in other public spaces make a concerted effort to avoid eye contact. Making eye contact can work in some instances and yet it may also be perceived as a threat. It’s not that uncommon for women and men in the city to visibly tense up if they notice an unfamiliar person making eye contact or checking them out.

It’s difficult to engage with someone who catches our attention at the other end of the subway car. If at all possible, I’ll find a way to stand or sit next to a woman that captures my attention. I will often initiate by commenting on something a woman is wearing or a book she’s reading. I’ve had women pull the ear buds out of their ears to ask them about the music they’re listening to. I’ve actually said things like “I really like what I’m hearing there. Can I check out what you’re listening to for a minute?” In many instances that has gotten women to engage me in conversation. I have asked for directions at times when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Revealing any kind of romantic interest or feelings of attraction is more likely to scare the woman being approached. It also creates a lot of unnecessary pressure by putting her in a position of having to decide if I’m someone that she wants to be involved with romantically. Keeping the interaction light and friendly creates a more neutral setting to get to know one another. It also gives her more of an opportunity to determine if she feels comfortable with me and if she wants to continue the interaction.

I’m only romantically interested in women that I can relate to as a friend. Being genuinely curious to learn more about the woman I’m speaking to as a person encourages her to open up and become more engaging. Introducing myself at some point in the conversation helps to put her at ease and moves the conversation smoothly from strangers to mildly acquainted. Instead of asking for an email or phone number I will usually say “What steps can we take to continue this conversation?” Many have offered me their email or phone number. Some have suggested that we continue the conversation over coffee.

Opening ourselves to possibility

A number of the women I spoke with have said something to the effect “I cannot possibly imagine a conversation that takes place on public transit would turn into anything else. I’ve met interesting people along the way and enjoyed the conversation, but they always ended as soon as I got off at my stop.”

One of the greatest impediments to finding love in cities like New York and Boston is the pervasive sense of fear that causes so many people to contract and put up walls around themselves. Fear is a protective mechanism that serves a useful purpose when it mobilizes us to respond to a legitimate threat. Conversely, inappropriate or disproportionate fears can have a negative impact upon ourselves and others. We all have legitimate reason to exercise caution. However, the baseline state of fear that many of us operate from that predisposes us to be fearful and suspicious of those we are not familiar with is what prevents so many of us from finding the love we truly need and desire.

Many of us spend inordinate amounts of time traveling to and from wherever it is we’re going in trains filled with all kinds of interesting people. If we were to truly open ourselves to possibility we would clearly see that we encounter more potential partners on the subway and other forms of public transit than any other place.

Closing ourselves off to the possibility of meeting in public spaces severely limits our likelihood of meeting the kind of person we truly want to be with. Moving through the world with a sense of openness and willingness to meet people wherever we go gives us a much wider selection of potential partners to choose from and greatly increases our likelihood of finding the love and companionship we truly need and desire.

Showing up fully present

There are so many people residing in New York City that feel they have to schedule their lives minute by minute filling every waking moment of the day. They’re up at six-forty-five, on the subway by eight, beginning their work day at nine, taking their thirty to sixty minute lunch break at one and then continuing to work until five-thirty. They’re back on the subway as soon as they leave the office, attending yoga class at six, dinner with their friends immediately thereafter and then they spend the remainder of their evening online.

Many New Yorkers become so stressed out because they lack the resources and understanding that would enable them to process the realities of their daily lives. They’re constantly doing and doing to avoid their fears, insecurities, hurts and the profound sense of emptiness that resides within. They’re never fully present in the moment because their mind is always caught up in the past or busy thinking about the next thing they’re doing. If they’re not thinking about their upcoming activities, they find something to distract themselves such as television, their smartphones, a game, alcohol, etc. They cannot be present with themselves, therefore they cannot be present for anyone else. Many are incredibly lonely. They want so much to meet someone they can love and be loved by. But many are so scared of other people, rejection, the world around them and their own feelings that they end up shutting down and that’s why people in the city become so isolated from one another.

New Yorkers have so many fears associated with the transit system. They have a tendency to go into this collective state of disconnect as soon as they embark on the subway. But the transit system is now about as safe as any other place we would find ourselves in the city. And we will discover some truly amazing things when we get out of our heads long enough to be present to what’s happening around and about us.

One can experience the wonderment of life anytime and anywhere. It’s important for us to slow ourselves down enough so that we can actually enjoy the journey. We do that by making a conscientious effort to become fully present in the moment wherever we happen to find ourselves. We take in our immediate surroundings while opening ourselves to the possibility that there may be something of benefit for us here in this time and space. And we remember to ground ourselves within our bodies by breathing softly and deeply while maintaining a state of openness to whatever good life brings our way.

Can you find love in public spaces?

Going through one rejection after another and dealing with so much flakiness takes its toll. I would sometimes give up for periods of time. I felt that I had no choice but to keep approaching and brave the rejections if I was ever going to find the love I needed and desired. After some time I began to realize that many of these women were only operating according to their socially programmed autopilot responses.

I’ve made friends and have gone out on lots of dates. I went out with an Egyptian woman for some time that I met one night when I was stranded in a subway station because I forgot to bring my umbrella. I was in a relationship for a year with a woman I met on a flight to Sri Lanka. Nearly all of the relationship I’ve been in began as a result of my talking with women I met in public spaces. All kinds of amazing things can happen when we open ourselves to possibility.

I fell in love on the subway

Robin wasn’t in the habit of noticing men on the subway. But one day she had a feeling that someone looking at her. She looked up to see a tall attractive man who stood out among the crowd. Robin would see her “subway crush” on occasion while commuting to work. She sunk into a depression at one point when he seemed to disappear for weeks on end, fearing that she would never see him again. But Robin’s subway crush materialized next to her on the subway platform one cold January morning. She discovered that they had lots in common as they began to chat. Robin shoved her business card into his hand before getting off at her stop. Josh emailed the following Monday to ask her out. Robin and Josh moved in together ten months later. They had a model subway train positioned on top of their wedding cake when they later married.

Love can happen anywhere

Daniel sensed a woman standing behind him on the platform as he stood waiting for the downtown 6 train at 33rd St. He turned and asked her if she knew of a good place to have a drink. Daniel listened politely as Rebecca began to go through a list of possible establishments and then asked her if she would like to join him. Rebecca was hesitant at first, but then agreed to go along. Daniel and Rebecca got off at 14th street and walked a couple of blocks to a bar. Something about their conversation felt so natural. They began spending weekends together. Daniel moved in with Rebecca four months later and they married soon thereafter.

We need to feel safe and comfortable and be encouraged to engage with one another

Healthy and loving relationships can only develop when we actually take the opportunity to get to know one another. That cannot possibly happen until we begin to engage each other in conversation. Having a reciprocal interchange with other human beings on an interpersonal level is a critically important part of our personal growth. Men and women need to feel safe, comfortable and feel supported and encouraged in their interaction with one another. It’s important for us to follow up whenever we do make a connection by answering emails and phone calls and meeting again in a neutral place where we have the opportunity to actually get to know one another.

I’ve said to people on many occasions “How do you know that person sitting next to you on the subway or that engages you in conversation isn’t the best match you will ever come across in your entire life? You really don’t know until you at least give yourself the opportunity to get to know this person.”

Love can happen anytime and anywhere when we open ourselves to the opportunities being presented to us. New York City’s mass transit system brings anywhere from four to seven million people together a day. Surely we can find the one we’ve been waiting for when we just open ourselves to possibility.

And be sure to check out this amazing story about how another couple found love on the subway 🙂

©Copyright 2013 Ben Oofana. All Rights Reserved. This content may be copied in full, with copyright, creation and contact information intact, without specific permission.

Ben Oofana is a healer who began his training with Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian tribe. To learn more or to schedule a private session call (913) 927-4281