Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The Incredibly Sad Thing I Saw on the Train

A lot of crazy stuff happens on New York City subways. I've seen plenty of bad behavior during my commutes, and these days I'm rarely shocked when someone does something gross or rude. But earlier this winter, I witnessed something that took even jaded old me by surprise.

The weather was nasty, and I’d had kind of a rough week. I was in that fragile emotional state that can make any outing seem like a full-on sensory assault, but I had a meeting in Manhattan that I couldn’t skip. So I forced myself out the door and onto the train. Of course there were no seats open, so I leaned sulkily against the doors.

After a few minutes, I noticed that the guy sitting to my left had started typing on his iPhone. I am nothing if not nosy so I perked up a little and tilted ever so slightly to get an over-the-shoulder view. What first fascinated me was the incredible speed with which he was tapping out text. By the time I got a look at his screen, he’d already laid down one long paragraph and was almost through a second. I was a little impressed, since it’s all I can do to write a few typo-ridden lines on my phone.

He was a typical-looking businessman in his early 40s, and I assumed he was writing some boring work email. That is until I was able to focus my bleary eyes enough to read the tiny words on his screen. As I scanned the first paragraph, it became clear that he was in fact writing to his wife. He was talking about how hard they’d worked on their marriage. Hard, but not hard enough, I guess, because in the second paragraph he got into how he thought they both deserved more. Oh yeah! I’d hit the eavesdropper’s jackpot!

My head flooded with questions. Why was he summing up all their problems in an email? Had they just had a fight and this was his apology? Or maybe this was some kind of therapeutic exercise? And why was it so urgent a message that it needed to be hurriedly written during his commute?

I pondered all this while he typed on. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but his general tone was slightly defensive without being totally dickish. After finishing a third paragraph about not being happy with how things were between them, he stopped for a second. I thought maybe he’d said his piece. But no, his thumbs clicked again as he poured out a final paragraph that wrapped up with, “I want a divorce.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up…you want whaaaaaaattttttttttt!?!?!? Even with the litany of complaints that he’d just laid out, I honestly had not seen this one coming!

Now, let me say here that this guy may very well have been right. Maybe his marriage was FUBAR. Somebody has to be the one to bring up the D word; so it’s not that I reflexively think that any guy who asks for a divorce is an asshole. But you know who is an asshole? A GUY WHO ASKS FOR A DIVORCE IN AN EMAIL THAT HE WRITES ON HIS PHONE WHILE RIDING THE SUBWAY! Come on, man. You have the thing right there in your hand: call her! Or better yet meet up and have an actual face-to-face conversation.

He finished typing the email just as we arrived at the edge of Brooklyn. Perfect timing. The train was heading out onto the bridge—the only time during the ride that cell service is available—and as soon as we hit daylight his finger went for the send button. I wanted so badly to reach out and stop him, but obviously I did nothing.

Here’s what happened next: the iPhone did that little filling bar thing it does when it’s sending, but then miraculously an error message popped up: “Cannot activate network. Unable to send.” Phew, I thought, he’s been spared! He’ll see that it’s nuts to send this email and do the right thing. But no. He hit send again. And again the phone could not complete his request. This hit-send-get-error-message sequence happened at least three more times. I shit you not. It was like the phone was actively trying to protect him, but he was too stupid to take its advice.

Finally, on like the sixth try, the phone gave in and the message went through. And with that done, I thought maybe he’d take a minute of contemplative silence or maybe he’d even break out sobbing with grief. Umm, no. Instead, he clicked out of his email and immediately started playing Angry Birds.

While he was busy playing his game, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling as self-indulgently horrible as I had been just 15 minutes earlier. As always, New York knew just how to cheer me up. This little glimpse into someone else’s crappy life had reminded me of an important fact: it could be worse. Whatever my problems, at least I’m not married to this douchebag.

That uplift didn’t last, however, because I got to thinking about the poor lady who actually was married to this douchebag. For some reason, I pictured her as an executive who sat in a corner office, illuminated by sunlight that flooded in through floor-to-ceiling windows. Part of me wanted to believe that she was the kind of tough, capable woman who would take this email in stride—even seeing it as a relief because, really, after a show like that who would want to stay married to this guy? But the rest of me knew that there was no kind of person whose day, or even life, would not be ruined by this message.

We eventually arrived at my station, and I walked off the train like nothing had happened. But all through my meeting, I couldn’t stop imagining the moment when his wife discovered the little bomb in her inbox. I pictured her clicking, unsuspecting, on the message. I saw her face slowly sink as she read through each paragraph. And then, after she got all the way down to the bottom and was totally undone, I felt the sting of her eyes settling on that final, ugly line:

“Sent from my iPhone”

41 Comments / Post A Comment


Hmmmmmm. As a skeptic of the modern world, I can get where this is coming from. But as a child of divorce, I also think it's best to not condemn people as "douchebags" for working through an incredibly hard time however they see fit. People grieve differently.


As a semi-recent divorcé, I agree with the "douchebag" condemnation. My now ex couldn't even bring himself to tell me that he wanted to split up – he gave some mealy-mouthed, half-assed b.s. about being unhappy and relied on me to actually verbalize what he was saying, i.e. that he wanted to end things and that there was no other recourse or possibility of addressing any problems. This was followed by instructions to me to stop crying.

Also, when I asked him where he was going, he seemed quite surprised by the idea that he would no longer be residing in our apartment. Apparently he thought we'd just keep on keepin' on while one or the other of us looked for new digs. Jesus!
Sorry, still a little bitter.


My point being: just man or woman up, speak your mind (in person!) and don't dissemble. No, it's not easy or pleasant - but you're supposed to be a grown-up.


Yeah, unfortunately for a lot of people these days’ e-mails and iphones etc. are legitimate methods of communication. If that’s a normal way of communicating with his wife (assuming she does the same) then I don’t think that makes him a douche bag.


Pop quiz, someguy: were you born after 1990? Are you my baby brother?


Child of the 80's, I just think people find this shit acceptable these days.


At the pub on Valentine's Day, I realized as Mr. Luckier and I were paying up that the couple behind us was totally eavesdropping hard on our conversation about our fertility issues and plans to meet with the foster care adoption social worker next month. We're both pretty okay with it now after the initial disappointment, so not a sad conversation. But I hope that couple (younger, probably think they have all the time in the world, etc.) felt bad for leaning in all stealthily to hear about our problems.


I regularly communicate with my boyfriend via text throughout the day, i.e. "Could you pick up some milk on the way home." So you're saying that the way I casually relate my grocery list is perfectly suitable for a topic as heavy and loaded with implications as asking for a divorce??

Hot mayonnaise

Hy Jenny,
I hope u read Hairpin. I want q divorce,
l8r, HotMayo (ie ur spouse)


You forgot the sad face emoticon.


Hai HotMayo,
No 2 divorce sry. Srsly bangin ur dad will not b as fun n-e-more if its not cheetin.

Hot mayonnaise

my dad haz the herp
best, HM


duh. who do u thnk gave it 2 him?
urs, Jen


No, but for alot of people it is. I have been in relationships with people and known people in relationships who, for them, this is entirely normal. Personnally I think any kind of serious conversation should be made face to face. Ib was just acknowledging that if this is normal for them, which is quite common, then it doesn't make him a douche bag, or they are both douche bags.


This makes me sad. So, so sad.


Yeah me too.


Oh, right, that was me. I have another one where I tell her our child is dying. I just do it to freak out eavesdroppers.

Tammy Pajamas

Me too. Even if email is a regular form of communication, everyone deserves the respect of face-to-face interaction when getting the heave-ho. Unless the other person did something totally egregious and are therefore not deserving of said respect.

Jane Marie

my ex-husband and i decided, finally, on divorce over iChat. he was seriously incapable of making a single helpful, honest or decisive word come out of his mouth in person or on the phone. thankfully, we had IM.


My college boyfriend and I broke up over the Unix 'talk' function.


Oh yeah? My junior high girlfriend broke up with me by mailing me an envelope of Hollerith cards.


Because I am an eternal (and fanciful!) optimist, I'm choosing to believe/make up that the dude was actually just writing one of those iPhone short stories that was supposed to be the Next Big Thing last year. It sounds like a compelling one!


I'm with you, Dorothy, and that's what I will believe if I happen to eavesdrop on Kneetoe, too.


As someone going through a rough patch in my marriage, my first thought was that, like me, the writer of the text was reiterating things he had already said in person. When we are fighting, we end up sending more text messages because it seems like the best way to express ourselves without being interrupted or misunderstood. The D word has come up, probably in person and in text form. Maybe the texter and his wife aren't speaking anymore...kinda like my situation. Sigh.


God, how tough--I wish you the best.


...but sometimes you seriously cannot have a conversation without it devovling into mean words and hurt feelings. In times like that, I can see how putting your entire thoughts into email would make a lot of sense. It's better than screaming I WANT A DIVORCE in someone's face midargument, in my opinion.


Maybe she and/or he is deaf or mute and this is their primary form of communication, and that is why he can pound out entire essays on his iPhone and you have trouble with a couple sentences?

Judging situations you know nothing about is not very helpful.


Wow. I thought that time I watched some business dude get choked out (I want to say without provocation, but he did roll his eyes and scoff at the clearly homeless and crazy man meandering down the isle toward him) was sad but THIS is definitely sadder. Jeez.

Clarence Rosario

People really need to be more considerate and think about how their actions affect the feelings of eavesdroppers.

Ironika Leigh

aren't all exhusbands douchebags? can't we all at least agree on that?


Maybe he sent the email to himself, because he was working on what he was going to say to his wife and wanted to review it before they talked about it?

Point is, you have no idea what the hell is going on there, and the fact you've been stewing on it all winter, judging all parties ostensibly involved, is one of those things that perpetuates the stereotypes that guys have about women and their harpy ways (which I know are mostly false, but then, boom, this happens). You've already written this guy off as the bad guy and envisioned his wife as some sort of innocent, embattled heroine, and you don't know shit about it.


Yes, I'm sure her idle contemplation has left the random subway stranger she'll never ever see again all torn up on the inside


ehh, i dunno, the fact that you immediately jump to the assumption that she's got it wrong and is misjudging a.n.random she will never meet again, and this makes her entire gender look judgemental-stroke-malicious, kind of perpetuates the image of you as the crazy judgey one here (which i know is mostly false, but then, boom, this happens).

srsly, having an imagination abt the lives of others makes women judgemental harpies now?


Thx 4 yr input abt this, srsly.

Hard to tell if you're 15 or not, but if not - what makes my assumptions inherently less valid or possible than hers? Am I incorrect in saying that she does not know the situation? Please enlighten me.



Choire!?!?!?Where the hell is Choire!!??


nothing makes your assumptions inherently less valid or possible than hers! (i've written emails for deletion as ways of sorting out feelings, it's an entirely plausible thing)

but saying "you are probably wrong about what ACTUALLY HAPPENED and this is a judgemental harpy thing to do" is a really weird response to something that's pretty explicitly about imagining stuff about a total stranger? of course she does not know the situation! That's why she uses words like 'imagine' and 'believe' and 'picture', because while being nosy on a train she saw something that surprised and shocked her and then she made up a story about it, in her head, while on the train and just afterwards. A story that has a punchline, even!

sorry your heinous

Am I the only person who reads a touch of humor in this piece? Because, to me, the prying in to someone's personal communications is worse than (possibly) asking for divorce over e-mail [that might just be me, though]. That creates a funny juxtaposition to the calling of the dude a douchebag and stupid. I'm not reading this too seriously.

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

It even has a punchline! I guess it depends on the reading as to what kind of punch it delivers.


You've got male.


Oh but now you've made me re-remember my old joke about bills being female (get it, get it).

Lucy Snow

This sounds like a pat piece of fiction. I don't believe that anyone could have read all this over a stranger's shoulder, right down to following the tiny movement to "send."

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