It all started with a guy I was seeing three months ago. He came to visit me in London and, in this city of museums and nightclubs and the West End, he only really seemed excited about one thing. So one weekend we went and rode the Elizabeth Line: he slumped happily on his seat, inhaling the air-conditioned particles, and we rode up and down the enormous escalators. But it didn’t stop with him. One of my male friends messages me weekly with updates on “the Lizzie line” (on the Transport for London map, as a new transport “mode” it is called “the Elizabeth Line”, while mere Tube lines are called the “Victoria” or the “Bakerloo”); others will spend a half hour over drinks explaining why its opening in May 2022 was so momentous.
I’ve heard all about Lizzie from straight guys: how the length of the train is one and a half times longer than the average Tube; how the gradient of the trains’ approach to and exit from stations prevents the tunnels from overheating; and about the shortcut to end all shortcuts at Farringdon station. One man I know goes well out of his way to use the Elizabeth Line, taking a circuitous detour from north to south London simply to make the service a part of his day.
[see also: All hail the arrival of Crossrail]
I asked a schoolfriend why men love the Elizabeth Line, and he explained that trains, with their timetables and reassuring, rhythmic chugging “give order in a world full of chaos”. It must be a strange time to be a straight man – what with fourth-wave feminism and the looming possibility of headers being banned in football (“it’s sad because men love heading things”, one friend explained to me solemnly). Yes, women have long noted the male tendency to hyper-focus on things that could be considered odd or nerdy. But in a time of increased attention on toxic masculinity, it is inevitable that men should intensify their enthusiasm for more wholesome activities. “Dudes rock”, a catchphrase used to celebrate male hobbies that are wholesome if juvenile, has recently gained much traction online, as did “Why Men Simply Love Throwing Rocks Into Water”, an article published by Vice last year.
I find it most endearing that straight men often don’t seem to imagine how their romantic prospects could not be fascinated by their special interests. A friend of a friend opens conversations on the dating app Hinge with the question: “What do you think about Crossrail?” One man spent ten minutes explaining to me, before we’d ever gone on our first date, why he loved roundabouts – without a hint of self-deprecation. Perhaps the cool guys are into cars and sports and guns, but all the men I date just really love integrated transport.
The benefit is that it is easy to wind these men up. Professing boredom over the Elizabeth Line is guaranteed to get them flustered: “But how could you not…?”. It has the same effect as claiming the Kardashians are the women who inspire me most; any modern twenty-something man is torn between their frustration at what they see as my buying into the height of shallow frippery, and not wanting to mansplain to me about who women should consider feminist icons.
What have I learnt? While I very much realise that sex and gender mean different things to different people, particularly at this moment in time – I feel more strongly than ever that men are from Mars, while I am from Venus. It is in much the same spirit that I don’t understand why the men I date use two-in-one shampoo shower gels and are always drinking energy drinks even when they don’t play sports; or why they choose as their WhatsApp photo a blurry photo where their face is barely visible. Men in turn don’t understand what the point in eyelash curlers is, or why I earnestly invite them to talk about their feelings when something that amounts to a minor inconvenience happens in their lives. (“Can you stop patting my leg as though I am unloading childhood trauma, please?” one guy I dated said, “I just had a bad day at work.”)
But one discovery disturbs me more than any other. I’ve been force-fed so much propaganda that I have come to realise that the Elizabeth Line might actually be pretty cool. Not that I will be admitting that to any men I know.