Have you ever fallen for someone on a train but didn’t have the courage to say, “Hi?” Don’t worry, hundreds of people have probably done exactly the same thing. And countless more spend their morning commutes avoiding eye contact and going on with their days, never knowing what could have been if only they’d looked up. Well, Zoë Folbigg was almost one of them – until she finally decided to give her mystery man a note.
In July 2003 Zoë was waiting for her usual 08:21 a.m. train to work from Hitchin, England, to London. That’s when she first spotted a handsome stranger also waiting on the platform. And then she saw the man, who unbeknownst to her is called Mark, every day and admired him from afar.
Without the confidence to approach him, Zoë first started to dress up in a bid to grab his attention. She wore more make-up, styled her hair and purposely sat in the same train carriage as him each day. During this time, she noticed that they had a lot in common, as he was always lost in books or magazines of the kind that she reads.
“Commuting is quite a dreary experience – the same characters, no one talks, delays. Then one day this new person walked up the platform,” Zoë told The Sun. “I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. It was definitely love at first sight for me. I know that sounds crazy but that’s how I felt.”
Completely besotted, Zoë nicknamed him Train Man, and he became a core topic of conversations among friends and co-workers. “I was working at a teen magazine at the time, and Train Man became a talking point in the office,” she said. “Friends would ask if I’d seen him and what he was wearing. They encouraged me to talk to him, but I didn’t feel confident enough.”
One of her friends did eventually convince Zoë to try to spark a conversation, though, and they even came up with a plan. The idea was that Zoë would sit near him and “accidentally” drop her train ticket. Train Man would then pick it up, hand it to her and conversation would naturally flow.
That was not how things went, however. “The ticket lay on the floor for what felt like an excruciatingly long time,” she explained to This Morning. “I pretended I hadn’t noticed, he picked it up and handed it to me. But I completely froze. I squeaked, ‘Thanks,’ then went back to my books. I was just too shy to make a move.”
Her silent infatuation then continued for nearly a year until May 2004. It was Zoë’s 28th birthday, and she made the brave decision to finally make contact with her dream man. So she wrote a note and planned to give it to him as they arrived at King’s Cross station that morning.
The note read, “It’s my birthday and I think everyone should do something frivolous on their birthday and this is my thing. I think you look lovely. If you’d like to go for a drink here’s my email address, if not happy travels and I’ll leave you in peace.”
But just as the train pulled into the station, her confidence dwindled and nerves took hold. Instead, Zoë walked off the train without going through with her plan. It then took her another 11 days to build up the courage to hand the note over. When she finally did, however, she received a devastating response.
“He had hay fever and was sneezing into a tissue when I said, ‘Excuse me, can I give you this?’” she explained. “He looked baffled and asked me to repeat what I’d said, which was excruciating. He eventually took the note and I walked away as fast as I could.”
At 5:00 p.m. that same day, Zoë received an email with his response. It read, “Thank you, that was a lovely thing to do. I’d never have the guts to do something like that, but unfortunately, I have a girlfriend and I don’t think she’d like it if we went for a drink. Happy birthday. Hope you have a nice day.”
Zoë felt awful about the situation. “Basically thanks but no thanks, in a very nice way,” she recalled. “I was gutted and mortified that I had to tell everyone.” She didn’t allow it to get the better of her, however. She even saw other men – although it never went further than a first date.
Meanwhile, Zoë continued taking the same train to work, having to awkwardly see her crush at the station. “I got on the same carriage because I knew I’d have to see him at some point. He was sweet, smiled at me and blushed.” But, thankfully, her embarrassment didn’t last forever.
Eight months later, on January 28, 2005, Zoë received the email that she had been longing for. “He said his circumstances had changed and asked if I still fancied a drink,” she explained. “It was the best email I’ve had in my entire life. I squealed and all my mates were so excited. We went out the next night in the town where we live.”
Their first date, which Zoë had long envisioned, was just as she dreamed, and she now refers to him as Beautiful Mark rather than the Train Man. “I had such high hopes and it had been so built up but we just clicked,” she recalled. “He said he’d noticed me. He said he thought I had sparkly eyes, which was nice. His relationship had ended about a month after I gave him the note, but that was nothing to do with it.”
It wasn’t long before their relationship flourished. In fact, he moved in with her after only three months. And then they did what so many dream of: quit their jobs and traveled the world. Three happy years later, Mark also decided to propose. And where better to do it than in the same setting in which they met? Yes, he proposed to her on a train – albeit one in Australia – and the couple subsequently married in 2009.
Today, the married couple have two children, Felix, seven, and five-year-old Max. Their love story is so romantic and surprising that it’s almost like it came from a movie or a book. And funnily enough, Zoë actually decided to write all of it into a novel, The Note, which was published in October 2017.
She told her incredible story on This Morning, where she spoke in more detail about how she turned the experience into a novel. “The Note is based on my experiences, but I didn’t want to make it autobiographical,” she said. “It’s fiction so there are more juicy bits!”
Zoë and Mark’s love story has also inspired those in similar situations to become romantics and optimists. Indeed, she’s received emails from strangers all around the world about how they’ve now had the courage to hand over notes during their commutes. It’s amazing to know how much impact a single message can have – all you need is the courage to pass it on.