SETTLING down to watch Netflix, I had tissues at the ready. The new adaptation of One Day by David Nicholls was earning rave reviews and I remembered loving the novel when I read it in my 20s. Friends spoke of bingeing the series and weeping at the end and social media was abuzz with people reporting similar experiences of being “destroyed” and “broken” after viewing.

Fourteen episodes later, my eyes were dry and my primary emotion was irritation. Firstly at the story, which is about a rude, selfish, privileged man who spends many years exploiting the friendship and care of a woman who is not-so-secretly infatuated with him. Secondly at my younger self, for buying into this as a great love story.

Perhaps the adaptation highlights the sociopathic tendencies of the main character, Dexter, more than the novel did, or perhaps a few decades of experience have decreased my tolerance for the type of man who will happily spend hours offloading on to a woman about his own problems but glazes over when the conversation turns to any topic other than himself.

Dexter’s standby love interest Emma supports him through a range of personal difficulties, and in return is treated as little more than an “emotional support human” for most of the story. When her own relationships and professional challenges are mentioned, it’s with mockery and derision. When she is shown spending time with a friend who is married with children, it’s to emphasise what she lacks.

Fortunately, over time Emma manages to improve her hairstyle and fashion sense enough to become worthy of full personhood, and then succeeds in her primary purpose in life: reforming Dexter, and becoming his wife. A happy ending seems assured … until it isn’t.

It’s never a good idea to look at Twitter/X if you’re feeling vexed, but after the final credits rolled I did just that, and was quickly directed to a Samaritans advert that depicts a woman weighing up whether to approach to a troubled-looking man on a railway platform.

The short film is part of the charity’s long-running Small Talk Saves Lives campaign, which aims to prevent suicides at stations and other public places by encouraging members of the public to “trust their instincts” and approach anyone who looks distressed. The woman is seen splitting into two versions of herself, who proceed to have a conversation about what she should do.

The campaign was inspired by research from Middlesex University that involved asking people with experience of suicidal thoughts what helped them. Participants reported that verbal interventions, including small talk, were the most valuable when they were in crisis. The idea is that a stranger saying something – anything – can “interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and could help set them on the journey to recovery”.

Feminist poet Magi Gibson expressed dismay at the film, commenting that “a lone woman approaching a troubled man like this would be taking a serious risk” and pointing out that a station worker wearing a hi-vis vest is clearly visible in the background when the woman makes her approach. Given Samaritans works in partnership with Network Rail to provide suicide prevention training, it seems odd that it would suggest an untrained woman should approach an agitated man herself, instead of contacting nearby station staff or asking another member of the public to assist.

Unless, of course, it is felt an approach from a woman is more likely to have the desired effect.

The format of the advert, in which the woman has to persuade herself to act, seems to contradict the “trust your instincts” message. She knows something is wrong but her instinct is to hesitate, worrying that she will say the wrong thing, or that the man won’t want to be approached. “What if it saves his life?” replies her alternative self, and with that her reservations instantly dissolve.

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According to Samaritans, “people might worry they will say the wrong thing, but saying something is better than saying nothing”. This makes perfect sense if the only person whose best interests matter in the scenario is the agitated man, who may or may not be a risk to himself or others. But a woman asking “what if he doesn’t want me to?” isn’t just weighing up the chances of being ignored or politely rebuffed – she must also consider the potential danger of getting involved.

In the film, the small talk deployed is “do you know where I can get a coffee?”, and X users were quick to point out that a woman approaching a strange man with such a question risks having it misconstrued as a chat-up line, or creating a situation where she may feel obliged to leave the station with him.

It might seem unsympathetic, even cruel, to point out these flaws in the way this campaign message has been presented. It is clearly a well-meaning attempt to reduce suicide rates. But guilt-tripping women into ignoring instinctive reservations is not the right way to go about this.

Women are not merely supporting characters in men’s lives, regardless of what any glossy TV productions might suggest.