The moment I turned 25 it became apparent to me that pretty much everyone around me, particularly in Arlington was also about 25. Now, assuming that this is true, then when I was 18, everyone was 18 – but then I was on a college campus, so of course they were. Now, I live in an apartment building, in a neighborhood, where people live voluntarily, and they are all around the same age. What’s more, I’m really able to spot people in my age range easily now. This brings me to my next point, in an environment with a relatively large age-group, of about 25 – specific behaviors and habits emerge in the population.
People of this age group in Arlington have three highly dependent, key pursuits:
- Jogging/working out.
- Eating at restaurants.
- Going to bars.
While I have some pretty worthy opinions about the jogging (the headbands, hopping on the spot, defying the traffic) it is the “going to bars” which chiefly interests me. Now, in my understanding one goes to the bar in order to drink alcohol, to the have the potential to drink a lot of alcohol in an environment where this is authorized and accepted. Furthermore, to engage in the kind of amusing tomfoolery that comes from being around a lot of people your age and consuming a lot of alcohol. That would be dancing, the bars are invariably filled with popular, danceable music, talking to each other – particularly to members of the opposite sex, and the bonding that follows – whether this is the exchange of phone numbers (and zillions of texts following) or the exchange of body fluids, at various levels of intensity.
What I’ve really noticed about going to bars is that the air is filled with a kind of profound desperation. Not to say that everyone there is desperate in the traditional sense, but that they usually have a strong underlying goal: to meet someone, a dance partner, someone to make-out with, a one-night stand, a lover, a significant other, a future mate. Now, not to be crass, but a great deal of this population in the bar is “looking to score” (or at least trying to look like they’re looking to score – but that is another issue.) A lot of people will tell me that this isn’t the case, that they are out with their friends, to dance and have a good time. This will upset people, but I do not believe that for a single second. If that’s what you wanted, you would get drunk cheaply at home and go to a dance club.
Now, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re aware that I am not someone who goes to the bar all the much, if at all. It is “not my scene”. The reasons for this are varied. Firstly, I find the overwhelming gender performance of the bars here pretty unsettling. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s like being at a cattle market. Gratuitous displays of flesh and bravado. “Peacocking” (bars are uncannily straight places in Arlington, which may be part of my issue queer spaces are usually a little more dynamic.) preening and performing as if to say to the opposite sex, “Look at me, I look normal, I might be willing to let you do some of what you want with me before the dawn.” (There’s a lot of subtext too.)
Secondly, all of this contributes to the re-enforcement of often troublesome gender norms. Men behave like primal hunter-gatherers, while women stand around batting their eyelashes and waiting for attention, or alternatively throw themselves against the bar, drink and then sling onto the dance floor to gyrate provocatively. The problem with this is that women often behave like sluts in bars. Now, I have no problem with anyone behaving like a slut, being a slut, in fact, I am 100% on board with that. In fact, I’ll use the term with gusto, because you know what, I can do that. Just like its derogatory brethren before it, like “cunt” and “bitch”, I’d like to see “slut” taken back. The problem is that these same women will be condemned for this behavior and condemn each other. This is a sanctioned space full of caveats.
Thirdly, it’s not cost effective. Going to a bar is the least cost effective way of getting laid, for anyone. For a man, he’ll invest money in a woman, buying her drinks, possibly fries (depending on how much she needs to sober up before he can take her home without worrying about a myriad of serious problems, like consent.) and he has no guarantee at all, that she’ll sleep with him. While she might be dressed like Snookie and making “come hither” eyes at him, she may well just be behaving like a slut, and in reality may have all sorts of rules and personal standards, and she has every right to them and he mustn’t assume anything. So there’s his $ possibly down the drain. For women, she might spend money on getting ready, she might pay for her own drinks, and even have to buy her friend some fries if things get really out of hand, and she has no guarantee that the stars will align and she’ll find a man she deems acceptable, and that he’ll respond in course. In reality, most people go home from the bar $100 poorer, and wake up with no one but a coy hangover, who will call, all day long.
Finally, interacting in this way in a bar depends on various factors. It depends on competition between women, it depends on being able to communicate without speaking (the vodka flowing and the bass pumping, chances are your ideas about Proust aren’t going to make it into conversation, if you make it into conversation at all.) So, to be successful at a bar, for a woman you have to look hot (and I’ll assert, right here, right now, looking hot and being hot are NOT the same.) for a man, you have to be aggressive.
There are lots and lots of people in the population who aren’t into this, who can’t play on these fields. I am one such person. If I’m in a crowded bar with 70-some girls wearing outfits from Forever21 and in their sky-high heels skimming 5’8, I don’t stand a snowball’s hope in Hell. It doesn’t matter how smart I am, it doesn’t matter how funny, or even pretty, or even how willing, engaging and slutty I might be, it just doesn’t matter, because the playing field, which is built on a foundation of normative beauty standards and archaic perceptions of masculinity, is badly skewed.
Being in such a situation can be a dark and hateful experience if you aren’t properly equipped. In fact, I would describe it like a kind of slow social suicide. One which works by chipping away at self-esteem. Sure and fucking steady.
All I really have to say in recourse to all this, though, is thank goodness for the Internet. To be successful with your desired gender in a bar, you have to look hot, to do well on the Internet, you have to be hot.
(You also have to say what you mean, and mean what you say on the Internet, but that is another story…)