Night clubs are a lie

I’ve never been to the club in your selfie

Image: people in a dark night club

Hanging out with some people, a friend’s birthday party. ‘Round about midnight, some have a plan to go hit a club, and they ask me if I’m coming. Nope, I’m heading home. Thanks for the invite, though.

They ask a couple times, not because they aren’t sure about my commitment to going home, but just as an encouragement to reconsider. Could be fun.

But no, I’m going home. And I joke that I’m old and tired. But that’s not really it. I’m not particularly sleepy or anything. If anything, I’m a bit wired from all the socializing I’ve done up to then. I’ll probably go home, pour myself a bowl of cereal, play Batman: Arkham Knight a little bit, maybe watch some Netflix, and probably scroll through Reddit in bed before finally going to sleep. I won’t be asleep for another two hours or more, plenty of time in which I could have gone to the club to find out if it’s worth staying up until daylight hours.

Given that sometimes I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, wondering if I’ve made some wrong choices that have led me to live alone, taking the less social option seems counter to some of my more general life ambitions. Although I’ve gotten better in recent years at cultivating friendships that keep me afloat, I could definitely stand to meet some more people.

And that right there is the start of the problem. The idea that built into going to the club is the potential or promise of meeting people. Why assume that’s a part of it? Instead of it just being about me going with the friends I’m currently hanging with to just drink or dance or whatever.

Partly because there isn’t a scene in any movie or TV show ever made where anyone ever goes to a club or bar and does not meet someone new. It may work out as a smash cut to the next scene where they wake up in bed together, it may be a spectacular failure in getting rejected that’s played for comedic effect, it can be all sorts of scenes in between. Some counter example probably exists somewhere, but casually scanning through the database in my brain of every scene I can remember in any show of people going out to clubs or bars, the vast majority of media representation of “night life” depicts it as an opportunity to interact with new people.

It’s always a room full of above average attractive people, because people who do work as extras tend to be the ones who aspire to work as actors or models. Main characters will meet in some way or another in a club, and they’re able to have a conversation that consists of more than “what? what did you just say?” because the scene was filmed in a silent room and music was mixed into the audio later. People dance with room to move, and don’t constantly get bumped into by people carrying their drinks across the dance floor. Or simply get constantly buffeted by the Brownian motion of other people who dance as if no one else exists on the dance floor. You don’t often see the scenes of standing around not doing much of anything, using your phone to pretend you’re not just wondering if you’re supposed to be having a better time.

Sometimes you see a scene where the bartender ignores your order because even in movies it’s an accepted fact that bartenders at clubs generally don’t have any skills that might be found in the most basic customer service manual. But what you see slightly less often is the tedious wait in a large crowd clumped around the bar because there’s no line and no plan and you wonder if the only way to get drinks is to devolve into the kind of asshole that just pushed ahead of you.

Night clubs, discos, dance clubs, whatever you want to call them, don’t inherently suck. I’ve had good times at clubs or bars. But not enough to justify the place they have in secular society as being a sort of default for what it means to go out at night in place of a more specific event. I live in a globalized culture that has long since shed any ritualized process that provides a framework for meeting new people, particularly partners for love, sex, marriage, or any combination of those. Many other cultures, so far as I can tell as someone who isn’t in any way an anthropologist, seem to have rituals made into celebrations, where eligible males and females are thrown together to see who matches who. Or there are arranged marriages. Or something. What there isn’t, is a lot of mystery about how you will meet people.

There’s an appeal to the highly ritualized approach in that it takes all the mystery out of how exactly you meet people, particularly romantic partners. Just play by society’s rules and you’ll get hooked up.

But there’s a lot of important downside to that, of course. A lack of freedom and choice. You might not like anyone at the ritual and may be limited in how much you’re allowed to walk away not having made a choice. You may simply be saddled with someone for the rest of your life because other family members or social leaders decided that’s who you should be with. I would definitely rather live in my world where it’s driven by my wants and needs and not others. Though Wittgenstein would be right to point out I only think that way because I grew up thinking that way.

Definitely we should think of the downsides we currently have. The price of complete freedom of choice is the absolute uncertainty of how to make choices, and no way to evaluate if they were good choices. We all want to meet a variety people and see if we can put together a perfect team of friends, family, and lovers. But there’s no set way to do that, nor even any set way to know what questions that need to be asked to find any way forward for yourself.

So there’s apps and self help books and people who want to be experts on how to be a pick up artist, or effective at being social, and coaches for small talk, and speed dating, and all sorts of random attempts by everyone everywhere to try and sell you some kind of certainty in a completely uncertain game.

And there are clubs and bars and places where we’re all supposed to be social, and if you want to go beyond the cluster of friends you walked in the door with, there are not many guidelines beyond the tropes we’ve seen in mass media.

Tropes, by the way, that are often written by people who tended not to be the people winning in those environments, because writers tend to be the people who stayed home writing, not out in clubs making their social scene blow up. I know a few people who have gone on to writing in television, and they weren’t the same people killing it at clubs, they’re people who watched shows with scenes of clubs, and that’s how the ouroboros cycles.

I suppose it’s not all mass media’s fault. Ever been to a nightclub where it’s kind of dead, and you look over and you see a group of people clustered for a selfie where they pose like they’re having the best time ever, an island of excitement in a vacuum of disappointment? That’s the picture they’re going to post as if this night was the best ever. We’re selling ourselves on the lie, for some reason.

Some people do win in those environments. I have friends who just love to dance, and would have a good time in a club with decent music even if there was no one else in the room. I also know some people who don’t really think of themselves as good conversationalists, and are perfectly happy to have the pressure of something interesting to say taken away from them by an oppressive sound system. And of course, strata of attractiveness and wealth can’t be ignored in terms of what kind of experience can be made of a night out clubbing.

This is part of the problem with the idea of clubs as a social norm, that it’s inherently a comfortable environment for anyone, and not people predisposed to what a club provides.

For me, more often than not, I’d rather be able to talk and share ideas and laughs. Once in a blue moon I feel like dancing, but it’s a very specific set of circumstances, so it’s fair enough to say in general that the club or bar scene just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t make either me or clubs more right or wrong than the other, but it does mean that the way clubs and bars, and drinking alcohol, have become a default is questionable in the same way that it’s problematic to try and design an educational system that works the exact same way for everyone.

You tend not to see older people in clubs and it seems like this is because people move on, get married, settle down, or something. Older people become more boring.

But not really. I can’t speak for everyone who is getting older, but I know that for me, the change was not that I became less interested in having a good time, it was that I became more aware that I hadn’t been having a good time all along. As I got older I became secure enough to finally just act on how I really felt. I always found clubs to be a low percentage of fun return on time investment. I wasn’t more energetic and youthful when I was more likely to say yes to the invite, I was less able to admit to myself and others what I’d rather not do.

It’s not all or nothing, I’ll still go out all night to some club if all the right ingredients are in the mix. But more often than not I know that the higher percentage play for a satisfying evening is to head home before I start wondering if I should have head home already.

So, in a way, I am going home because I’m old and tired. Old enough to know what really works for me, and tired of being an insecure person who worried about missing out on something that’s almost never there.