Tag Archive | bar

Bar Scene Wildlife: the Brutally Lonely

When evening plans fall through, I often head out to a local bar and pass the time. I don’t have TV and of course I don’t know how to read, so books are out. Being out and around people is as good a pastime as any.

I’m no psychologist. I’m not a behavioral scientist. I have no official qualifications that would land me on anyone’s spectrum of experts when it comes to analyzing the reasons why people say or do what they do…just unofficial qualifications.

I have a metric crap-ton of time logged at bars. Often alone. I went through a few years of chatting it up with women-folk when eyes would meet, but not anymore thanks to smartphones. Everybody just buries themselves in FB status updates and checkins when not immediately around people.

So, apart from the normal groups of friends, the only thing for the single guy at the bar to see is the soft glow of electronic devices on detached faces…or the solemn dispositions of the only other people available: the brutally lonely.

As this entry is number two of my anecdotal discussion of the American Bar Scene, I decided to describe a common type of bar patron: the brutally lonely. These gents tend to be a little older—old enough that they don’t bury themselves in technological distractions when there’s a pause in conversation. They are either chatty regulars, knowing all of the bartenders by name, or they’re the more buttoned-up, “just off of work” types. They’ll be alone—sometimes forming loose tribes at the ends of the bar, away from the clustering throngs of pre-made groups. Sometimes they’ll just look forward or at the TV. Sometimes they’ll be turned around to watch people.

The gregarious ones will start to chat if you’re close by. The reserved ones will take a “hi” or bit about the weather to smile and perhaps start in. You usually have to bait out the reserved ones, though sometimes they’ll turn out to be more gregarious with a small effort.

Regardless, once you show yourself as a willing ear and engage one of the brutally lonely, you’ll have some real talk. Sometimes it’s a fire hose of information. Sometimes you’ll have to employ some interview techniques to keep things going.

You’ll hear about wife troubles, women troubles (or wife and women troubles), troubles with their kids, troubles with the law, troubles with their jobs. You’ll hear about betrayals, cheating spouses, how one of their daughters just had an abortion, how their son is in prison, how a partner stole money from them or even a tearful telling of the loss of a truck to the repo man.

Sometimes the stories are pretty severe. Sometimes I don’t know if they’re just making it all up. Either way, it’s a bit of raw exposure to the person. Even the ones who I think are lying are telling me something about themselves: that they feel the need to concoct this incredible story to chat with a stranger.

They’ll say they feel irrelevant at their jobs, they fear their wife will never want to have sex again, they feel that this diagnosis is just the start of something bigger. And they’re at the point where they tell gobs of information to a total stranger.

The overarching theme through most of these stories, though, is loneliness. Sometimes they’ll just come out and say it.

“I’ve never been so lonely until I got married,” one guy said to me earlier this week.

As an aside, this lonely-while-married thing is a concept I only recently wrapped my head around. I mean, I knew it happened—I’ve seen some nasty, NASTY breakups and divorces in my time (the military marriage/divorce cycle can be insane). I guess I’ve always focused on the idea that having someone around would be less lonely than sitting alone in the house. I’m still naive about a lot of stuff. Still have lots to learn. Had a guy tell me once, “You don’t really understand how marriage should work until your first divorce.”

Anyway, there was a video that was being passed around recently called “The Innovation of Loneliness” (link). It wasn’t one of those “ZOMG changed my life” sorts of videos, but it was pretty good.

It touches on the old concepts that hyper-connectivity is actually just the illusion of connectivity. It also quickly mentions Dunbar’s Number (link), which perked up my ears.

Dunbar’s Number was discovered by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He proposed that human’s can only comfortably maintain about 150 stable relationships…which is interesting since many of us have ten times that many “friends” on Facebook, right?

Neolithic villages would grow to about 150, then split. Roman army units would be limited to about that number. Companies after the 16th Century typically function best when limited to groups of that size. There are others that peg the number at closer to 300, but the general idea is that humans can only handle a relatively small number of connections. Once additional ones are made, others atrophy.

The video goes on to say that here in the West, people are celebrated for their individuality—individual achievement, individual acumen, individual capacity. Collectivism is seen as anathema.

The video concludes that we’re more lonely than ever because of things like social media and technology. How the contest to be celebrated individually and connected virtually leaves us empty shells of unengaged potential and miasmic loneliness.

So perhaps all this technology and Internet stuff is why they’ve reached this point. Perhaps we’re all destined to spin and spin in our frenzied busyness just to end up farther apart. Perhaps these guys are just a symptom of deeper social issues.

WHO KNOWS? I can’t say. I still feel for these guys I see at the bars, though. I don’t know what to do with them other than just be there to listen. Maybe that’s enough.

The talks are innocent, just venting. There’s usually no mention of meds or suicide or anything crazy. We’ll chat. Sometimes we’ll go into spiritual stuff. Sometimes I’ll just let them say their piece. Most of the time I learn something (even if it’s what not to do) and I feel my life has been enriched in meeting someone new.

And it’s less lonely than sitting at home, at least. Or is it?

Man, at what point do I just become one of these poor bastards? Maybe I need to invent another category of bar patron to put myself in….

(Update: Someone mentioned a Louis C.K. talk about loneliness that just posted. Thought it was apropos. Check it out HERE.)

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Bar scene wildlife

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I’ve been regularly going to bars as a single guy for 14 years. Hardly any sort of record, but more than some.

I’ve been to bars in Europe, bars in Central and South America, bars in the Middle East (though I was decked out in armor and an assault rifle and wasn’t there to chat), and bars in the states. Here in the states, I’ve been all over–west coast, east coast, midwest, north, south, southeast, southwest, Cali, New York (city and state), etc.

You see a lot of scenes in a lot of scenes. Most are harmless, some get you into fights, some get you new friends. There are the different crowds, depending on the time they patron (happy-hour vs closer crowds) as well as the type of bar (hipster/”seensters”, microbrew, dive). There are the married people there with kids (you’d be surprised), the married people there without kids, the married people there without spouses, angry divorcées, old creepy leering guys, old guys dressing young, sugar daddies, brooders, the desperates, single women looking at smartphones …on and on.

When I’m out with people, I enjoy people. I laugh, live it up, tell wild stories, get everybody going–enough at least to regularly be invited out. I’m the Josh most people know.

When I’m by myself though, I’m much more reserved. I’m boring Josh. I’ll make eye contact and chat, sure, but I’ll mostly just take it all in.

I’m years past picking up girls at bars, so I stick to my drinks and chat with the bartenders about the wisdom picked up from a 1,000 conversations. I go, stay late, stay still, tip well and stay polite.

When you’re a man alone at a bar, there are few comparable moments of sheer isolation.

There, in the crowd, you could as easily be at the bottom of the sea. No one is hitting on you (at least not often); no one is buying you a drink; dressed in t-shit and jeans, no one is impressed by how you look. You are unplugged and alone. You get to feel everything going on in yourself, be it depression, serenity, anxiety or elation.

And after you accept how you are in that moment, you are able to observe people. After a few years, you start to notice patterns.

Last night was a great example of one of these (on to the actual post, I suppose…long intro).

I’ve seen this scene several times and haven’t come up with a name for it–maybe I should find who else has already named these types of things…I’m sure it’s out there.

Anyway, I was sitting at the bar. Small place, in the basement of a restaurant–speakeasy style. Dark, with a few scattered lights and candles. A friend of mine was playing music, loud but not ear-splitting. It was late, almost midnight on a weekday, so the crowd was committed and already well on their way to whomever they were going to be with. Was pretty busy, bar itself was mostly full.

Two women walked in with two muscled guys in t-shirts and sideways hats. They grab a booth and the women head to the bar to get the drinks. Guys stayed back and watched, like German shepherds told to “stay”.

One was a blonde, one a brunette. Very cute. Young. They worked in and sat right next to me at the bar. They started making eyes and smiling at me and the other gentlemen around. I turned back to my drink.

The boys in tow were joined by a couple of other guys wearing the same getup. The girls had some time before any barking might start.

Two guys, early 40s let’s say, both in dark button-down shirts and jeans, one heavier with teased out thinning grey hair and one more in shape and bald, take the bait and start to talk.

Sure enough, two older guys get in and start their thing. Bald guy is more assertive and tells story and joke after joke. The group is laughing. Blonde has turned away and her back keeps pressing into me as she laughs. Now and then she’ll linger in her leaning. She’ll turn her head to make eye contact and smile. I smile and look back at the bar.

A few minutes go by. Older guys have loudly said “another round” a couple of times. They’ve paired off, leaning in and chatting more intimately. A few minutes more and girls pack up to move back to the booth in the back. Older guys follow along.

I turn back to listening to my friend play. Not two minutes go by and the bouncer is being called over. Older heavier dude is fighting one of the meatheads. Older fit guy is standing his ground. Meatheads are out and ready to rumble. And the girls? They’ve got their arms around their respective young boys.

Sorry to the older gents, but you don’t buy drinks and flirt with pretty girls who came with guys.

Just one of those patterns. “Stay alert stay alive” and all that.

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