Thursday night at a rooftop bar. All the usual suspects are out. There’s a couple of bros in pastel Polos, obviously prowling and aware of their hyper-masculine charm. A group of women with froses who maybe came from another happy hour and are here until someone takes them home or they Uber home to microwaved pizza. Another group of women who are presumed married – or at least seriously coupled off – and will be leaving as soon as their check arrives.
There’s the co-eds who are just as eager to hook up within their group as they are with anyone else on this rooftop. Then then there’s the Baby Boomers floating around, perhaps divorced, more likely here to enjoy youthful charm and whatever musician the venue has booked for the evening.
The rest of the scene are pairings that are harder to peg. Are they single? Are they together? My friend and I are easily mistaken for a couple as we split a pizza and drink cocktails (hey, I was hungry). I even offer to feed her to play with people’s heads.
Welcome to the watering hole of your 20s. And just like the oases of Africa, the wildebeest and the water hogs don’t mingle. And no one wants to play with the lions or the leopards.
Isn’t this where you’re supposed to meet people? We all know book club hookups are a fable. No one meets anyone organically anymore. Or do they?
My friend and I are trying to decide the backstory for the hen party beside us. They’re all blonde, 30-ish ladies in pink – classy pink, definitely could sit with us, definitely older. Two guys hover on their opposite flank, definitely upper 20s, but too young for anything to materialize unless this is a Reese Witherspoon comedy.
My friend—female, which makes this interaction much easier—asks them what they’re doing. Oh, they’re out celebrating the oldest’s birthday. She’s 46. What!!!!! She’s the only single one in the group. The rest are married. They have kids. So does the birthday girl. Five in fact.
“How do you all meet people?” the married mother who’s a pharma rep asks me. She’s 36 it turns out.
Like this, I want to say.
“It’s terrible,” my friend bemoans. “Everyone’s afraid of commitment.”
Do we meet people at bars? It’s hard to say. Everyone’s on their phone or stuck in the friend group. To wander outside the group is to risk looking like a lovesick fool. Or to be extra drunk. That is half the reason you drink at a bar if you want to meet someone. Liquid courage is real if fleeting. You’re also just as likely to text your ex as talk to the stranger ordering an IPA.
I explain: You can easily come across as weird just talking to a stranger. First of all, it’s often on the guy to make that sort of contact, at least while society remains patriarchal. And if you’re too aggressive, you’re the creeper. If you’re not aggressive enough, no one knows what the heck you said over the din and thinks you’re just trying to scoot by for the ‘loo. And then, when you don’t go to the bathroom, you’re definitely a creeper.
Even if you don’t fall into creeper territory, I’m highly suspicious I will ever meet someone at the bar that shares my joys in life beyond the frivolous ones like vodka and EDM. Maybe I'm a snob.
“How did you meet your husband?” I ask.
They met in college. A friend set them up. She actually had another boyfriend. Her friend knew this. They weren’t good for each other. After one sorority social, she and her husband became inseparable. She broke up with her boyfriend. The romance gives hope to all guys who meet girls at bars who have boyfriends. You probably shouldn’t fall for this trap.
“But I could never meet someone today, the way you all do it,” she concludes.
How do we do it? She points to our phones. How does it affect things?
It makes things better and worse. Dating apps can be great. But you have to know what people are looking for. An online connection does not automatically translate to a live one.
And it’s very trendy to be a commitmentphobe. We all want to say we’re afraid of commitment, maybe we are, but it’s disastrous. How is anything to supposed to go that far if you can’t commit to a date next week, let alone something in a month? I thought I was a commitmentphobe until I met a real one. I was practically begging to be a stay-at-home dad compared to her—and we know I was never begging for that.
Social media gives everyone FOMO, I continue with a spurt of clarity from a third vodka and Diet Coke. My friend nods. You see everyone’s life, all the options that abound. And you think they’re your options. You can have what they have. If you avoid this opportunity, then surely that opportunity will come along. Even when that opportunity is never going to come around for you. That opportunity never was yours.
I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral recently on a plane ride. In the film, the characters discuss two types of people: the people looking to be thunderstruck by love (myself and probably every kid who grew up watching the Disney Renaissance) and then those who just want to be comfortable with someone and that’s enough.
Our newfound friend provides some clarity. While she was thunderstruck by her husband, she says she’s met people over the years who she could also see herself with. “I’ve thought, hmm, that would be interesting. I could be happy there.”
We all could be happy in a lot of places. On this rooftop bar. In bed with someone. At an altar. Twenty years down the road sitting in a kitchen you own. By yourself on a plane halfway across the world. Happiness is relative. You have to find what makes you happiest longest and most often.
But you’re never going to know that on a first date or even a second or talking to someone in a crowded bar. You’re never going to know that, period.
I’ve reread this piece twice now to find the happy ending to conclude with. Yes, the mother went home to her two kids and the husband she still loves. The 46-year-old did not hook up with anyone. My friend almost went home with someone, but she stopped it before it began because she didn’t want that. I walked home alone, neither disappointed nor unhappy and least of all thunderstruck.
Dating is hard. It’s weird. So are your 20s. So is life. If you strike out one night, or one year, just remember, all the usual suspects are always at the watering hole.