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Myths about the bar scene Getting real -- and realistic -- is key
by Janet Jacobsen

July/Aug 2003

Many people assume the bar scene is THE scene for singles. After all, aren’t they called “singles bars”? (I used to think that this meant that somewhere there were bars especially for single people; I was wrong.) So when a person is newly single or “available,” they “check out the bar scene” once or twice, find it very stressful or unpleasant, and spend the next couple of years staying home watching tv and complaining about how they can’t meet people.
I’m not saying here that the bar scene is for everyone; in fact, it’s probably not for a lot of people. But we’ll manage our social lives more effectively if we have a more realistic idea of what the “bar scene” is all about. So over the next couple of issues we’ll share some popular “myths” about the bar scene.


1. THE BAR SCENE IS THE BEST PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE. Wrong - particularly in terms of skill levels. Thinking that you should learn your meeting people skills in the bar scene is equivalent to thinking you should book your first piano lesson in Carnegie Hall, with an audience of thousands. You aren’t ready for that yet.
The easiest place to meet people is at organized singles events where people are doing something you genuinely enjoy: hiking, discussing, playing tennis. You know everyone is single, you know everyone shares your interest, you know everyone is there to meet people, you know the expectation is that you will mingle. It removes a lot of the stresses.
To meet interesting singles effectively in the bar scene, on the other hand, you need to know how to weed out the marrieds from the singles, the available singles from the unavailable singles, the drunks from the non-drinkers, and how to handle both rejection and rejecting, plus somehow start conversations with the folks who look promising.
Just about every terrific person I know has been in a bar at one time or another, so you could have met them there, IF you knew how to spot them and how to approach them. But this calls for very advanced communication skills and is no place for beginners.
2. EVERYBODY IN BARS IS A DRUNK. Wrong. People who like to dance have few alternatives to the bar scene. And “serious” dancing is like a serious athletic event; the real dancers are rarely drinkers. Also, many people are in bars simply because they don’t know where else to go to meet people (see item #1), and not because they drink.
So how do you know who’s who? Observation, and patience. If a person’s drinking orange juice or ginger ale early in the evening, they’re probably never going to get around to liquor, but a drink or two of liquor early on doesn’t mean much. Watch out, though, for those on their fourth beer or cocktail, for those who’ve been drinking even before they got there, and for those who continue drinking right up until they leave. Also, anyone who gives you a hard time because you’re not drinking is probably bad news.
3. YOU NEED A COUPLE DRINKS BEFORE YOU ASK ANYONE TO DANCE. Maybe you think you do, but keep in mind that it ups your rejection rate, both on first contact and in the long run.
4. YOU HAVE TO BE A GOOD DANCER. Wrong. Almost no one’s a “good” dancer, if we use Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the criteria. What people tend to do is notice the very best dancers on the floor, and think, “Oh, I can’t dance like that.”
Instead, concentrate on the worst dancers. If you can’t do better than they do, take lessons. Otherwise, dance!
5. YOU CAN’T MEET ANYBODY IN BARS. Wrong. But when most people say “anybody,” they mean “somebody”-particularly somebody special. This gets trickier, and, like we said earlier, takes greater skills. And adjustments are required on two fronts: how you behave yourself, and how you select the people you want to meet. (And I’m assuming here that what you want is quality friendships and potential relationships.)
In terms of your own behavior, in the bar scene, it’s better to err on the side of acting too conservative than too rowdy. If you’re a dancer, then approach those people who most look like they want to dance. If you’re a talker, then be extra observant about what’s going on in the place, who’s dancing, who’s talking. Noticing the little things will give you something to comment about to just about anyone; if they’re interested, they’ll comment back.
6. YOU GET REJECTED MORE OFTEN IN BARS. True, the bar scene is very “competitive” in that sense. People tend to be much more defensive than they would be at a church social, for instance. My rejection rate asking men to dance at singles dances is about one in twenty; in the bar scene it’s one in three. Like I said, the bar scene is the toughest environment to handle, and fear of rejection is one of the reasons.
So keep in mind that everyone’s rejection rate is higher in the bars, and don’t let that stop you, if this is a place you really want to be. And keep working to improve your skills in selecting people to meet.
7. YOU GET STUCK WITH PEOPLE YOU AREN’T REALLY INTERESTED IN. Skills again. If you know how to mingle, you won’t get “stuck” with anyone, any-where. If you don’t know how to mingle, you can get “stuck” anywhere.
The key problem here (bar scene and other places too) is the idea that you have to have a chair, and it’s your chair, and you’re going to sit there no matter what. Then you get “stuck” with whoever sits in the chair next to you. The other person isn’t the problem; the chair is the problem. Liberate yourself; move around. Key liberating phrase: “It’s been nice talking to you; but it’s time for me to mingle.” Then mingle.
8. IT’S ALL “IN CROWD;” THEY’RE NOT INTERESTED IN NEW PEOPLE. Depends, on the bar, the night, and the crowd. Many places do develop a certain core group that shows up regularly certain nights of the week. You have a couple of alternatives: “break in” to the group, or develop your own group.
You break in by being there regularly, approaching these people in a friendly but distant way (no party crashers please), and giving things time to develop. Also, in any “in crowd” there will be some folks who nevertheless mingle. Approach those people first.
You start your own crowd by ignoring the “in crowd” and getting to know everyone else that’s there.
9. MEN HAVE IT EASIEST IN THE BAR SCENE. That’s what women think (or at least, traditional women), because they figure that men can and do approach anyone they’re interested in. Well, the social custom is that they can, and the reality is that they don’t.
In my observation, the average boy-next-door nice guy gets rejected about 75% of the time in the bar scene; that slows a lot of them down. The risk seems so great then, that they get very cautious about who they approach, and many times are least likely to meet the women they find the most interesting.
On the other hand, some guys have pointed out to me that since they are as likely to get rejected by unattractive women as they are by attractive women, when they do ask, they only approach the spectacular ones so that they feel the risk is “worth it.” I’ve noticed that these follows rarely ask more than one or two women to dance in an evenings, and consequently (with a 75% rejection rate) may never get to dance at all.
Men don’t think they have it easy.


10. WOMEN HAVE IT EASIEST IN THE BAR SCENE. Men think so. They think all that the average woman has to do is sit there, and men flock over, and she selects who she’s interested in and discards the others.
Maybe that’s true for the stunningly beautiful woman. Maybe not. But for the “average” woman, it ain’t so. We sit there (if we’re being traditional) and wait. And wait. And try to look like we’re having a good time, sitting. And waiting.
The reason I started asking men to dance, more than fifteen years ago, is because the waiting is God awful. Fellas, you don’t know what rejection is like until you’ve been out for an entire evening, waiting, and no one, absolutely no one, has asked you to dance. It’s like being rejected by the whole world.
If it was easier, I’d still be doing
it. I’m not.