Sex & Relationships

The Thrill of the Bar Hook-Up

What exactly do people get out of cruising for inebriated strangers in bars?
"At the beginning of the night I separate them into the 'Yes baby, you're the one' category right through to 'Absolutely no way.' Of course, these categories shift as the evening progresses. By last call, you just want someone to agree you're there." -- from Ye Olde Book of Bar-stool Philosophy by B. A. Slut.

Actually, the quote's from a gay buddy of mine. Poignant, isn't it?

American biologist Timothy Perper has spent thousands of hours in bars, both gay and straight, researching the fine craft of cruising. In biology lingo, he calls it the "mating ritual" (kinda lends it a legitimacy, don't you think?). His description is almost poetic, referring to it as a dance, with well-choreographed, calculated moves. You leer at me, I leer back. You move in on me, I continue flirting or I tell you to get a life. Pure art.

As is fashionable these days, Perper started his research by comparing our pathetic behavior with that of animals. Have you ever seen a dog work the park? But Perper doesn't necessarily buy today's other fashionable argument that we do this out of duty, as some instinctual way of maintaining our species. (Great excuse, though, huh? "I have to go out slutting, the human race is counting on me.") For one, Perper points out, if reproduction was the main concern, how does one explain the heavy cruising that goes on in gay bars? No, Perper figures, with us modern folk so uprooted and scattered about, we're simply desperately seeking some kind of human interaction, some contact. In other words, never mind the futile search for this intangible thing we call romantic love, people just wanna get laid.

Now, having spent thousands of hours in bars participating in the mating ritual, I have to say, most of the behavior I've seen out there would probably leave most animals scratching their heads and heading back to the jungle, where it's safe. For one thing, they don't serve alcohol in the jungle. Booze fuels the human mating ritual. Picking people up stone cold sober is definitely not in our nature.

And animals can't talk, so they can't engage in bad pick-up lines or take a sudden interest in appliance repair or whatever uninteresting topic you manage to come up with when you strike up conversation with a total stranger over a pulsating dance beat.

No, meaningful is not what most people are after when they're cruising. "I'm not searching for Prince Charming, I'm just looking for someone half-decent who's worth dating," was the sentiment offered by one cruisaholic friend. Fair enough. I mean, what are the chances that "the one" just happens to be the guy who groped you as you squeezed through the crowd on your way to get a drink?

Of course, we all know that actually ending up in a relationship as a result of a bar encounter is a long shot. I think the probability rates are up there with winning on Canadian Idol. As the old saying goes: "Every relationship that starts in a bar ends in a bar." The most a bar hook-up is usually good for is a little ego boost, some proof that you've still got it, or some insight into what you need to get it. If you're lucky, or, in some cases, simply strategically positioned at the bar, you may land yourself some interactive tongue-diving and, if you're really lucky -- the grand prize -- some bad sex at the end of the evening.

Tony (not his real name) offered me the results of his own studies on cruising, gathered from three years of research as a bartender in a popular downtown Toronto heterosexual meat market. "Because of the environment, you don't have to be extra cautious about what you do. You don't have to be real clever, even be a good flirt. Yes, it's true, bar cruising has its own special language.

Lecherous drunk guy: "So, where you from?" Me: "Uhhh ... Outer Space." Oblivious Guy: "Oh wow, can I have your phone number?"

Yeah, I see what you mean, Tony. I suppose we could save ourselves all this grief and just line up everyone in the bar and simply pair them off; it's probably about as meaningful and more efficient. But then we'd be denying ourselves that wonderful challenge: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. And something to do on Saturday night.
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