Tragedy of the social commons

dancing, people and relationships, society

Tonight I was tired.  Tired but—perhaps solely through repeated mental flagellations—ready to be brave.

Tonight at the weekly swing dance, I was going to ask Miss Q to dance.  Extremely talented, very attractive, and admirably most humble, too.  Miss Q, that is.  Darned ambiguous references, but indeed I digress.

Grammatical nits aside… for reasons I cannot quite narrow down for certain, it appears as though my bravery was either contagious or most coincidentally most ill-timed or a combination thereof. You see, that *other* fellow was determined to dance with Miss Q.  And the young man beside him.  And yes, that other chap dashing up beside the both of them.

Miss Q had a queue and a rather constant queue at that.  Oh, not the visible English-style straight version, but rather a discernible one nonetheless.  Ranging from skulking to brazen, star-struck and/or love-struck leads grabbed their opportunity, sometimes with frightening literalness, and Miss Q handled it all with the utmost in grace and good nature.  Was she delighted or annoyed or simply exhausted by all the attention?  I cannot say.  I was quietly and perhaps just a bit more than mildly seething at my ill fortune, and so in this circumstance I cannot fully trust my normally perceptive nature.

But I know this:  of the collective of Miss Qs here and elsewhere on the dancefloor—particularly in this arenas where the Misses outnumber the Misters—there by my estimation must be an aggregate tiredness and frustration on the shoulders of both sexes.  The Misses have nary a rest, much less a chance to do much choosing of their choosing.  They pair with those who are the quickest, the most cunning, the most persistent, the most unsubtlely lurking in the not-so-background, which may or—more likely—may not dovetail with those who are the most talented or otherwise desirable partners.

And, as you surely may have guessed, the disappointment lies not just within the fairer sex here, but rests upon the equally unlucky section of lads.  For we have two choices:  one-up the others in desperate aggressiveness or sit on the side passively ruing our lot and the escalation of hounding-stealing-hoarding that has led to this sorry condition.  Those compelled into the former may succeed on occasion but feel ashamed on the whole of what they’ve been driven to.  And those self-relegated into the latter behavior must simply feel, well, stamped writ-large with a neon ‘L’ upon their forehead.

*  *  *

What does this suggest, other than that I have a dramatic flair for cartooningly exaggerating a seemingly run-of-the-mill situation rather than answering e-mail or getting much needed sleep?

Ah, dear reader, it suggests more than this!  Much more!  For dance is but a metaphor for life!  Or, at minimum, the situation I’ve described above reminds me of social interactions in a much broader sense than just the lead-follow rituals associated with selecting dance partners.

Bars.  Clubs.  Particularly given the most-typical uneven ratios of men (many) to women (few), what we end up with is an ever-escalating atmosphere of urgency, high volume, and desperation, which leads to the all-too-cliched-but-true situation of women massively annoyed by obnoxiously brazen and bad pickup lines and (worse) physical aggression.  And on the other side, an unfortunate mix of mostly puzzled, frustrated, and perhaps even angry men who refuse to raise their bets and behavior (and thus fold)  The women go home and complain to their girlfriends about being besieged by “jerks” all night, and guys complain to their mates about the unfortunate and equally-unfortunately-named “sausage fest” and the lack of opportunities reasonably available.

*  *  *

To clarify, my swing dance experiences are typically many many MANY times better than the hyper-clarified and starkly drawn portrait I’ve painted here.  And for tonight, it was more my own stubbornness (I was set on dancing with one particular woman) that resulted in the sullying of what should have by all other measures been an outstanding night (presence of friends, a strong live band, etc.)  But it made for a good excuse for a blog post and I found myself sincerely drawn (once again) to the parallels between social dancing and the broader arena of meeting and flirting and dating.  Specifically, what I felt I was observing was a miniature version of the tragedy of the social commons which, upon further reflection, might better (albeit less pithily) be described as “The Tragic Inevitability of Behavioral Escalation in the Context of Mixed-Gender Social Environments.”  But the latter—while a title I might be able to sell or rent to thesis’ing Psychology PhD students — is way too long for a catchy blog title. Almost as piss-poor a title as some musical one might otherwise wisely stumble upon.

Anyway, with all MY pontificating out of the way, what do you think? Do queues of the sort I described lead to women becoming frustrated and less apt to genially interact with guys? Or is this one-upmanship of sorts an expected but altogether benign reflection and self-selection of the assertive vs. the doormats, the latter of whom need to learn to buck up anyway? 😀 I look forward to hearing your thoughts, even if those thoughts are, “For the love of Dog, Adam, why do you overanalyze stuff to such a degree, and at 1am no less?!”

8 comments… add one
  • cheryl cassidy Sep 10, 2009 Link Reply

    I have been on the other side of the situation you mention many times. While it’s true that I am not always happy with the quality of the guys who approach me, at least they come! In the end, I think it’s best to just give it your best shot. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed.

  • Thu Tu Sep 11, 2009 Link Reply

    Adam, don’t give up or despair! You’re a great guy whose challenge is finding a woman who is worthy.

  • Adam Sep 11, 2009 Link Reply

    Cheryl, I see your point, but in some contexts, I’d argue that it’s best to weigh factors and make an effort when it makes sense and other times fold without remorse :-D.  In other words, in this particular situation, I should have simply realized… hey, there are a ton of awesome people to dance with.  I’ll bravely ask Miss Q another night when she’s less besieged by suitors.  But instead, I was stubborn, and sometimes sat out instead of dancing with others.  That was my mistake.

    Righini, glad you enjoyed the post!  Sometimes I write my strangest stuff (content-wise and stylistically) when I get home late, and I have at times debated publishing these items, but on the other hand, occasionally it’s neat to capture raw thoughts :-D.

    Thu, thanks for the kind words, but don’t worry!  I was annoyed and frustrated in this instance, but overall am much more chill, and was writing more from a curious academic standpoint (extrapolating my dance observations out to a broader and exaggerated conclusion).  So I’m substantially less bitter or despondent than I likely sounded above :D.

  • Adam Sep 12, 2009 Link Reply

    To my surprise, Miss Q asked me to dance last night. It was nice :-D.  I’m hoping she doesn’t read this blog.  Ah, the perils of the occasional personal/emotional post 😛

  • Adam Sep 19, 2009 Link Reply

    John, yes, and thanks! 🙂  Ryan, I think you meant to post on my *other* recent entry :-P.  And Rocky, nope, never seen that movie… but guess I should!

  • Reading Sep 23, 2009 Link Reply

    Don’t worry Adam, I think we all over analyse things when it comes to love!

  • WILLIAM A. KENNEDY Oct 16, 2009 Link Reply

    C’mon Adam, you don’t need to go home feeling guilty and sorry for yourself. After all dancing is an exaggeration of our feeling and the ultimate expression of our emotions without having to expect any violent reactions.

  • Pia Nov 3, 2009 Link Reply

    Oh adam I am sorry for you!
    that sounds really awful.
    For the next time you better ask everyone other but not Miss Q.
    I also think thats better for your wellbeing 😉
    Cheer up!

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