Lifestyle & Culture > Perfect in Public (Pretty in Pink?)

Perfect in Public (Pretty in Pink?)

Published: February 21, 2011

The idea germinated (as so many do) while I was sitting at Ritual Tavern having dinner. I usually avoid Ritual on Saturday due to the crowds, but I thought the foul weather might limit the locals from making the stroll.

I walked in and the bar was jammed, the only open seat was at the big boy two top near the men's room. That worked for me. I'd be isolated from the hubbub.

I had a cask ale and a crab cake sandwich. Both were excellent. While waiting for my order I was reading a graduate level math book. Around me couples were pouring in, a new pair every three minutes. This is a small pub, so that is an onslaught. In no time there was a waiting list, standing room only, people ducking out when they saw the mob.

But everyone was quite well behaved. They were jovial and interacting. Except for me. I was working on path problems in dynamic programming. On the one hand, I wasn't hurting anyone. But on the other I was sending out my best "stay away" vibe. Not that that is a problem at Ritual. One of the reasons I go there is precisely because most everyone can read the "do not disturb" sign that part of my demeanor. This is not a "pick up" place where folks go to find someone. People comes in pairs, leave with their partner and behave the way people are expected to behave in public.

I'm sure there are a lot of people in the room in any given night who are total nightmares on the home front. But they put on the public behavior for the pub crowd. Once again, except me. I behave pretty much the same at home as in the pub. At home I'm a private recluse. In the pub I'm a public recluse. While everyone else in the room appeared to be "good mixers" I was the single malt scotch in the corner.

It hasn't always been that way. There was a time when there as a huge gap between my public and private behavior. I was a bit of screamer for a few decades there. I was digital emotionally. Blank slate or blind rage. But only at home. In public, I played along. Mostly. There were the occasional theatrics, I stormed out of a meeting once. But it was calculated to cause an effect. It wasn't blind.

I eventually figured out that being a nutter at home wasn't doing anyone any good. Granted, I figured that out after I started living alone. But still I think there is something to it.

Being a math guy, I'd like to be able to measure this. Call it a variable, say P2, that measures the difference between one's public and private behavior. A P2 of Zero would reflect no difference between the public you and the private you. A P2 of 100 would be the typical nightmare at home and angel in public.

I understand how people use this high P2 score. The idea of "breaking up in public" makes good sense. The thought being the person on the losing end of the deal is less apt to go bonkers in public. That was the Saturday night feel, that the public setting was preventing people from getting their feathers ruffled.

I've heard of therapists who recommend that couple "argue" in public as a way to keep the arguments from getting out of hand. But reading some posts on that topic over at the Elsa Elsa website, there were women there who said they had to stop that practice as they were afraid that their man "would be arrested" for his behavior. Perhaps a little hyperbole by the fairer sex. Or perhaps women are more docile in public than in private. That is the (Pretty in Pink?) part of this title. Is the P2 higher for women than men?

I posed the question to the bartender at Ritual Sunday night. He has been there since the place opened almost 4 years ago. "Has there ever been a bar fight here?" Never. Not one. They have never even had to bounce anyone. A few times people behaved badly and they were asked to leave. They left. No need for physical coercion. Eventually the owner came over and I asked him the question. his reply was "do bar fights still happen?"

Well yes, his wife chimed in. She listed four bars in towns where fights are a regular occurrence. Talking with a friend on-line about bar fights being a thing of the past she had this to offer "I think there was something to be said for the fights, issues get quashed. Now people carry the issue around and it eats their insides out."

I understood her point,in fact I know lots of people in the workforce who behave horrendously in the office. I think they do precisely because they know they can get away with it without getting their noses broken. I'd say may 5% of the American workforce is only one good right cross away from becoming useful citizens.

But I'm not the guy for that reformation. I have no hand to hand combat skills. I'm fine with the risk of slow ulcer vice the certainty of a quickly broken nose.

Even though I'm not involved, fights do happen in certain bars in town.

Those bars had two common factors. They served hard liquor and they were "pick up" places. So the patrons would get really drunk really quick, then argue over what girl belonged to what guy. Alcohol and women it seems, lower the P2 for guys.

But women? How much bad behavior do you see out of them in public? It seems to be limited to persnickitiness (ordering a meal where they change half the ingredients and get half the meal "on the side" so they can exert their control over the kitchen. Heaven forbid they should accept the dish as designed.) The only other thing I've seen were the two lesbians making out at the bar one night. Tongues down each other throats, hands on each others thighs. It is the sort of thing that might have been offensive if they weren't so darn good looking. Everyone else gave them a pass as well, it was two hot women making out in public, after all. What is the harm in that?

Trying to get to the root of this P2 problem is where I have difficulty. Why are people better behaved in public? Why do people put on their best face for strangers and treat their family with contempt?

I can go down two roads here. One is the "What will people think?". My simple answer to that is the Richard Feynman book "What do you care what other people think?" He was pretty sure it was your life to live, not theirs. In addition, you can't control what other people think. When you try to change what others think you are being manipulative and false. So while I suspect that "What will other people think?" aspect does go through people's heads, in the end it is just dumb. Live your life and to the extent you are not physically violating someone else's space, there is no harm done.

However, that does bring up the bloodsport issue. In Jared Diamond's "Gun's, Germs and Steel" he describes the meeting of two males in New Guinea. The meet and greet is a long recitation of their relatives. The reason for this is to find a common relative. If they find one, they have a reason NOT to kill each other. So the self preservation aspect of behaving in public appears to me to have more merit. Using this approach, it would seem that men should behave better in public as they are the ones most likely to get a beer bottle busted over their heads. But it doesn't seem to work out that way.

Digging around a little more on-line, I found a couple of links to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how they (ok we) have trouble figuring out what is proper public behavior. The argument here goes that most people can figure out at an early age what is proper in public and just behave that way without thinking. The ASD folks don't have the hardware to tease out the rules, so they have to be "taught" specific rules so they can function among um, you know, people. Otherwise ASD folks are the definition of P2 of zero. Where they are is where they are and who they are is who they are. The former does not affect the latter.

In the end I have to think that the explanation is that people just don't think about it. It is internalized and it just "is". I recall my ex once saying "Isn't it weird that we treat complete strangers better than our own family?" For a brief moment, I thought this observation might be an epiphany that would change life on the home-front. But it wasn't an epiphany for her. That of course led to my epiphany. That I'd be better treated by the human race if I wasn't family, if I were the eternal stranger who people treat well precisely because he isn't family.

Are people are going to have the family epiphany?. Haven't seen much of it personally. Perhaps if it happens family will start treating family better.Barring that people can at least move into a cave somewhere where they aren't at each others throats.

But until then, I suspect, most will be perfect in public and pyrotechnic in private.

Any Comments?


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