No One Is at the Gym to Talk to You
More people are clogging up the gym than ever before. Somewhere between 41 million and 57 million of us are members of the roughly 37,000 fitness centers in America alone. That means a lot of people congregating together in tightly packed sweat and anxiety factories, where close proximity occasionally makes us inclined to speak to one another.
With so many people choosing the gym as the place to spend their pre- or post-work hours, it makes sense that some might consider it a social gathering, or a chance to make new friends. If we lived in a better world, that might be true! But in the one we have, there are rules. If you want to maintain the bare minimum level of decency in what’s left of a quickly eroding society, then keep these in mind for your next workout.
Is it okay to talk to people at the gym?
Mostly no. Like all situations, read the room. Are you in a boxing or spin class where the instructor encourages everyone to introduce themselves? That’s obviously a green light. Outside the confines of the studio, it’s a more lonesome road. Most people at the gym tend to have headphones in, or are busily trying to get through their hateful routines before returning home, where they can continue to not talk to anyone. Assume other gym goers are not paying that exorbitant monthly fee to have conversations with you.
What sort of talking is okay?
There will always be bullshitters at the gym. They tend to be older guys who are used to a bygone era of men's club camaraderie, and they usually keep it confined to their own ilk—half-assing on the recumbent bikes talking about "the game." You do not want to become one of these guys. And even if it's inevitable, postpone it as long as you can.
So no conversations then?
Just try to keep any speaking at a utilitarian level. Hey man, you using that? All good. When Trump comes on the TV, "Can you believe this fucking guy?" might be what everyone else there is thinking too, but it's best to keep politics out of the gym, Plato.
What if I want some advice on how to use a piece of equipment?
Ask away! Most people will be happy to show you how something works—gym dudes love nothing more than mansplaining. But there’s a level of fitness where that stops being true. A person in pretty good shape is fair game to approach with a question, but the person who looks like they’ve spent nine hours a day in the gym their entire life does not want to waste a precious second of their pump. And they’re probably on some next level stuff that you’d snap your spine in half for trying anyway.
Other lines of inquiry related to the equipment in question are fine: Can you give me a quick spot? Will someone please come lift this barbell off of my trachea?
What about flirting, can I do that?
But the woman over there is really pretty and I thought she glanced over at me.
What if I pretend to need help using a piece of equipment as a pretense to talk to the pretty woman?
Yeah, she’ll never see through that scheme. You should definitely try it.
Ok, but what if I’m super hot?
Then fine, the world is yours to do whatever you want in it, the rest of us are just extras.
So you’re saying I can’t make friends at all at the gym?
Not at all. But like making friends in any situation, you can’t force it, and you can’t come off thirsty. Over time you’ll naturally start to come into contact with people frequently enough that an organic rapport will emerge. Someone has a jersey on from your favorite team? Mentioning last night’s win briefly is fine, then move on about your business. If a reliable pattern starts to emerge from both parties, then you’re ready to make the next move into the Gym Buddy phase. I have a few of those, but they took years to develop.
"MOST PEOPLE WILL BE HAPPY TO SHOW YOU HOW SOMETHING WORKS—GYM DUDES LOVE NOTHING MORE THAN MANSPLAINING."
Is it okay to say hello to people I am not buddies with?
If it’s a person you see all the time there, a polite nod is natural, but also not required. You're not running for city council. You can spend an hour a day within 10 feet of someone every few days for years, and it is completely normal to never once interact at all. Weird, but true.
What if I see them outside of the gym?
Then you’re fucked. You have now entered into a contract where you will be required to nod hello to that person every day at the gym for the rest of the time you both go there.
What if it’s the woman from before who I wanted to flirt with?
Why are you going to the gym in the first place?
Okay, but let’s say it happens. Can we be a gym couple?
There are certainly a lot of people who try, and they almost all inevitably fail. A break-up is hard enough under normal circumstances, but when you have to break up with your gym because a romance soured, it adds a whole other layer of bullshit. Just forget the idea of sex or romance altogether when you’re working out.
What about talking on your phone to someone not at the gym?
Good god no. Speaking of, who is that person on the other end of the one-sided treadmill conversation? Hey man, hold on a second, I’m gonna do an elevated hill sprint real quick...you still there?
Got it. I’m just gonna keep my headphones in and remain oblivious to the world.
Not so fast. As much as the overarching rule here is No Talking, there is such a thing as isolating yourself too much. A gym is still a public space after all, so you can’t close your eyes, pump up the Drowning Pool, and pretend no one else exists. In a lot of ways the rules you should expect to live by in the gym aren’t too far off from the ones you learned in elementary school: Always share, clean up after yourself, and don’t talk until you’re called on.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.