Rat Race Socialising in London: how it works and what the consequences are


London is full of rat race socializing, friendships formed and deformed in the Machiavellian heat of getting to the top. The London social scene is a real social and emotional rat race, people jostling with each other to be with the coolest scene possible, a Machiavellian dynamic hot bed of allegiances, broken, formed, broken, reformed.

People who are engaged in rat race socializing, are always on the look out for something and someone better, whilst being keen to establish and preserve the best of their social contacts and opportunities, in light of nothing better being found.

Rat race socializing is a promiscuous form of relating, for the desire to seek out better opportunities and people, requires the regular tasting of new people. Its all beautifully manifest in Speed dating, a manic half-hour, during which time you talk to ten people for a minute or so, after which you quickly conclude on whether the guy or girl will work as a date.

Rat race socialisers constantly monitor the different social opportunities that arise in real time, and make calculations as to who will be there, and what they will be doing, and the degree of attachment, affection and gratification that the occasion will afford. The mobile phone, has only served to heighten this London dynamic, allowing people to scout new opportunities, and break existing commitments, which means that every possibility of meeting up, now makes commitment even less likely, means every commitment to meet, is couched in, yeh, lets talk later on in the week, or lets see how things go this afternoon.

Because London’s social scene is so turbulent and fast-moving and one can often find oneself dumped, with nothing to do and no-one to be with, Londoners try to insure themselves by getting as many dates and appointments in the diary as possible. For this reason appointments are made a long time in advance. Social diaries are booked months in advance. According to Claire Adams, “Londoners tend to have their spare time sewn up fairly tightly. Social diaries are booked months in advance. ” Book in advance, weeks, sometimes a month, co-ordinate, line people up, activities and plan. The planning you put in this week, will ensure your social life in three weeks time. Are you available this week, oh no I’m busy, what about next week, yeh, maybe.

Success is when one has to cancel an appointment, because something more interesting has come up. Success is when you can tell someone who wants to meet up that you are busy so no, or you are busy but they are welcome to join you, then the better you feel. Success is when your friend comes to all the parties and events that you suggest, and you go to none of theirs. The more often you can tell someone who wants to meet up that you are busy so no, or you are busy but they are welcome to join you, then the better you feel.

The sheer number of promiscuously oriented people in London means that a certain promiscuity pervades the expectations and organisations of events, gatherings and relaitonships. London, on a Friday or Saturday night, or during the weekend, is viewed as a mysterious and magical place, which could throw up all kinds of opportunities, who knows where you could end up? Two women in their mid-twenties stroll at pace across the junction of Well Walk and Christchurch Hill. One woman, Black who seems slightly better spoken, more articulate and more confident than her White colleague is asked, “Are you going to go?” to which she replies, “Oh yeah. The only way i wouldnt go is if I did something else during the day, and it pulled me off into some other part of London.”

In London, these moments of ‘being with’ are fleeting, transient, always difficult to get into, like a date, but ten to fifteen minutes, you can slowly relax, before you are thrust back into the luminous loneliness, the excitement, the rat race of London. Opportunities to socialize are grabbed, shoved into one hour slots, uncomfortable, and yet taken all the same, like a hungry man, wolfing down an out of date sandwich he has found in the bin. You never really quite have time to fully relax in peoples’ company, there’s not much time, and everything’s so expensive, and you have to travel back home, and then get up for work tomorrow, so any kind of transient weak, interaction, feeds the human desire for intimacy, security, attention and love.

Who enages in rat race socializing?

Rat race socializing is a part of most Londoners experience of social interaction, and is the modus operandi for several groups. The drivers for rat race socializing are are an insatiable desire for financial gain, social status, the most sexually attractive mate possible and the most number of sexually attractive mates possible. Rat race socializing is therefore quite common amongst highly driven working professionals. It is also common amongst party people. New arrivals to London who plan to be here for a short period of time, or who are equivocal with regards to their long-term commitment, are more promiscuous, more likey to search for emotional hits, than look for long-term emotiona profitability. It is also common amongst young people and some older people, who are looking for sexual variety and experience.

Hunting in packs

Often rat race socialisers hunt in packs whose members are only loosely affiliated, enabling them to jump pack, whenever it suits. The fear that they may miss out on something or someone better, who may be just around the corner, means they tend to avoid creating emotionally committed relationships with individuals.

Who hunt in packs?

London is full of lusty burger munching troubadours, who see emotional connection as a means to a very well paid end. Consequently many people make friends with colleagues, other workers, people who can help them earn more money and upon whose shoulders they clamber when struggling for grip higher up the greasy pole. Much of their socializing is done in work packs, the underlying intention being to use the occasions together to strengthen alliances and ultimately their status and benefit from being part of the organisation in question. Londoners who socialise with colleagues, shy away from investing too heavily in individual interpersonal relationships. This can feel a bit too close up and committed given the fluid and everchanging alliances and pressures, which exist at work.

It is also common amongst newly arrived Londoners, who have a preference for interest groups and activity based social events. Those who socialize around interests, feel much more comfortable prioritizing the interest. This means that if people drop away from the interest group, they go unnoticed. If you stop attending the group no one will call you to get you back. Furthermore when the interest at the subject of the group disappears, they group dissembles.

Loose connections and recreation

Some people come take advantages of the loose connections, to recreate themselves, they see London as providing them with the space in which they can reflect, consider and create new kinds of relationships, new juxtapositions and interactions, out of which a new identity and being emerges. One Londoner, a woman living in Dalston, East London, reckons, “I’ve learnt that this place lets you reinvent yourself more than anywhere else I know. Backgrounds can be rewritten. Skinny guys who spent the Noughties playing World of Warcraft suddenly own nightclubs. Your moustached, hulking tattoo artist probably grew up at a prep school in Coventry. That arty guy who tried to persuade you to pose for saucy photos at an all-day bender in Stokey has a fucking title, for God’s sake.”

Slipping into the shadows

For some people recreation requires a period of reflection, sometimes depression, an often derided state for the fact that it makes people vulnerable, but actually the requisite state for emotional creativity and recreativity. The culture of looseness and distance and weakness of social relationships in London allows people to slip into the shadows unnoticed, to be forgotten about, to sit in a darkened room, and not be attacked and harangued for it, for not failing to live up to a fully functionining automatuman. Arguably many people come to London, because it offers an opportunity to drop out and reflect, whilst not being completely alone, whilst remaining in touch with the energy of the anonymous masses.

Struggling with promiscuity

Earlier on it was identified that promiscuity is one of the key types of interrelationship found in several of the social groupings that we have referred to thus far. Promiscuity involves several features. It involves people who socialize and relate to groups rather than indivdiuals. People exclusively move around in loosely formed packs. They avoid creating emotionally committed relationships with indivdiuals. This is quite common amongst highly driven working professionals, who will socialize with people within their profession. Londoners who socialise with colleagues, shy away from investing too heavily in individual interpersonal relationships. This can feel a bit too close up and committed given the fluid and everchanging alliances and pressures, which exist at work. It is also common amongst newly arrived Londoners, who have a preference for interest groups and activity based social events. Those who socialize around interests, feel much more comfortable prioritizing the interest. This means that if people drop away from the interest group, they go unnoticed. Furthermore when the interest at the subject of the group disappears, they group dissembles.

Newly arrived adults, and immigrants with a western outlook on the world, who come to London looking to forge emotionally committed relationships can often find it difficult, becaue the predominant promiscuous form of relating, means there are few people who wish to develop such a relationship. They will find that even amonst their best friends, there is no expectation or obligation to see each other on a regular basis. In London it is rare to see the same person two or three times a week, or every weekend. Furthermore, reflecting on how people book up their social time weeks and months in advance, one Londoner sighed, “it will be a miracle if I can see a friend spontaneously without putting the meeting into my diary a month in”. Australian Claire Adams, reflecting on ten years of living in the Big Smoke noted that dedication to the pack is everything and that “establishing connections outside of the context of the original association is near impossible… It takes a long time and great dedication.”

What there is a sadness, a slow social sadness, a feeling that you have to work so hard, and that people are so unreachable, so preoccupied, so anxious, so upset and confused, that there’s no-one who seems to just want to settle down and share life and commit to a friendship. That’s how it seems to some. Consequently in London, belonging is tenuous, a constant struggle, knowing which baskets to place your legs in an existential nightmare, and the line between feeling great and feeling lonely a very thin one. Things just move so quickly, people, cars and buses. You see one person one night, and they talk to you of a whole schedule of appointments and friends and trips that they are engaged with over the coming weeks. Where is the room for me in this relationship, a small voice inside you says, but your new London persona, which quickly adapts, nods nonchalantly accepting that its very rare in London for any newcomer to see another two or three times a week. Claire Adams seems to feel that she has made a big effort to make friends in London but has given up. She said, “I have also had to change my behaviour significantly. I only operate within interest groups and rarely make the effort to approach individuals.” There is a sense of loneliness to her account, and a sense of frustration with all of that. But also an acknowledgement that she too has succumbed to the London culture, and is to others what Londoners are to her.


If London is a seething mass of Machiavellis, each one attempting to sniff out and win the affection of the most attractive people, ready to dump their friends and appointments, given a more attraction option, then there are always going to be victims. For some within this seething mass, the less attractive, the more needy, the less backed up, the result can be a dispiriting experience of successive abandonments. Those at the edges of London’s social circles are usually the ones that feel the pain of the metaphorical electronic elbow. There is quite often an uncertainty attached to many social arrangements, aided by mobile phone technology, which means that arrangements are caveated, with “if I can make it”, “if the party finishes early”, which means one can sometimes find themselves having travelled, half the length of the city, only to find themselves abandoned, irrelevant, meaningless, insignificant and having lunch by themselves in a boutique coffee bar, that you loved the idea of beforehand, but now feels like the loneliest place on eart, all summed up beautifully by Lilley Allen in the video to accompany her song LDN. This is well depicted in the video to Lilly Allen’s LDN, which starts off with her alone, looking through the records in Rough Trade East, being pleasantly surprised by a call from a friend an an invitation to meet up. By the end of the video and with Lilly having walked thorugh London to get to the agreed destination, she receives another call from the same friend who tells her she can’t make it after all. Allen politely accepts her friend’s failing, and then boots a crumpled up drinks can. The whole thing hurts.

‘Dropping in’ is rude

Not only are emotionally committed relationships difficult to establish, many of the practices that committed relationships involve, are forbidden. Dropping in on someone in London is generally rude. If you want to see someone you need to make an appointment, and peoples’s social calendar often gets filled way in advance. Even when it is not filled way in advance, people will pretend that they are booked up, so as not to seem socially weak. Given the great distances, and given the reluctance to invest too heavily in one-to-one relationships, the home is not seen as a place which friends can simply drop in on. Such an occurrence would be highly unlikely, and for this reason would be unexpected. To drop in unannounced would be considered rude.

Neighbourliness is unusual in central London

Neighbourliness is becoming more and more usual in central London, although it still exists in the outer suburbs where more families and couples live. It is unusual because large numbers of migrants are moving into the city, and these migrants are, thanks to communications technologies and advances in transport, reliant not on their neighbours, but colleagues at work, people who share the same hobby or interest, and people from back home, who are spread out all over London or the world. The consequence of this new set of social and material relationships is that Londoners do not tend to invest much effort in getting to know their neighbours. No point, because there’s no need.


Earlier on it was pointed out that people looking to recreate an identity are attracted to London by the loose connections, which gives them time, space and opportunites to consider new ways of being. The problem is, is that a firm identity relies on consistent interaction with the same people. Those same loose connections, which allow them to reconsider their identity, being loose, being the result of a population of people craving the next new thing, and who will eventually tire of you, means you can never anchor a firm identity, a firm sense of belonging. With time those who thought they were on the road to establishing a new identity found themselves grasping at thin air, their contemporaries having moved on. Cristina Balma-Tivola, an Italian who lived in Hackney for a while, commented, ‘I met a few new ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’…, and it’s a crew I quite enjoy. Relaxed, deeply in contemporary arts and in sharing food and talks. In spite of those who say London is the capital of loneliness! Still, somehow, I have to say this is true. It’s quite easy to relate each other quickly, but the flow of the people who come and go is astonishing. As soon as you tie up with someone, you risk that this person goes away (usually abroad, ‘somewhere else’) to follow his/her attitudes, dreams, life. Some people are never fed up by the town, whilst some others ‘bite it and rush away’. Finding belonging in this transient community is difficult.


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