The Psychology of Queuing

Inspired by lovely Maggiemayq’s recent post, I decided to join a gym. Maggiemayq wrote that she gets up at 4.30 am to go to the gym. And note: this wasn’t just once because she set her clock wrong, but it forms a regular part of her routine. This kind of behavior always evokes dumb-struck awe in me. I’ve always dreamt of doing that. Or, to be honest, 6 am would be enough for me, but anyway.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she said “That’s your dream? I dream of being able to eat anything I want and not gain any weight.” Okay,okay. Her dream’s better. But since this isn’t Fantasyland, I’ll stick to my dream.

So, today I took the first step. I decided to join a gym. As it happens, a new gym was just opening in my neighborhood, and the opening event was taking place today. They ran a really good special offer for everyone who purchased a membership today. So I went. As did a couple of hundred other people.

I emerged three hours and fifteen minutes later, just about as sweaty and exhausted as I’d expect to be upon leaving a gym. Had I known before I took my place in that queue how long it would really take to reach the front desk, let me tell you, I would not have bothered. Sure, the membership was cheap, but it wasn’t that cheap.

As the hours crept by, I noticed myself going through various stages. I was alone, so I had ample opportunity to delve into my deepest emotions. For you, the reader’s, benefit of course. So here, I present to you:

The Various Stages of Standing in a Very Long Queue

  1. Assessing the situation. Only the first 200 get the cheap membership. To wait or not to wait? I estimate how much space ten people take up and try to divide the line into portions and calculate them together to get a rough estimate. My attempts are feeble at best. I call my husband and ask if he’s willing to take over the custody of our children for a week or two. I decide to stay. I can always leave later if the line seems to move too slow.
  2. Optimism. It’s not that bad! The queue is moving. Many of these people will probably tire of waiting, and loads of people are there just accompanying someone. It might take an hour, maybe a little longer. It’s not like I have anything better to do. I sigh with relief since I didn’t bring the children, unlike the lady behind me who’s there with a two-year-old.
  3. Rationalization. At this point I have queued for almost an hour. The queue moves, but not as fast as I thought during the optimistic phase. I begin to suspect that there might actually be better things I could do with my time. I try to read something on my phone. I calculate the savings made with this membership several times over, trying to factor in the actual times I am likely to go before my enthusiasm wanes. I try to think about an important issue I need to solve. I check my e-mail fifty times. Just because I am queuing, does not mean that I can’t spend my time doing something useful. I am not wasting my time.
  4. Frustration. It’s been one and a half hours, and the queue is maybe half way. Rumors start to circulate among the waiting crowd that the first 200 would be nearly up and everyone after that would need to pay normal rates even though the ad promised a lower rate. Suspicion and hostility. The word compensation is thrown into the air. A security guard walks past the queue with a wary look in his eyes.
  5. Teaming up. People start to communicate with total strangers. This is a very uncommon thing to happen in Finland, the promised land of the introvert. Now it’s Us (the nice decent people who only want to go to a gym and not pay proper rates for it) against Them (the nasty, money-grabbing, scheming, stop-at-nothing marketing machine). Chatting makes everything seem a bit cheerier. We laugh together at our own madness, which strangely makes it appear less mad. Someone offers to keep my place if I want to grab a coffee or something. That’s nice.
  6. Despair. The queue has completely stopped moving. The air is stagnant and my palms sweat. I wish I’d accepted that offer to go get some coffee. I call my husband and tell him that I’m thinking of giving up. It’s been two hours. The madness must stop. At the very point when I almost leave, the queue moves again.
  7. Hope. I can’t quit now! Not after all this time. The queue is moving! I’m approaching the stairs which lead to the door of the gym. It won’t be long now!
  8. Digging my heels in. I arrive at the door, only to find that the queue folds over itself to the very back of the gym. It’s going to be at least an hour yet. But hell. I can’t leave now. It would be mad to leave now. I’m actually within the gym! They offer me candy. I’m staying put.
  9. Numbness. I’ve spent the best part of a lovely autumn day standing here but I don’t even care anymore. I’ve reached the complimentary protein bar samples. I sample the products, but I don’t concentrate on their taste. Your sweet-tasting bars won’t make me happy now, not after all this time. Poopy smell wafts my way from the general direction of the two-year-old. We’ve been here for so long that the lady behind me has run out of diapers. I sigh. Whatever.
  10. Triumph. I have arrived! Animated discussion among my queue pals. Who would’ve thought we’d make it! The representative of the gym hands me the form and takes my fingerprints. I sign everything. I would probably agree to having a kidney removed just to get out of there.

I’m out of the gym, and the fresh air has never smelled so good. I phone my husband, who sounds kind of edgy. In the background, I hear a child screaming.

I walk home with a light step. In fact, the air is so lovely that I start to wonder if I shouldn’t have taken up jogging instead.

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19 thoughts on “The Psychology of Queuing

  1. Oh yes, you’ve expressed it so well that I feel almost as though I were there — and yet without getting a gym membership! (Or actually waiting that long, so there’s that.) I didn’t realize you were in Finland but yes, I can believe it took that long for people to start talking to each other.

    Although when I visited Finland, I ended up chatting with everyone — they’re all so friendly once you figure out how to push the “talk” button. 😉

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  2. Great job at putting your reader in line with you. I think most of us have felt ever level you described while waiting and waiting and waiting for something we thought was vital to possess at the moment. Let us know if you stay as determined about actually using the membership. Lol

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    1. I know, this was probably the easiest step in my gym career. Someone did joke in the queue that in two months most of this crowd would be gone and by Christmas they’d be working out all alone. A grain of truth in that 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Och… I’m one of those. I registered for the gym a year ago and have gone since.. but I like to pretend I’m fit by staying registered. I do love standing in a queue.. it gives me time to ponder away.

    Love the last line of your post. Going for a walk in a bit ❤

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    1. I love walking since it helps me think. I just noticed yesterday that I can’t do the same thing just standing around. 🙂

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  4. Personally, I consider the gym experience part of the right of passage. I remember the poopy smell experience vividly. Good job writing the experience, making it entertaining to your readers. Stick with the endeavor. I’m glad you did.

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    1. Oh, you’ve been through the same thing! I hope I’ll stick with it. The membership’s for one year, so I’ll have plenty of time to try.

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