On not swimming in circles

I had a strange interaction at the swimming pool yesterday. I approached my usual lane which had three people swimming in it. I could feel the discomfort as I came towards the pool, in spite of the fact I can barely make out people’s faces without my glasses these days. There were three swimmers in the lane, two of whom lingered at the pool edge rather than starting another lap.

“Are you getting in?”
“Er, yes”
“I’ll get out then”
“Couldn’t we just swim laps?”
“I don’t like swimming in circles”

I felt she was vaguely irritated at me, as if my presence was forcing her out of the pool. Since joining this pool I’ve been bewildered by how much people dislike swimming laps, which I thought was common practice everywhere because it enabled more than three people to swim comfortably at the same time. I’ve never heard it voiced so explicitly before, as if it’s the most rational thing in the world that someone would rather cut their swim short than coordinate their swimming so more people could do it.

Being a sociologist means seeing signs and portents everywhere, in some cases where it’s just a quirk of the individuals in a situation. I’m fascinated qua sociologist, frustrated qua swimmer, by this reluctance to synchronise in social space and I’d love to understand how it relates to the crisis of bodily comportment generated by social distancing. Were they are always so reluctant? Or is there a libertarian impulse at work here in which coordinating one’s body movements to realise a social good (in this case making the enjoyment of swimming accessible to more than three people at a time) is experienced as something inherently confining and chafing?

The pool has signs telling people to swim in laps. It also has speed tiers for the lanes, largely ignored in a way that’s chronically frustrating for a mid range swimmer who constantly finds his lane filled with an unfortunate mix of the glacially slow and the sprinting swimming bros. It suggests to me that norms have to be encouraged rather than just sign posted, enforced as well as endorsed as Dave Elder-Vass would put it, both by the organisation and through informal contacts within it.

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