Reasons for Attendance

by Philip Larkin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Choice Between Relationships and Individuality

The speaker's description of couples dancing while he watches, alone, conveys the idea that the personal choice of whether or not to couple with another person is fundamental to one's life. One is faced with this decision early on. One must decide to follow what appears to be the majority of people toward a life of "dancing"—where one's movements are not entirely one's own, where one cannot make decisions without reference to and concern for one's partner's goals and ideas—or to remain individual, independent but missing out on whatever it is that so many people enjoy when they are part of a couple.

Questioning the Importance of Sex and Pleasure

The speaker suggests that the only real benefit to life as a couple is sex, though he does not even seem convinced that it is a benefit. He concedes that couples get to have "Sex, yes, but what / Is sex?" As a person who chooses not to engage intimately with another person, his choices obviously preclude sex—or, at least, regular sex with someone he knows well or loves. However, he hardly seems convinced of the value of sex. It does not seem like something that is especially appealing to him, and he would not be willing to give up his individuality for it.

People's Belief in the Rightness of Their Choices

The speaker claims that couples believe they are happier than those who remain single, while those who choose to remain single believe that they are happier than those who are a part of a couple. The speaker believes "this" (that he is happier than the couples), while the couples believe "that" (that they are, in fact, happier than those who remain individual), and "both are satisfied." Both feel secure and convinced that they are correct, having made the happiest choice. However, the speaker adds the caveat that this satisfaction is founded upon the condition that "no one has misjudged" themselves and that no one is lying about how happy they actually feel.

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