Your late teens and early 20s are an interesting, singular period of existence. If a biologist looked at those years beneath a microscope, they might find it difficult to categorize, to paste a label on a bell jar with those years inside with the kingdom, phylum, and species noted in pen. You’re an adult—but wait, are you really? You walk about on two adult legs, bipedally going about your business. On the surface, the act in a convincing one—look at you, doing laundry, cooking meals, paying taxes, adulting all over the place like a regular professional. Beneath that exoskeleton of adult illusion however, lies a far more genuine layer of infantile distress. Sure, I’m in charge of the above named, so-called adult duties (e.g. laundry, cooking, taxes) and more, but do I have any idea what I’m doing? Nope. Not at all. It’s a clever ruse, a masquerade of efficiency serving to mask a constant internal monologue of “What is even happening right now?”

As I said, this duality of twenty-something man is intriguing to witness and analyze. Where it gets especially beard-pulling is when it comes to amusements this rare, oxymoronic species of adult-baby engages in. Buckle up kids, we’re going clubbing.

Ah, the club. Or, as a friend of mine refers to it, “the clerb.” It’s loud. That’s a given. If you walk out without a nagging, persistent ringing in your ears then you’re either superhuman or stood as far away from the woofer as possible. People tend to dance either awkwardly, not at all, in clumps, or, my personal favorite, while swinging their arms around like they’re in Fight Club. It’s simultaneously too dark and too bright all at once—the strobe lights are blinding and the innumerable black lights make you look, in a word, distasteful. Walking outside is basically akin to one of those permanently cave-dwelling salamanders who have lost their eyes through centuries of evolution and that David Attenborough goes on about on BBC stepping into the noonday sun and spontaneously combusting. Drinks are expensive, men are creepy and ever present, and the cover alone is enough to cover your Netflix premium for the month. Does anyone really enjoy this? Why do we do this again?

It seems to me that clubbing and those twenty-teen something who club are focused less on gaining actual enjoyment from the act—in some weird, bizarre way people who constantly go out (not universally, obviously, generalization is my middle name) are perpetually seeking something they won’t ever attain…and that’s kind of the point. Confusing, I know. But let me delve a bit deeper.

Clubbing is all about excess. The experience is billed as one that should, in theory, alleviate all your earthly woes and lead—through some combination of dancing, alcohol, and sexually charged atmosphere (and maybe actual sex if you’re lucky) whose precise proportions and measurements remain unknown to science—to an epic, once-in-a-lifetime moment of pure, unadulterated fun you will remember forever and pass on through oral tradition to your grandchildren probably. But this elusive Holy Grail, Fountain of Youth, Arc of the Covenant type evening never truly pans out. Something or some things get in your way, and create a faint, off-key buzzing in the background of the soundtrack to your historic evening. The music is too loud, the beat is too repetitive or possibly nonexistent, the bartender is swamped, the A/C is completely off, and your outfit isn’t as convenient to dance in as it is attractive and body hugging.

These small inconveniences or some larger drama unfolding in near cave-darkness serve to mar your night out, and so you start over, content to label the night as a relative bust and try again next week, or next month.

I used mythic comparisons earlier—objects quested over, coveted but never attained by mortal men—and I used them for a reason. The fact that the perfect, mythic evening will never pan out is the reason it is so lusted over, and the reason why the clubbing experience, while inherently illusory, is so addictive. The fact that one or two or seven things went wrong this time around destroys hope for a perfect present, but it also allows you to imagine a hypothetical future where those depressing realities do not exist, or do not occur. The quest for the elusive, fictive perfect night out will keep you coming back for more just like it kept nights journeying past beasts, seductresses, and all manner of obstacles to reach the Grail. You’ll deal with the horrible DJ and the highway robbery perpetrated routinely and legally at the bar because maybe, just maybe, next time you’ll get it right.