The list of things threatened by a government shutdown is extensive: national parks, the Smithsonian, mortgage approvals, and passport applications come to mind, as does the daily activity of the nearly 380,000 federal workers in the Washington area.
But even if the gears of the republic come crashing down, there are two pastimes we can always count on: drinking and hooking up.
In fact, if non-essential government employees have more time on their hands come midnight Friday, both will probably happen a lot more. What else are you to do when your office is closed, you’re not getting paid, and you’ve been in the same pair of leggings for five days?
The last government shutdown, in October 2013 saw an increase in consumption, with alcohol sales spiking and several restaurants and bars providing furlough-themed food and drink specials.
Love and lust ran amok, too: One dating app, Zoosk, credited the 16-day shutdown with nearly-50 percent surges in profile views and direct messages. Seeking Arrangement and What’s Your Price, sites that specialize in finding sugar daddies and allowing users to bid on dates, respectively.
These 2013 liaisons weren’t just hit-it-and-quit-it hookups, either. Some had much more lasting effects: Nine months after the 2013 government shutdown ended, DC-area hospitals said they saw a significant rise in birth numbers.
The spikes in dating-app usage and birth rates make sense, though. Many federal employees in the area are young, single, and likely non-essential to the continuity of basic government functions. No work, half-priced drink specials, a herd of 20-somethings—you do the math.
“Because usually older (read: married or committed) people are usually deemed essential staff, hookup culture would definitely be rampant” during a shutdown, one 26-year-old Capitol Hill staffer, who calls the hill “gossipy,” writes via text message.
She continues: “Congress can be kind of like college, with lots of young people who like to have fun after work hours. I prefer to adhere to the ‘don’t shit where you eat’ rule and stick to off-campus relationships.”
That’s not to say a shutdown is a bacchanalian free-for-all – take two federal employees who met during the 2013 furlough and are now married.
On day one, after a briefing by supervisors and locking away his laptop, a young Department of Labor employee looked up nearby bars with furlough-themed drink specials. “I figured, well, I better go take advantage of this day off,” he says.
DC Reynolds in Petworth was open, so he posted an out-of-office reply and headed to the bar. It was 11 AM on a weekday, so when another young group came in, he figured they were federal employees, too. One, a young woman, caught his eye.
Later that week, he logged on to OkCupid and realized the same woman was one of his suggested matches. He sent her a message, asked her to drinks, and—in true furloughed fashion—they went on their first date at 2 PM on a Tuesday. Who’s to say they would have met if it weren’t for that shutdown-themed drink special?
“We definitely took advantage of the shutdown as best we could,” he says. “You get a couple in you and you start chatting to someone at the end of the bar…,” he trails off.
The couple got married in March 2016.